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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

Carpenter argues that it was humor that inspired the Jewish people to survive the Holocaust. The power of laughter is shown in three respective functions: as an alternative hermeneutic, as a form of rebellion, and as an acknowledgement of God. The first showed itself in the Jewish peoples by serving as an alternative to internalizing the despair of their situation. It provided a means through which they could detach themselves from their circumstance and choose to live in the light of a different perspective. Laughter could also serve as rebellion: by laughing at the jokes that the Nazis tried to use to dehumanize Jews, they stripped the jokes, and, therefore, the Nazis, of their power. Finally, humor reaffirmed the Jewish peoples' connection to God through its echoing of the biblical stories such as Isaac and Jonah. In both of these stories, the heroes encounter tragedy and instead of being self-pitying, they acknowledge the irony and laugh. Laughter helps to relieve bitterness, both towards other humans and towards God. This reasserted itself during the Holocaust when some Jews were able to use laughter to combat the "God is dead" movement. Humor maintained the survival of a community of people and their deity.

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