Yossi & Co.
In the Service
One Shabbat morning, Rabbi Levy noticed seven-year-old David staring up at the large plaque hanging in the shul lobby. It was covered with names and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. David had been staring at the plaque for some time, so Rabbi Levy walked over to him and said quietly, “Shabbat shalom, David.”
“Shabbat shalom, Rabbi,” replied David, still intent on the plaque. “Rabbi, what is this?”
“Well, David, it’s a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.”
Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Then little David, in a barely audible whisper, asked, “Which service, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur?”
In the Service, Another Version
After services on Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Cohen was, as usual, standing near the synagogue exit shaking hands with congregants as they left. But then he noticed a member who rarely attended services leaving, so Rabbi Cohen grabbed his hand, pulled him aside and said, “David, I think you need to join the Army of God!”
“But I’m already in God’s army, Rabbi,” protested David.
“So how come I don’t see you in shul except on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?”
David leaned in and whispered, “I’m in the secret service.”
In the Service, Yet Again
A very Conservative shul once had a president who, while he was a nice businessman, was quite “ritually-challenged.” On Rosh Hashanah the rabbi offered him an aliyah.
The president responded, “You know I’m not very knowledegable; besides, I wouldn’t want to take the honor from someone else.”
The rabbi demurred, “You’re our president; everyone wants to see you honored.”
The president was now panic-stricken. “No, no, no, I can’t read the Hebrew blessings; I’ll embarrass myself.”
“You must take this honor, you’re the president!”
The president considered this. “Isn’t there anything where I don’t have to talk?”
“How about doing gelilah?” offered the rabbi.
“It’s easy,” replied the rabbi, “you just come up after the Torah is lifted, and when the cover is put on, you put on the breastplate and the crown and then sit down. You can’t go wrong.”
Relieved, the president accepted the honor.
And so, right after hagbah, the president came up, put on the breastplate and the crown, and went back to his seat.
The rabbi came running over and said, “Not on you, on the Torah, on the Torah!!”
Just before Rosh Hashanah, Becky moved and her grandson called to get directions to visit her in her new apartment.
“When you get to East 33rd Street and park, come to the entrance door at 970. I’m in apartment number 32 on the 8th floor. At the lobby door, you’ll see a big panel of buttons. With your elbow, push button 32. I will buzz you in. Come inside; the elevator is on the right. Get in, and with your elbow hit 8. When you get out, go to the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell.”
“Grandma, that sounds easy, but why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow?”
“You’re coming empty-handed?”
Now We Know Why He's Rich
Izzy planned to visit his relatives in Europe for two weeks for the High Holidays. Getting ready for the trip, he went to a Manhattan bank and told the loan officer that he needed to borrow $10,000 for the trip, and for collateral he offered his new Rolls Royce. The bank, satisfied with the arrangement, had the car parked in a secured underground garage. Two weeks later to the day, Izzy returned to the bank and repaid the $10,000 plus interest of $20.83.
The loan officer asked him out of curiosity, “Sir, we were delighted to have your business, but when we checked your credit, we learned you are a multimillionaire. Why ever did you need to borrow $10,000?”
“Where else in New York could I have parked my car for two weeks for twenty bucks?”
Are You Jewish?
In my Brooklyn neighborhood, there are often Orthodox Jewish men standing on corners, asking people who walk by if they’re Jewish. My answer is no, and initially I figured this was the answer they were looking for, in order to make a pitch, but then I remembered it’s Christians who are the proselytizers. So I’ve often been tempted to say yes, just to see what type of conversation would follow.
This morning, a Jewish friend and I were walking together when we passed an Orthodox young man (probably 17 or so) holding a shofar, a horned instrument. He asked if we were Jewish. Neither of us broke stride. I said, “No, I’m not,” and my friend said, “Never met a Jew.”
We stopped further down the block, preparing to go separate ways, and I asked my friend if he knew what a “yes” would bring. He wasn’t sure. Then we turned to see the teenager approaching us with a smile on his face.
“Would you like to hear the shofar?” he said, holding up the horn. “It’s Rosh Hashanah.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard,” my friend said. “Now, what if we said we were Jewish? What would happen?”
“I would ask if you wanted to hear the shofar.”
“That’s it? That’s all that would happen?”
“OK, I’m Jewish.”
“I guessed that,” the young man said, smiling again.
“How’d you guess?” my friend asked sarcastically, pointing to his face. “It was the nose, right?”
“No. Only a Jew would say, ‘Never met a Jew.’ “
—John Williams, from his blog: A Special Way of Being Afraid
Creating Life, Large and Small
At Hebrew school the children were learning how God created everything, including human beings. Little Moshe appeared to be especially intent when the teacher explained how Eve was created out of one of Adam's ribs. When Moshe was home later that week, his mother found him lying on the couch and looking as though he were ill. She asked him, "Moshe, what is the matter?"
Little Moshe replied, "I have a pain in my side. I think I'm going to have a wife."
Shocking the Kids
An elderly Jewish man in Miami called his son in New York and says, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of this misery is enough.”
“Pop, what are you talking about?” the son screamed.
“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer. We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you can call your sister in Chicago and tell her,” and the father hung up.
Frantic, the son called his sister, who exploded on the phone. “Like hell they’re getting divorced,” she shouted, “I’ll take care of this.”
She called her father immediately, and screamed at him, “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?” and hung up.
The old man hung up and called to his wife, “Okay, they’re coming for Rosh Hashanah. Now what do we tell them for Pesach?”
And why didn’t the computerized shofar work on Rosh Hashanah? The rabbi didn’t buy enough RAM.
Jack needed to deliver an emergency message to a Jewish man, but it was Rosh Hashanah and the man was in shul.
When Jack got to the sanctuary door, he was told that he could not go in without a ticket.
“But I need to deliver an emergency message, and all I want to do is go in to deliver it—I’ll be right back out.”
The usher said, “O.K.; go in, but remember, no praying!”
We have very strong evidence that the sages of the Talmud had extremely retentive memories. They quoted verses of the Bible from memory to each other in argument and rebuttal. Witness this exchange:
R. Eleazar said: “If the people of Israel repent, they will be redeemed, as it is stated, ‘Return, O backsliding children, I will heal your backslidings.’” Said R. Joshua to him: “Is it not written, ‘For thus has God said, for naught were you sold and without silver shall you be redeemed.’” Rejoined R. Eleazar, “But does it not say, ‘Return unto Me and I will return unto you, said God’?”
On and on this went, quoting yet another five verses about redemption to each other. It was a veritable battle of the verses. (For the curious, the verses are from Jeremiah 3:14, Isaiah 52:3, and Malachi 3:7 respectively, and R. Eleazar apparently lost.) The Talmud doesn’t record where the verses came from—for the simple reason that the schema for the division of the books of the Bible into chapters and verses wasn’t developed until about 1230 CE by Archbishop Stephen Langton, a Catholic priest. Think of how the argument could have progressed if Langton’s system had been invented earlier—the discussion could have gone as follows.
“I say Jeremiah 3:14.” “But consider Isaiah 52:3.” “No, think of Malachi 3:7.” ...
Turn the pages of the years to modern times. A certain news reporter, hearing of a remote tribe that communicated in a very unusual, even cryptic, fashion, decided to write an article about them. When he arrived at the tribe’s home he was met by an anthropologist who was studying them, and as he spoke the language, he offered to interpret for the reporter. The tribe was just beginning a meeting, so the scientist asked the reporter to be quiet and observe.
One of the tribal elders stood and said a word. Everyone chuckled. Another stood and said two words. The people smirked and poked one another. Someone else rose and shouted another two words, and half of the people laughed while the others just grinned. This continued for some time. The reporter couldn’t hold his curiosity any longer.
“What’s going on? What are they saying?”
The scientist said, “Shhh. They’re telling funny stories, trying to outdo each other.”
“What kind of story? I only hear a word or two.”
“They have all the stories memorized so they just use its number, and call that out in response to the last story.”
“Oh. Sounds like fun. Can I try?”
“Well, you need to be careful; they’re pretty sensitive. I’ll ask.” He did, and then said, “OK, they said you can tell your story. I’ll translate, but you don’t know what number corresponds to what story.”
“Well, I’ll just use one that they haven’t used. Tell them ‘23.’”
The anthropologist recited the number. The people looked shocked. Some waved their fists and others turned away, making all sorts of disapproving sounds. The reporter was confused.
“What happened? What did I do wrong?”
“That story is so old and tired that they had vowed to kill the next person who mentioned it—quick, better think of something else!”
The reporter thought quickly and said, “187.”
The tribe erupted into howls of laughter, some falling off their logs onto the ground while others were doubled over trying to catch their breath. The chief came over and hugged the reporter, pounding him on the back. When the frenzy had died down, the reporter asked why he had gotten such a reaction. The scientist smiled.
“They loved it! The chief said that your story was completely original; one that they had absolutely never heard before, and that they just loved it.”
High Holiday Appeal
The new year's capital campaign director of the local Federation office realized that they had never received a donation from the town's most successful lawyer. So a volunteer was sent to call on the lawyer to solicit his donation.
Said the volunteer, "Our research showed that even though your annual income is over a million dollars, you've never made any charitible contributions! Wouldn't you like to give back to your community?"
The lawyer thought for a moment. "First, did any of your research show that my mother has been seriously ill for the last several years and is close to death, and and she has huge medical bills far beyond her ability to pay?"
The volunteer, embarrassed, mumbled, "Uh, no."
"Second, did your research turn up the fact that my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind and confined to a wheelchair and is unable to support his wife and six children?"
Stricken, the volunteer began to stammer an apology but was cut off by the lawyer, whose voice had risen in indignation.
"Third, did it show that my sister's husband died three months ago in a dreadful traffic accident," said he, "leaving her penniless with a mortgage and three children?"
The humiliated volunteer, completely subdued, murmered, "I had no idea."
"Well then... if I don't give any money to them, why should I give any to you?"
A Lot to Pray For?
Hershele didn’t like to spend much time in the synagogue. One Rosh Hashanah, as Hershele was trying to slip out of shul early, his rabbi stopped and rebuked him: “Doesn’t it look wrong to you that I should spend hours in prayer while you only take ten minutes?”
“But, rabbi,” replied Hershele. “You have so much to be thankful for! Your carriage and your fine horses, your house, your gold and silver, your fancy dishes. But look at me. I have a nagging wife, my six children, and a skinny goat. And so my prayers are very simple: ‘Wife, children, goat’ —and I’m done.”
The Progressive Competition
Three Reform rabbis were bragging over whose temple was the most progressive.
“In our temple,” bragged the first, “we have ashtrays in the pews so that our congregants can smoke during the Torah reading.”
“That’s nothing,” commented the second rabbi. “In our temple we serve a special snack during Yom Kippur—ham sandwiches.”
“Not bad,” said the third rabbi dismissively, “but in our temple, when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come around, we simply announce in our bulletin and display a sign: ‘Closed for the Holidays.’”
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