Have I got a Cartoon for You: The Moment Magazine Book of Jewish Cartoons

October 3, 2021 by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen
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Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen reviews the book edited by Bob Mankoff.

In only 82 pages Mankoff posits that these are the best Jewish cartoons ever. To say this is a tall order is clearly to downplay the challenge. Any reader would disagree with the premise, I know I did! To be honest there were a few which I found wanting. Others I had seen before and enjoyed. Some I had even used as part of a presentation on Jewish Humour a few years ago.

Others over the past century or so have tried to explain, or even analyse, Jewish Humour. Clearly, a cartoon reinforces the classic argument that a picture is worth a thousand words. Like friends who send me jokes and cartoons, some Jewish, some secular I did look forward to seeing what Mankoff had selected. Mankoff does have a reasonable claim to bring this book together. First, he produced around two thousand before his first was accepted and has subsequently had close to one thousand published. Second, he was the cartoon editor at The New Yorker for some twenty years. Third, he is currently president of catooncollection.com

This book begins with a Foreword by Roz Chast (of whom I had never previously heard) as well as an Introduction by Mankoff. Normally my reaction is to avoid these for they rarely add anything to the book. In this case. I am wrong. Mankoff’s Introduction is such that it is tempting to quote extensively from it, which would save the reader of this review the effort- it is too good to deprive you of that pleasure.

Writers for over the past century have tried to explain Jewish humour in general. Some have been anthologies with stories illustrating concepts. One thinks of Nathan Ausubel’s Treasury of Jewish Humour; Berger’s The Genius of the Jewish Joke or William Novak’s two volumes Die Laughing: Killer Jokes for Newly Old Folks or the Big Book of Jewish Humor. And then of course there is Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish.

Jewish humour for much of the twentieth century seems to have been an attempt to explain the Jewish world and in particular Jewish suffering. There are cartoons in this book that attempt to make light of suffering. It was the way in which Jews dealt with it (in general). What is interesting in this book is how the social commentary has changed. There is an understanding of religious observance rather than a mocking of it. I found one of my favourite cartoons in this book where an observant Jew [who is portrayed as a Hasid] is on the telephone telling the other party that “I am available 24/6” {it is actually featured on the cover”}.

Humour and cartoons change. When I was in High School, the school Library had back issues of Punch magazine. I would look at back issues from twenty and fifty years before. I would look particularly at the cartoons. Rarely did I find them funny for, although they often were commenting on events of the day, they rarely transcended time. Some of those selected for this collection suffered from the same challenge while others could be seen as timeless.

Obviously, there is a question which this book does not attempt to answer. We are approaching the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. We have seen how social media has changed so much of the world. The obvious question becomes how will Jewish humour in general, and the cartoon in particular adapt and change to meet the challenges of the next decade or quarter-century.

It does not take long to flip through 82 pages. I am glad that I have added it to my collection of books on Jewish Humour. There will be times when I will return to it and many of the cartoons do bring a smile to my face.



Jeffrey Cohen is associated with the School of Medicine (Sydney), University of Notre Dame Australia as well as on Staff at St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, Sydney. He has previously held academic appointments at UNSW Sydney and St Louis University. He also served as CEO of the Sydney Jewish Museum for 5 years and Senior Consultant to Museum Planning Services. He has served congregations in the United States and in the United Kingdom.


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