A Rabbi Walks Into a Bar…

Speaking of the High Holy Days, did you hear the one about Morrie and Estie, who decide to skip services and go on a safari? They end up getting lost in the dark jungles of Africa.

“Don’t worry,” Morrie soothes his terrified wife. “We have nothing to worry about — I didn’t pay our pledge to the yeshiva this year.”

“So?” she wails, in fear.

“They’ll find us!” he says.

Or how about the one where the man comes to the rabbi on Yom Kippur afternoon and tells him he’s dying for a drink?

“Today is Yom Kippur, and you want to drink?” the rabbi says.

“Please, just a small drink. I can’t take it anymore!”

The rabbi is moved by the man’s suffering, so he gives him a glass of water.

“Thank you, thank you,” the man says. “I promise, I’ll never eat schmaltz herring on Yom Kippur morning ever again!”

Ba-dump-bump. Maybe you’ve heard some of these jokes before, but probably not compiled together and interspersed throughout the Torah’s weekly portions.

Joe Bobker’s “Torah with a Twist of Humor” (Devora Publishing, 2004) could be a boon to every rabbi or congregant who needs to spice up their sermons, studies and divrei Torah — words of Torah often centered around the parsha, the weekly portion.

Rabbis of the Talmud advised to begin every d’var Torah with a joke, Bobker says. “Why? It is wise, no matter what you are doing, to enjoy what you are doing, and laughter is relaxing, a unifying force for the audience, and, according to Tehillim, God’s presence doesn’t dwell in a place where there is no joy,” Bobker writes. “Laughter is a serious business.”

It is for Bobker, an Angeleno now living in Jerusalem. He tells the tale of each portion and intersperses a dozen or so jokes into every Torah portion beginning with Genesis: “The elderly rabbi walks up to a young lady in a miniskirt, greets her politely, and hands her a fruit.

‘What’s this for?’

‘Well, Eve didn’t know she was naked either, until she ate a fruit.'”

And continuing through “Zos Habracha,” the final Torah portion:

“As the elderly rabbi walks by, a young Salvation Army worker asks, ‘Sir, won’t you give a coin to the Lord? The rabbi stops and asks the boy how old he is. ‘Nineteen, rabbi.’

‘Well, I’m past 75. I’ll be seeing Him before you, so I’ll hand it to Him myself.'”

With the High Holy Days approaching, rabbis busy writing their sermons should always keep their audience in mind.

“My d’var Torah at the dinner last night was a smash hit,” bragged the notoriously egocentric young rabbi, “I had the audience glued in their seats.”

“Wonderful, wonderful,” rejoined the older rav. “Clever of you to think of it.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Who needs law school? Just marry a lawyer!

First, let me say that by the time I announced to my family that I was actually getting married, at the already questionable child-bearing age of 34, they would have been
ecstatic had I said I was marrying a Martian.

The fact that Larry was a lawyer, on the partner track at a reputable Los Angeles law firm, was a bonus. The fact that he was a Jewish lawyer, strongly identified as a Member of the Tribe and actively engaged in the community, was beyond their wildest hopes.

But, hey, what do you think happens when you meet your future spouse at a Jewish Federation-sponsored gala singles dance at Hillcrest Country Club?

I’ll tell you.

You have three tables or more of lawyers at your wedding. At ours, even the rabbi who performed the ceremony, Ben Zion Bergman, was a licensed lawyer.
And, after almost 24 years of marriage, here’s what else happens.

I can tell you that there’s no contract that can’t be broken, that the law is not always just and that gift certificates and gift cards in California cannot expire (see California Code § 1749.45 — 1794.6).

I can also tell you about Regulation Z (the federal Truth in Lending law), about the legal doctrine of estoppel and about movie-slate financing for hedge funds investing in films (well, maybe I’m reaching here).

In short, I’m pretty much a practicing lawyer myself.

Sure, I sat for the Law School Admission Test back in 1980 and even progressed as far as requesting applications from several Southern California law schools. But I didn’t need to endure the rigors of a constitutional law class to learn about separation of church and state as outlined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

And I didn’t need to spend three months holed up with a California Bar Exam review tutorial and another three months nervously awaiting the Bar Exam results before I could evict a tenant who wasn’t paying rent or sue a savings and loan in Small Claims Court for a consumer fraud violation.

Nope, I just needed to marry Larry.

Now I can look up any law I need on www.findlaw.com and then check my legal interpretation with my resident expert. And here’s the best part: no hourly rate to pay. There’s only the small price of feigning interest when, after answering my question, he goes didactic on me, printing out a compendium of relevant case summaries that he expects me to enthusiastically read.

But in our litigation-driven society, having a bona fide lawyer on “’til-death-do-us-part” retainer can be a handy asset. Larry can expertly negotiate any sale, be it house, car or mortgage refinance; he can read and understand the small print on any document (without glasses, no less), and he can make all investment and insurance decisions.

But what’s the downside? Surely, there’s a reason for all those lawyer jokes.
In other words, what’s it like — day after day, year after year — trying to have discussions with someone who is trained and gets paid for poking holes in any argument? Who reads articles word by painstaking word with one hand guiding a ruler underneath each line and the other hand holding a red pen? And who seamlessly inserts phrases such as nunc pro tunc and res ipsa loquitor into what passes for normal conversation?

That’s the key phrase: normal conversation. Can you just chitchat over morning coffee with someone who is reputedly aggressive, analytic and always watching the clock? With someone who values objectivity and reason over emotion and intuition? Who listens carefully to a complicated and long-deliberated observation and then matter of factly responds, “That makes no sense.”

“What makes no sense?” I ask.

“Look, why would someone do that?” he invariably says, pointing out that he’s trained to ferret out the motivation behind any action.

“So,” I answer, using my own keen rebuttal skills, “who cares.” After all, just because his clients pay large sums of money for his advice and then actually follow it, I’m not obligated to do the same.

And that’s the secret. Different strokes. While Larry resorts to what I lovingly call his “lawyer tricks,” relentlessly bombarding me with logical arguments and making normal marital melees an impossibility, I rely on irrationality. And that makes perfect sense. After all, Larry is a JD (juris doctor) and I’m an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling and judgmental person, based on the Myers-Briggs typology test).

But opposites attract. They even complement each other. And I have to say that it’s been my left-brained, logical and level-headed husband who has ethically enlightened me.

It’s Larry, contrary to the cutthroat and merciless legal stereotype, who has taught me about the sanctity of human life, the cruelty of sarcasm and ridicule, the power of kindness, the virtue of patience and the paramount importance of family.

It’s also Larry who’s taught me that journalists need their spouses’ permission to quote them in print (I learned that one the hard way) and that, yes, spouses can sue spouses (so far, this has not been necessary).

And it’s Larry who has already carefully vetted this column and, in accordance with the Communication Act’s equal opportunity provision, is probably already drafting his response. It will be titled. “I Married a Journalist.”

Look for it in your local legal newspaper.

Freelance writer Jane Ulman lives in Encino, where lawyer-marriages are legal.

Meeting Dr. Soulmate

Somehow, the universe knows. It knows when you have on a fresh coat of MAC lipgloss, some cute heels you got on sale at Charles David and clean hair that’s looking halfway decent. It knows. That’s the night you won’t meet anyone.

If a principle is true, then so is its opposite, which I proved by meeting the future Mr. Strasser in a Utah emergency room, between bouts of moaning in a fetal position and dry heaving. To be honest, the future Mr. Strasser probably has no memory of me other than in his notes: "Patient presents with fever and severe stomach pain. Possible pancreatitis. Please refrain from asking her out because that would be unprofessional even though you’re obviously unbearably attracted to her." OK, I added that last part.

It’s hard to imagine that I could have been less delectable. In Salt Lake City for work, I woke up one morning with searing stomach pain. I called my mom, tried every remedy in the hotel gift shop and wept for about six hours before giving in and finding the nearest hospital.

A co-worker drove me there, and as we pulled up to the ER, we passed a landing pad for trauma choppers. Kind of put my tummyache in perspective, but man did I feel bad; I couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk upright and I had the green-hued sheen of an extra on "Six Feet Under."

After checking in, I was given a room next to another woman named Teresa, a psych patient who couldn’t stop shouting "Who took my shoes?" I don’t know, Teresa. The Crazy Fairy? When the nurse told her to lower her voice, she said, "I can’t hear myself until I talk loud."

Oh, really? Well, I can’t stop heaving and the sound of your voice is about as settling to my stomach as last week’s sashimi.

Just when Crazy Teresa (and I call her that so you don’t get confused) got sedated, a 19-year-old named Amber came in screaming, "It’s my birthday. You don’t know what it’s like to be a junkie! I haven’t eaten in two days." Whatever happened to broken bones and slingshot wounds? I wished Amber happy birthday, gave her all $7 in my wallet and shuffled back to my room, holding my gown together in back.

Moments later, my doctor appeared. Cue the violins and gauzy light because no way an intern in the ER could be that gorgeous. He adjusted his wire-rim glasses and tucked a loose tangle of long blond hair behind his ear.

He introduced himself and I thought, "Mr. Strasser, what are you doing in Salt Lake City? Do you realize we’re getting married? I think I love you." (I should mention here that I had a high fever and may or may not have been delirious.)

Now, there are many conversational topics that are nice for that first meeting with one’s soulmate: the weather, favorite movies, work, religious beliefs, politics. One topic that doesn’t make that list is bowel movements.

"Have you had any bowel movements today? Are you having diarrhea? Are your bowels discolored?" Dr. Soulmate asked.

On the one hand, decent medical care required that I be honest, on the other, human dignity required that the color of my stool be between my maker and me.

My health won out. "To tell you the truth, doctor, it’s sort of puce."

"Puce? I’m not sure what color that is," he said.

"It’s kind of brownish-purple." Great, now I’m trying to explain to the doctor that puce is the new brown. This was not going well.

"Married or single?" he later asked.

Did he really need to know, I wondered? Or was he secretly saying that he too felt our union was destined?

"I’m not sure what’s wrong with you," he said. "I’m passing you along to my attending." That must be doctor speak for "It’s not you, it’s me."

Of course, if he had made advances toward me, I would have thought he was sleazy and unprofessional and quite possibly had a puce fetish I could never accept or understand. It was a lose-lose-lose my lunch situation. We were star-crossed lovers, doomed. Still, if he had actually noticed me, he might have overstepped the rules of propriety and I might have overlooked his overlooking and it would all be a cute story — except the part about the puce.

He left with me with an IV of nausea medication and the attending physician, a very nice, very butch-looking woman who shut Amber up with one stare. She sent me home with a prescription, a diagnosis of heat stroke, directions to eat only food I could see through and the fantasy that somewhere in Utah, a young intern is pining for me, wishing we could have met under circumstances that were easier to stomach.

Funny Because It’s Jewish

Nothing much happened on the way to the temple. But a funny thing happened inside.

A laughter-filled evening, with a bit of insight thrown in, was a sure bet as the popular Writers Bloc series brought together actor-comic Jerry Stiller, Vegas legend Shecky Greene, uber-comedy writer Shelley Berman and "youngster" Jeffrey Ross.

The funnymen sat down with author Lawrence Epstein ("The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America") at Temple Emanuel to talk about Jewish comedy. Barry Glassner, of USC’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, moderated.

"What is Jewish Comedy?" was the question of the evening. But for the answer, you’ll have to read Epstein’s book. With four professional comedians in front of a packed house, this Writer’s Bloc evening brought out the shtick. Stiller got some of the biggest laughs of the night with an out-of-the-blue a cappella impression of the Nicholas Brothers dancing to Jimmy Durante singing "Inka-Dinka-Do."

At one point, Ross announced "I gotta pee" and walked off stage. He returned with a paper toilet seat cover around his neck. It was that kind of night.

Writer’s Bloc founder Andrea Grossman started the evening off right with "a moment of applause and laughter" in honor of the recently departed Milton Berle. Then Glassner gamely tried to start a civil conversation about comedy. But checking the stage and finding four comics and two professors, Ross complained, "We can’t get started, we don’t have a minyan." Still, once things did get started, the audience got some answers. Greene and Berman agreed that Jewish comedy is about the comedian, not the jokes. "If a Jewish comedian tells a joke, it’s a Jewish joke," Greene said.

Berman added, "I didn’t bring Jewishness into my act, I brought a Jew into my act."

Ross offered his view that a Jewish joke is "a joke about alienation, an outsider’s point of view."

Stiller, recalling his own childhood facing anti-Semitism and general awkwardness, summed up his own path to a comedy career and the history of Jewish comedy, saying, "When life was threatening, you found humor was a way that people started to like you."