Every month in this space, Joseph Epstein tells a Jewish joke and invites you, the COMMENTARY reader, to offer an exegesis of it in 250 words or less.
First off, this month’s new joke.
The Three Jewish-Mother Jokes
Mrs. Mutchnik is on the beach in Boca Raton with her three-year-old grandson Jeffrey when a great wave comes crashing onto shore, lifts the little boy in its wake, and carries him out into the churning ocean.
Looking to the heavens, Mrs. Mutchnik cries out, “Oh, please, Lord, please return my dear and only little grandson.”
When, lo, another gigantic wave rolls in, depositing Jeffrey safely at his grandmother’s feet.
Mrs. Mutchnik looks up once again to the sky and exclaims, petulantly, “He had a hat.”
“My son Bernie,” says Mrs. Kaplan to Mrs. Bernstein, “is in psychoanalysis.”
“Really,” says Mrs. Bernstein, “and what does the psychoanalyst tell him?”
“He tells Bernie that he has an Oedipus Complex.”
“So what’s an Oedipus Complex?” asks Mrs. Bernstein.
“I don’t know,” says Mrs. Kaplan.
“Oh, well,” says Mrs. Bernstein. “Oedipus, schmoedipus, the main thing is that a boy should love his mother.”
At 2:00 p.m. sharp the ladies arrive for Rose Kaufman’s regular Tuesday afternoon Mahjong game. Mrs. Ginsberg, the furrier’s wife, comes in first, followed by Mrs. Greenstein, the wife of the dentist, and Mrs. Hochberg, wife of Julius Hochberg, CPA.
Silently, without a word passing among them, the women take their seats. They select and arrange their tiles.
“Oy,” says Mrs. Ginsberg.
“Oy, veh,” says Mrs. Greenstein.
“Oy, gevalt,” says Mrs. Hochberg.
“Now ladies,” says Mrs. Kaufman, “I thought we agreed that we wouldn’t discuss our children.”
Now here’s the joke that ran in our January issue.
The Love on the Couch Joke
FEINGOLD, the retail furniture mogul, appears on Friday morning in the rabbi’s study with an aggrieved look on his face. When the rabbi asks him what is wrong, Feingold says:
“Last night, I returned to my store at ten o’clock and discovered my wife, Gladys, who is supposed to be at her book club, being made love to by Sid Schwartzkopf, my top salesman, in our showroom, on the Thomasville convertible couch, in fawn beige, stock number 3285086. I left in shock. They don’t know I saw them.”
“Clearly,” says the rabbi, “you must leave your wife.”
“But, Rabbi, Gladys and I have been married for thirty-eight years. So far as I know, this is the first time she has ever been unfaithful to me.”
“Very well,” says the rabbi, “then you must fire your salesman.”
“Fire Sid Schwartzkopf! Rabbi, he accounts for more than half the sales in the store. I can’t fire Sidney.”
“Well,” says the rabbi, “you must do one or the other: leave your wife or fire your salesman. Take the weekend to think about it, and let’s meet again here in my study on Monday.”
Monday morning, Feingold appears in the rabbi’s study, his face abeam with a broad smile.
“Ah, Mr. Feingold,” says the rabbi. “I see that you have come to a decision. Have you decided to leave your wife?”
“Rabbi, thirty-eight years is thirty-eight years. I can’t leave my wife for a single indiscretion.”
“I presume, then,” says the rabbi, “that you have fired your salesman.”
“Can’t do it, Rabbi. Without Sid Schwartzkopf, my business would be finished, kaput.”
“Then why, if I may ask,” says the rabbi, “do you look so contented, so happy even?”
“Oh,” says Feingold, “I sold the couch.”
The Winning Exegesis of “The Love on the Couch Joke” . . .
. . . comes from John Ryan of Laguna Niguel, California, who writes:
Feingold’s dilemma is that he cannot, partially for selfish reasons, take the rabbi’s advice and bring himself to punish his top salesman, or his wife of 38 years, for their romantic indiscretion. There is, however, a third party to be considered. Feingold’s detailed description of the Thomasville convertible couch, “in fawn beige, stock number 3285086,” reveals that this, undoubtedly like all his goods, is no faceless piece of framed upholstery. As the source of the furniture merchant’s livelihood, it is as important to his well-being as is Schwartzkopf the salesman . . . or his dear wife. And, as the locus of the dalliance, the sofa makes a convenient, and humorous, scapegoat.
Like the Leviticus goat sent into the wilderness on Yom Kippur to bear the blame for the sins of others, the culpable couch is literally sent packing. For Feingold, a glorious solution to a seemingly intractable problem: the guilt of his wife and his salesman are neatly transferred to the couch, leaving them purified. And, best of all for the jubilant merchant (and for the punch line), the offending couch is banished in the form of a profitable sale!
Again, please e-mail your exegeses of “The Three Jewish-Mother Jokes” (250 words or fewer) to: email@example.com. Entries must be received by April 1.