Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Zachary Braiterman


American Judaism, Cultural Studies, Humor theory, Jewish humor, Jewish literature, Judaism

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


Jewish humor is a well-known, if ill-defined genre. The prevalence and success of Jewish comedians has been a point of pride for American Jews throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. What I undertake in this dissertation is to isolate one particular form of humor-namely satire-and use it as a way to analyze the changing relationship of American Jews to traditional religious forms. I look at the trends over three generations, the third generation (who came of age in the 40s and 50s), the Baby Boom generation (who came of age in the 60s and 70s) and the contemporary generation (who came of age in the 80s and 90s). When the satire produced by each generation is analyzed with the depiction of Judaism and Jewish practices in mind a certain pattern emerges. By then reading that pattern through Bill Brown's Thing Theory it becomes possible to talk about the motivations for and effects of the change over time in a new way. What the analysis revealed is that the third generation related to Judaism as a Thing, which in Brownian terms means it no longer functioned. Some, like Woody Allen and Joseph Heller actively promulgated that way of breaking free from the shackles of piety. Others, like Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud saw the turning of Judaism into a Thing as establishing dangerous precedents for inter-Jewish relationships. The Baby Boom generation lacked their own take on the turning of Judaism into a Thing; early on they matched the third generation, later they matched the contemporary generation. And the contemporary generation, rather than being content with the Judaism-Thing they inherited reversed the process, injecting new life and new purpose into Jewish practices in their texts.


Open Access