08 December 2014

Finding a shared sense of humour in
sermons in synagogues and churches

Howard Freeman shows visitors the Ark and the scrolls in the synagogue in the Irish Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I visited the Irish Jewish Museum in Walworth Road, Portobello, in Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusale,’ this afternoon with the Year II students.

Inevitably, there were questions and comparisons when it came to liturgical space and movement, the use of Sacred Scripture in public worship, the importance and role of the sermon, the person and role of the priest and the rabbi, and the place of a minority religious community within the wider community.

There were questions about the place of children in the public worship of community, the regularity and timing of weekday, weekend and holy day worship, and even the place of humour in the sermon.

I have been to this museum many times, with its small synagogue upstairs. Many of the neighbouring houses are plastered with brash posters opposing plans to develop this museum. But every city needs a Jewish Museum, and in the past I have visited similar museums in many other cities, including Rhodes, Thessaloniki, Vienna and Amsterdam.

The exhibits in the museum in Dublin are always poignant, with many stories to tell of families and members of the Jewish community in Ireland whose lives were changed irreversibly and with horror by the Holocaust.

But there are warm memories too of people, shops and the small synagogues that once lined Lower Clanbrassil Street, the South Circular Road and the small side streets of ‘Little Jerusalem.’

Howard Freeman gently guided the students through the former synagogue and the exhibits in the museum, and left us with a joke he had heard in a Saturday sermon by a rabbi:

One day, a rabbi visited the zoo and noticed that one of the gorillas was comfortably sitting in a plush armchair, with many learned books scattered on the floor around him.

On the arms of the armchair, he noticed, were two books the gorilla seemed to reading. One was the Bible, the other was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

The rabbi was taken aback and asked the gorilla: “Can you read?”

“Yes,” replied the gorilla assertively

“Why are you reading these two books?”

“Oh,” the gorilla replied, “I am just trying to figure out whether I am my brother’s keeper, or my keeper’s brother.”

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