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A Better Mousetrap: Rube Goldberg and Jewish American Assimilation

Steve Gimbel, Stephen Stern, and Olivia Handelman

Vol. 3, No. 2

Winter 2021

Pages: 354-365

A Better Mousetrap: Rube Goldberg and Jewish American Assimilation

DOI: 10.33929/sherm.2021.vol3.no2.08

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Abstract

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Jewish Studies

Judaism, Assimilation, Jewish-American, Cartoons, Comedy, Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg’s cartoons made him the first Jewish-American comedy star, but on the surface his works seem completely American and not at all Jewish. While the content of his most famous comic strip “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts” is reflective of the American ethos of innovation that was flourishing at the time, his religious roots are present in the form of the cartoons. There are strong structural similarities between these drawings and the European Jewish joke cycle concerning the wise men of Chelm that lampoon the byzantine Talmudic arguments of the rabbinate. In adopting this Jewish form of humor, but substituting the American civil religion of modernist innovative capitalism in the place of Talmudic interpretation as its focus, Goldberg’s humor signals the interest of Jewish Americans to be both Jewish and fully American.

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