Jewish Journal

Cramer v. Stewart…Jew v. Jew

by Rob Eshman

March 13, 2009 | 10:10 pm

Cramer v. Stewart; Jew v. Jew

Last night’s encounter between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer should be replayed, studied, discussed and memorized at every single yeshiva and Jewish day school.
Make the debate a mandatory part of the curriculum.  Why?  Because there are few more concise, dramatic and entertaining ways to engage in one of the central ongoing questions Judaism asks:  How do you balance the need for money with the curse of money?
In many ways these two men are mirror images of each other: both are from modest, middle class Jewish upbringings.  Both are from the northeast (Stewart from New York and New Jersey, Cramer from Pennsylvannia).  Both went to good east coast schools (Stewart attended William and Mary and Cramer graduated from some place called Harvard).  They are scrappy outsiders: combative, quick-witted, engaging (okay, I can’t say Cramer is my idea of fun, but he has his fans).  These two middle -aged, affluent white Jewish males are similar on so many counts, from their outsized ambitions to their modest heights.
And yet, and yet… in their souls, in their values, they represent the twin poles of Jewish existence, almost to the point of caricature.
Think of Cramer as representing the need for wealth and the security it brings.  In Jewish history, this was embodied in the stories not just of our patriarchs like Abraham, who may have started poor but ended up as pretty well-off, but of the kings, who pursued wealth and palaces and women.  Judaism is not a religion of poverty and self-abnegation.  It accords no special place to the meek and the poor.  In fact, the ancient rabbis made laws to protect the rights of the rich, who may be unjustly treated by courts sympathizing with the impoverished.  And yet…
Confronting the tradition of our patriarchs and kings are our prophets.  They railed against the unbridaled power and wealth of the kings.  They decried the role of money and empty ritual in Jewish life.  They exhorted Jews to return to the non-materialistic, eternal values— justice, mercy, faith, charity.  And they were pursued and persecuted, always in conflict with the kings.
What the world saw Thursday night was the king versus the prophet, the marketplace versus the temple, greed versus grace, the things of this world versus the eternal values of the world-to-come. It is a tension at the heart of Jewish life, and the tension and temptation within all our hearts.
When Bernie Madoff and his wife gave millions of stolen money to support the Gift of Life bone marrow transplant registry, it’s possible they were trying to reconcile their inner Cramer with their inner Stewarts.  Even crooks can have a conscience, and I suspect Jewish goniffs have particularly twisted ones.  Which, by the way, may explain why Jim Cramer looked so uncomfortable last night….




Ask Jim Cramer



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