The Pawnbroker (1964)

Screenwriter(s): Morton S. Fine, David Friedkin

The Reason for Jewish Business Acumen: A Little Brain and a Great Bearded Legend


The Reason for Jewish Business Acumen: A Little Brain and a Great Bearded Legend

Embittered Jewish pawnbroker Sol Nazerman (Rod Steiger) in East Harlem, survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, was asked by young Puerto Rican Jesus Ortiz (Jaime Sanchez), his shop assistant, about Jewish business success: “So how come you people come to business so natural.” Sol explained, becoming increasingly more angry and raising his voice:


“You people? Oh, I see. Yeah. I see. I see, you, uh, you want to learn the secret of our success, is that right? All right, I teach you. First of all, you start off with a period of several thousand years, during which you have nothing to sustain you but a great bearded legend. Oh my friend, you have, uh, no land to call your own, to grow food on or to hunt. You have nothing. You’re never in one place long enough to have a geography or an army or a land myth. All you have is a little brain. A little brain and a great bearded legend to sustain you and convince you that you are even in poverty. But this, uh, this little brain, that’s the real key, you see.

“With this little brain, you go out and you buy a piece of cloth, and you cut that cloth in two and you go out and sell it for a penny more than you paid for it. Then you run right out and buy another piece of cloth, cut it into three pieces and sell it for three pennies profit. But, my friend, during that time, you must never succumb to buying an extra piece of bread for the table or a toy for a child, no. You must immediately run out and get yourself a still larger piece of cloth and so you repeat this process over and over. And suddenly you discover something. You have no longer any desire, any temptation to dig into the Earth to grow food or to gaze at a limitless land and call it your own, no, no.

You just go on and on and on repeating this process over the centuries, over and over, and suddenly you make a grand discovery. You have a mercantile heritage! You are a merchant. You are known as a usurer, a man with secret resources, a witch, a pawnbroker, a sheenie, a makie and a kike!