Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Behar-Bechukosai
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
EVERYDAY CASES INVOLVING INTEREST
Although the Biblical prohibition against charging interest (ribbis) on a
loan is well-known, few people are aware of the many applications and
ramifications of the laws of interest. Transgressing these laws could result
in the violation of up to six negative commandments according to the
Rambam(1), so it is imperative that we examine some everyday situations
where the laws of interest apply.
SOME FORBIDDEN FORMS OF BORROWING:
A loan may not be made with conditions which will benefit the lender. He may
not stipulate that in exchange for the loan, the borrower should patronize
him, refer others to his or another person's business(2), be given a job(3),
or make a donation to tzedakah(4). It is permitted, however, to lend money
with the stipulation that the borrower will accept a job offer or take a
course, etc., if the lender's aim is solely to benefit the borrower or to
ensure that his loan will be repaid(5).
It is forbidden to lend money to a handyman on condition that he will work
for the lender at a lower wage(6).
It is forbidden to borrow another person's credit card to make a purchase on
which the borrower makes monthly payments with interest. Similarly, it is
forbidden to borrow another person's credit card to obtain a cash advance.
These transactions are forbidden because legally, the owner of the card is
responsible for the payments. In effect, it is as if the borrower is
borrowing money from the credit-card owner and then repaying him the
principal plus interest(7).
It is permitted to borrow another person's credit card (when no interest is
paid) even though the credit-card owner benefits from the borrower's
purchase by earning mileage, etc.(8).
It is forbidden to lend money on condition that the borrower will (at a
later date) lend the lender money for a longer period of time or a larger
amount of money than the present loan entails. It is debatable if the lender
can make that type of condition if the amount of money and time will be the
same as those of the present loan(9).
It is forbidden to charge extra money for a post-dated check, since the
person issuing the check is actually paying interest for the privilege of
A form of ribbis of which many people are not aware is the case of two
people agreeing to an uneven exchange of jobs or chores. For instance, a
teacher should not say to a colleague, "I will teach your period if you will
teach mine" ??if the two periods being exchanged are not exactly equal, both
in the length of time and in the difficulty of work entailed(10). Similarly,
one may not say to his friend, "I will paint your house if you will paint
mine," if the two houses are not exactly even in size and in the amount of
It is forbidden to tell someone, "Have a meal with me, since I ate at your
house last week." This appears to be payment of debt, and since one might
give his friend a more elaborate meal than the meal he received, it may be
perceived as ribbis. Some poskim(12), however, permit saying, "Come to my
house for lunch, and I'll eat lunch at your house next week", while other
poskim prohibit this as well(13).
Note: It is important to remember that in some of the cases in which it is
prohibited to charge interest, a heter iska (a partnership agreement) can be
drawn up by a competent rabbinic authority which allows the transaction to
be carried out in a halachically permissible manner.
SOME FORBIDDEN FORMS OF REPAYMENT:
The prohibition of ribbis is not limited to monetary payments. A favor or a
benefit of any sort which the lender receives from the borrower may fall
into the category of interest. There are several basic rules which govern
the extent of this prohibition:
a. A borrower may not extend a favor to a lender just because he got a loan
from him. If the borrower would not have done the favor otherwise, it is
forbidden to do the favor.
b. The borrower may not do a favor for the lender in public even if he would
have done the favor regardless of the loan.
c. When the relationship between a borrower and a lender is long established
and the borrower has previously granted public favors to the lender, such a
relationship may continue even after a loan takes place.
SOME APPLICATIONS OF THESE RULES:
A borrower may not praise(14) or bless(15) a lender for lending him money or
for extending a payment deadline. Some poskim even prohibit saying a simple
thank-you(16), while others allow a simple thank-you(17).
A borrower may not buy a lender an aliyah in appreciation for a loan(18).
A borrower may not send mishloach manos to a lender(19), tutor a lender or
his child in the study of Torah without compensation(20), offer him
charity(21), sell him goods or offer a service below market price,(22) or
buy goods from him or pay him for a service above market value(23), unless
he would have done so regardless of the loan.
A borrower may invite a lender to a wedding even if he would not have
invited him were it not for the loan(24).
Institutions, e.g., yeshivos, shuls, etc. may honor an individual who has
loaned them money, provided that the honor was not a condition for granting
It is permitted for a borrower to give a wedding gift to the son or daughter
of a lender(26), even if he would not have given a gift were it not for the
loan. The gift must be an item which the groom's/bride's father would not
normally purchase for his child(27).
A borrower may extend to a lender a common courtesy, such as changing money
for him. A lender, though, may not (strongly) request a favor from a
borrower, even if it is merely a common courtesy(28).
Note: All non-financial benefits and favors are prohibited only while a loan
is outstanding. Once a loan is repaid, this type of ribbis prohibition no
1 Hilchos Malveh v'Loveh 4:2. See also Sefer ha-Mitzvos (Shoresh 6).
4 Rama Y.D. 160:14 (concerning hekdesh). R' Akiva Eiger adds that it is also
prohibited to say, "I will lend you 100 if you will return 102 to hekdesh".
5 Questions of Interest, pg. 45.
6 Shach Y.D. 160:37.
7 Mishnas Ribbis 17:7 based on Y.D. 168:17. See also Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:42
and ha-Mesivta, 1998, pg. 374-379. Sometimes, the borrower promises to make
payments within the grace period and then fails to honor his commitment,
leaving the credit-card owner with the interest payments. See Mishnas Ribbis
who discusses a way for the lender to be compensated in such a case.
8 Since the points are awarded by the credit-card company, not by the
9 Rama Y.D. 160:9.
10 If, however, the work itself is comparable but the wages are not (for
reasons of seniority, etc.) they are permitted to switch; Toras Ribbis, pg.
11 Y.D. 160:9. Partners, however, may divide their work in any way they
choose and exchange their obligations at any time; Chasam Sofer Y.D. 135.
12 Rama O.C. 170; Aruch ha-Shulchan O.C. 170:14.
13 Taz quoted by Mishnah Berurah 170:32.
14 Nor may he greet him in a warmer or more gracious manner then he had
previously greeted him; Y.D. 160:11.
15 Even expressions like ye'yashar kochachem or tizku l'mitzvos are to be
avoided; see Birkei Yosef 160:12, Minchas Shelomo 27 and Bris Yehudah 11:29.
16 Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:80. A possible solution is to thank him for his effort
in making the loan.
18 Shach Y.D. 166:1. If the lender is called to the Torah and he then
realizes that the aliyah was bought for him by the borrower, he need not
walk away from his aliyah (Harav S. Wosner, Kol ha-Torah, vol. 42, pg. 228).
19 Mishnas Ribbis 3, note 18.
20 Y.D. 160:10.
21 Shulchan Aruch Harav 14.
22 Shach 160:37.
23 Shach 173:6.
24 Harav Y. Roth and other poskim quoted in Questions of Interest (pg. 57).
Several reasons are given: 1. The invitation is in recognition of their
present social friendship, not an expression of appreciation. 2. A wedding
invitation is not a public honor. 3. A wedding host considers the food as a
gift to his guests.
25 Based on Y.D. 160:18.
26 A bar/bas mitzvah gift may be given only after the child's birthday has
passed, since prior to his birthday, the item will belong to the father, who
is the lender.
27 Bris Yehudah, pg. 227.
28 Y.D. 160:12, Shulchan Aruch Harav 10. See Darkei Teshuvah 80 and Bris
29 Birkei Yosef Y.D. 160:11. See Yabia Omer Y.D. 4:9.