Monday, April 26, 2010

Ribbit, lending money with interest to a non Jew

Today is the 12th of Yiar, 5770 (27 days of Omer. 3 weeks, 6 days)

Originally, the Biblical Mitzva of refraining from lending/borrowing with interest (“Ribbit”) applied to Jews alone. “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a money lender; charge him no interest" (Exodus 22:25).
One would be allowed to lend and borrow from a non-Jew with interest. However, our rabbis in the Talmud strictly forbade lending to non-Jews with interest. Borrowing with interest from a non-Jew was not forbidden.This prohibition means to prevent Jews from engaging in the money lending business with non-Jews in order to seek profit. The nature of this business implied that we constantly run after the non-Jewish borrowers. For obvious reasons, this was not desirable. Of course, we would not be running after non-Jews in order to borrow money with interest, when we can get it interest-free from our Jewish brethren. Also, by having to treat Jews and non-Jews alike in terms of not charging interest, it is likely that Jews will give preference to their Jewish brothers in need.

Historically, we learned the hard way the dangers of becoming professional lenders to our non-Jewish neighbors. Unfortunately, some Jews fell into the trap and did lend money to non-Jews with interest—especially in Christian countries where the local ecclesiastical authorities allowed Jews to lend money (some say: "Jews" were used as a smokescreen for usury). In those instances when we were attacked by anti-Semitic mobs, our former clients to whom we lent money with interest would be the first ones to join the massacre and get rid of us. After all, if we—the lenders—would die, the debt, and the interest, would die with us. The foresight of our sages should now become apparent.

Note: the laws of “Ribbit” are very complex, especially in today’s corporate world of sophisticated financial and legal structures. Ours is a basic overview of the Halakha as found in Maimonides’s Mishne Tora and in Shulchan ‘Arukh. Please consult your rabbi with any practical questions (Halakha leMa’ase).

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