Friday, July 03, 2009

The Famous Taz

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Estate Money and Interest

The Gemora allowed an administrator of an estate to invest the orphan’s money in an investment with favorable terms for them, although this is generally Rabbinically prohibited.

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 160:18), based on the Rambam and Rosh, applies this license to all Rabbinically prohibited interest, and extends this to money of charity, money donated to Torah scholars, and money donated for use in a synagogue.

What did the Torah Permit?

The Gemora quotes a statement of Rav Huna that prohibits charging interest from a non Jew. The Gemora debates why this is prohibited, and how to reconcile this statement with the verse and Mishna that seem to permit such a loan.

Tosfos (70b Tashich) asks why the Gemora was concerned with reconciling this Rabbinic law with the verse and Mishna, and answers that the Gemora assumed that the Sages would not prohibit something the Torah permitted.

The Taz states in numerous places that although the Sages have leeway to enact their own new prohibitions, they may not prohibit something explicitly permitted by the Torah.

The Taz in YD 117:1 applies this to the Rabbinic prohibition on commerce in forbidden foods. Since the Torah explicitly allows one to sell neveilah meat to a non Jew, the Rabbinic prohibition had to allow for such commerce when one chanced upon the forbidden food, so as to not fully prohibit an act the Torah explicitly allows.

The Taz in OC 588:5 discusses a question raised by earlier poskim. We find the Sages prohibited the performance of numerous mitzvos on Shabbos (e.g., Shofar, Lulav), due to a concern of one accidentally carrying to perform the mitzvah. Why did the Sages not apply this to bris milah, prohibiting a bris milah which falls on a Shabbos.

The Taz says that since the Torah explicitly said that one must perform a bris milah on the eighth day, even if it is a Shabbos, the Sages could not prohibit it.

The Chavos Yair 142 challenges this Taz from our Gemora, among others. Our Gemora is an instance where the Sages prohibited an action explicitly permitted by the Torah – i.e., charging a non Jew interest on a loan. Therefore, the Chavos Yair rejects the Taz’s thesis.

Later poskim dispute the Chavos Yair’s disproof. The Shla, quoted by the Chasam Sofer (YD 106), says that the Sages did not prohibit charging a non Jew interest, since that is indeed explicitly permitted by the Torah. Instead, the Sages prohibited a Jew from lending to a non Jew at all, and only thereby precluded the Jew from receiving interest from him.

The Chasam Sofer (YD 106, 109) says that Tosfos themselves (70b Tashich, 64b v’Lo) seem to support the Taz, and actually explain the Gemora based on his principle. According to Tosfos, when the Gemora challenged Rav Nachman from the verse, the Gemora was stating that since the Torah explicitly allowed a Jew to charge a non Jew interest, the Sages cannot prohibit it. The Chasam Sofer says that the reason the Sages were allowed to do so is due to the exclusions built in to their prohibitions (for livelihood, or for a Torah scholar). Just as the Sages allowed commerce in forbidden food when the Jew chanced upon it in order to avoid explicitly prohibiting an act allowed by the Torah, so too, the Sages allowed charging a non Jew interest in some cases, to avoid explicitly such a prohibition.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 1:134) says that the Gemora’s answer that we read the verse only as tashich – explicitly allowing a Jew only to pay interest, means that the Torah never did explicitly allow a Jew to charge interest, giving the Sages the leeway to prohibit it. See Rabbi Akiva Eiger YD 117 on the Taz for more details.

Tosfos (70b Tashich) says that nowadays we lend money to non Jews with interest. Tosfos advances three reasons for this behavior:
1. The economic situation and lack of other professions available to Jews makes the interest necessary for the creditor’s basic needs, in which case it is permitted.
2. Ravina’s answer understood that the prohibition was to limit our interactions with non Jews. Since we are forced into such interactions due to economic circumstances, there is no added interaction that will be prevented by refraining from charging interest.
3. The second version of Rav Huna’s statement does not prohibit interest from a non Jew at all, but only prioritized an interest free loan to a Jew above it.

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 159:1) rules that charging interest from a non Jew is prohibited by the Sages, unless the creditor needs the interest for his basic needs, or is a Torah scholar. However, the Shulchan Aruch says that it is permitted nowadays, based on the first two reasons of Tosfos (see Shach 2).

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Power of a Word

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The Gemora relates the following: Mar bar Ameimar said to Rav Ashi: My father does business this way. If the sellers would come to him and say that they did not make this anticipated profit, he would believe them (without imposing an oath upon them; in such a case, he would only receive half of the actual profit, and not the amount written in the document; this way, he would avoid any ribbis concern).

Rav Ashi said: This is fine because your father is alive (and he will waive the amount written in the document). However, if he would die and the orphans would have a document saying that the merchants owed them a certain amount of money, wouldn’t they have to pay? This statement (talking about the death of Ameimar) was like an “error proceeding from a ruler,” and Ameimar died.

The Gemora in Moed Katan (18a) records the following incident: The Sage Shmuel paid a condolence visit to his brother Pinchas, who had lost a child. He asked him why he allowed his fingernails to grow although it was permitted to cut them. The rebuttal of Pinchas, “If such a tragedy as mine had befallen you, would you also show such disregard for mourning?” is described by the Gemora as an example of “an error proceeding forth from the ruler” (Koheles 10:5). The result of this apparent slip of the tongue was that Shmuel himself soon became a mourner because “there is a covenant for the lips” — a spoken word has the power to effect fulfillment. As proof of this power Rabbi Yochanan cites the statement made by the Patriarch Avraham, on his way to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice, to the two young men accompanying them. “Stay here,” he told them “and I and the lad will return to you” (Bereishet 22:5), and did indeed result in their both returning.

How can we derive from here that a person should be careful with his words; this brought about a positive result that Yitzchak was saved?

The Chasam Sofer answers that to Avraham, it was regarded as undesirable, since he was unable to fulfill the will of Hashem.

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Concealing his True Stature

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The Mordechai (Gittin 461) relates that Rabbeinu Tam once instructed a Kohen to pour him some water. This caused one of his students to inquire as to how he could allow a Kohen to serve him, being that the Yerushalmi states that whoever uses a Kohen for his own needs is in violation of the prohibition of me’ilah (since the Kohen is sacred). Rabbeinu Tam's response was that the Kohen who served him in 12th century France was without the clothing of the Kohen and, therefore, not a Kohen (based upon the Gemora Sanhedrin 83b). The student persisted that if so, we shouldn’t give a Kohen the first aliyah. Rabbeinu Tam remained quiet. Rabbeinu Peter then suggested that a Kohen can voluntarily forfeit the respect due to him as a Kohen and, therefore, there was no problem with Rabbeinu Tam's use of him.

The Ta”z asks that the Kohen is not permitted to forfeit his kedushah and marry a divorcee!? What is the difference between the two?

He answers that it is only permitted for the Kohen to forfeit the respect due to him with respect to something that he will be deriving benefit from – e.g. to be an attendant for Rabbeinu Tam. However, something that the Torah explicitly prohibits, such as – marrying a divorcee, there is no option to forfeit that kedushah.

The Ta”z adds that the reason Rabbeinu Tam was quiet was not because he did not know what to answer; but rather, it was because he did not want to be considered a Torah scholar, for that would be the only reason that it would have been permitted. He cites our Gemora and Tosfos as a proof to this. The Gemora stated: Rav Kahana, Rav Pappa and Rav Ashi did not eat the produce from a pledged field even with a deduction. Ravina, however, did. Tosfos asks: How could Ravina eat the produce from a pledged field even with a deduction? Didn’t the Gemora say above that a Rabbinical scholar would not take produce in such an arrangement?

Tosfos answers that Ravina, due to his great humility, did not want to be regarded as a Rabbinical scholar. Ravina did not want people to be aware of his spiritual importance. The prohibition, which applied to other Torah scholars, did not apply to Ravina, for since he was not known as a Torah scholar, his conduct would not necessarily serve as an example to others.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Asmachta by har sinai

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It is written in Parshas Yisro [24, 9 – 11]: And Moshe and Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended, and they perceived the G-d of Israel etc., and they perceived G-d, and they ate and drank.

Rashi cites the Medrash Tanchuma: They gazed and peered and because of this were doomed to die, but the Holy One, blessed be He, did not want to disturb the rejoicing of this moment of the giving of the Torah. So He waited to kill Nadav and Avihu until the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, and for the elders until the following incident: And the people were as if seeking complaints… and a fire of Hashem broke out against them and devoured at the edge (the leaders) of the camp.

We can ask: What happened by the sin of the complainers that precisely then, Hashem chose to destroy the elders?

The Chasam Sofer answers based upon our Gemora: Rav Pappa said: An asmachta is sometimes binding and sometimes not. If the lender found the borrower (on the date that the loan was due) drinking beer (at a tavern), it is binding (for he clearly does not care about the forfeiture of his field); if, however, he was trying to procure money, it is not binding.

Rav Acha from Difti asked Ravina: Perhaps he was drinking to dismiss his anxiety (that he could not pay the loan), or perhaps someone else had assured him of the money (to repay it)?

Similarly, it can be said regarding the Jewish people’s acceptance of the torah when they said, “we will do and we will listen.” Seemingly, this should be regarded as an asmachta, and therefore not binding – they were coerced into saying that by the fact that the mountain was placed on top of them.

Accordingly, we can say as follows: when the elders ate and drank, this was a demonstration that they were completely at ease with their decision; they were displaying happiness and joy with the acceptance of the Torah, and that it wasn’t an asmachta at all. So, on the contrary – they were acting properly, and not deserving of a punishment at all! However, by the sin of the complainers, it is written: They travelled from the mountain of Hashem. Rashi explains that they ran away like a child runs when he is leaving school. They were fleeing in order not to receive any more laws. This would then indicate that when they were eating and drinking by Mount Sinai, it was not a sign of happiness, but rather, they were dispelling their anxiety. This was a cause for their demise, and that is why Hashem waited until the time that they demonstrated what their true intentions were.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Increasing the Dowry

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The Mishna stated: If someone is renting out a courtyard and he says, “If you give me the money now, I will give it to you for ten sela a year. If you give me the money every month, it will cost you one sela a month (totaling twelve sela per year),” this is permitted.

The Rem”a rules: It is permitted to increase the dowry of one’s son-in-law. He explains the case: A father vowed to give a certain amount to his daughter as a dowry. He then stipulated with his son-in-law that for every year that he allows the dowry to stay by him (and not collect it), he will give an extra amount. This is permitted, for it is as if he is merely increasing the dowry amount. However, this is only if the condition was made before the marriage. Otherwise, it would be forbidden, because the father-in-law is rewarding the son-in-law for waiting to collect the debt.


By: Rabbi Yaakov Montrose

The Mishna here discusses two cases. In the first case, a landowner sells a field to a buyer who makes a down payment. The seller says, “Whenever you want, you may bring the money and take your field.” The Mishna states that this arrangement is forbidden. RASHI (DH Machar Lo) explains that the field retroactively becomes the buyer's when he pays the rest of the money. Accordingly, if the seller ate the fruit of the field in the interim time, the seller effectively has taken Ribbis for letting the buyer delay payment. If, on the other hand, the buyer eats the fruit of the field during this time, there is a possibility that the buyer will be taking Ribbis: in the event that the buyer defaults on the sale and does not deliver the rest of the money by the given time, the down payment that he gave will retroactively be considered a loan to the seller, and the buyer (lender) will have eaten the fruit of the field of the seller (borrower), effectively taking Ribbis for his “loan” to the seller.

In the Mishna’s second case, a borrower gives his field as collateral to a lender, and they stipulate that if the borrower does not pay back the loan within three years, the field retroactively becomes payment for the loan. The fruit of the field is sold and the money held by a third party until the three years pass. If the borrower pays back the money on time, the profit from the fruit goes to the borrower and the field stays in his possession. If he does not pay back, the ownership of the field is considered to have been transferred to the lender three years ago, and the profit of the fruit goes to the lender.

The TOSFOS YOM TOV asks the following question. The Mishna’s point seems to be that when there is a possibility that the ownership of a field will be transferred retroactively when a certain time arrives, neither party may eat the fruit in the interim because of Ribbis. Why does the Mishna express this point in the case of a sale which is forbidden and in a case of a loan which is permitted? The point seems to be the same in both cases.

(a) The TOSFOS YOM TOV answers that the Mishna teaches its point in the first case with regard to a sale because it wants to show that even though the Halachah is often lenient in cases of sales (as Rebbi Yehudah indeed is lenient in this case because he rules that “Tzad Echad b'Ribbis” is permitted), in this case the Halachah is not lenient and such a transaction is forbidden. On the other hand, the Rabanan were generally stringent in cases of Ribbis of loans. The Mishna therefore teaches a second case to show that such a transaction is permitted even in the case of a loan.

(b) Alternatively, the Tosfos Yom Tov explains that the case of a permitted loan is necessary only because of the testimony which the Mishna quotes afterwards. The Mishna relates that Baysos used to manage his loans this way according to the Chachamim. To maintain consistency with the case of Baysos, the Mishna teaches the second case, in which the law is lenient.

The CHIDUSHEI MAHARI'ACH has difficulty with the question of the Tosfos Yom Tov. The Mishna teaches the first case involving a sale because it needs to teach the potential problem of Ribbis involved in selling a field. A deal in which the fruit is given to a third party until the ownership of the field becomes clarified is not problematic at all. The Mishna therefore needs to teach a case in which the deal is forbidden. The second case of the Mishna is also necessary: since the borrower is offering his field as security for a loan which is due only three years from now, it is possible that this type of transaction should be forbidden because presumably the borrower offers a field of greater value as collateral in order to receive a loan for three years. This means that a default on the loan will provide the lender with a field worth more than the loan -- which is Ribbis. The Mishna teaches that the Halachah in the case of such a loan is lenient and such a deal is permitted.

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What is Interest?

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The Gemora states that living rent free in a debtor's house seems like interest, and is therefore forbidden.

Tosfos discusses the parameters of this prohibition. The Gemora states that living rent free is categorically prohibited, even if the debtor would have allowed the creditor to do so independent of the loan. Tosfos questions how a debtor can do any favors to his creditor, since these also would appear to be interest. Tosfos states that the prohibition only includes conspicuous activities, like living in someone's house, but not things like renting out tools.

The Shach (Y”D 166:1) rules that any inconspicuous favors that the debtor would have done anyway for the creditor may be done. In addition, if they were known to all to be such close friends that they would have allowed each other to dwell rent free, this also may be done.

The Maharshal, however, states that any conspicuous favor may not be done, even if all knew that they would have done this favor without the loan in place.

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