Friday, July 10, 2009

Torah Teachers Cannot be Idle

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by: Rabbi Yechezkel Khayyat

The Gemora introduced the concept of workers who carry heavy bundles. Since they need to stay in shape for such strenuous work, when they are idle, it is a loss for them, and therefore an employer must pay them full wages even for idle time.

The Rosh (3), as well as other Rishonim, apply this to Torah teachers. If one hired a Torah teacher for his son, but the son fell ill, the employer must pay the Torah teacher his full wages. When a Torah teacher does not teach, this leads him to forget his knowledge, and not be as sharp as when he is teaching. Therefore, idleness is a loss for him, and he gets paid full wages.

The Ashri Notes questions this Rosh, and states that if the teacher is not employed to teach, this does not preclude him from still learning, to hone his knowledge and intellectual skills.

However, the Pilpula Charifta (10) explains that the work involved – and consequent sharpening of knowledge and skills – increases when one has a student, compared to one who learns on his own. If the employer can provide the teacher with a similar student, he must teach him, but if he does not, his own personal learning does not adequately replace the loss of not teaching.

The Tur (HM 334) rules like this Rosh. The Shulchan Aruch (HM 335:1) also follows this Rosh, but the Rama adds that if the court sees that this teacher is pleased by not having to teach, he is not paid his full wages.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Halachos of Interest

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Punishment of Ribbis
By: Hakhel

What prevents one from arising at T’chiyas HaMeisim? The Chofetz Chaim (ibid.) quoting Chazal (Sotah 5A) states that the sin of gaivah (arrogance) prevents a person’s earth from moving during T’chiyas HaMeisim. Additionally, lending money with interest prevents one from arising (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 33). Even if a Heter Iska is used, the Chofetz Chaim writes, one must make sure that it is properly completed in order for it to be valid.

We must advise that there are a number of improperly worded Heter Iska documents in current use which are completely invalid, rendering loan transactions made through them bone fide ribbis. For example, the phrase “in lieu of the sharing of profits and losses,” or “it has been agreed… (followed by language which does away with the sharing of any form of losses)” voids the Heter Iska. Additionally, language which provides that “these payments will continue until the original loan is paid in full” (which has the effect of guaranteeing payment of the principal) voids the Heter Iska, as well.

By: Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

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, so it is imperative that we examine some everyday situations where the laws of interest apply.

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, be given a job, or make a donation to tzedakah. 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.

It is forbidden to lend money to a handyman on condition that he will work for the lender at a lower wage.

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.

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.

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.

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 delaying payment.

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. 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 work involved.

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, 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.

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.

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.

A borrower may not praise or bless a lender for lending him money or for extending a payment deadline. Some poskim even prohibit saying a simple thank-you, while others allow a simple thank-you.

A borrower may not buy a lender an aliyah in appreciation for a loan. A borrower may not send mishloach manos to a lender, tutor a lender or his child in the study of Torah without compensation, offer him charity, sell him goods or offer a service below market price, or buy goods from him or pay him for a service above market value, 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.

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 the loan.

It is permitted for a borrower to give a wedding gift to the son or daughter of a lender, 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.

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.

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 longer applies.

QUESTION: Although it is explicitly forbidden for an individual to charge or pay ribbis, does the prohibition of ribbis apply also to corporations? There is some misunderstanding regarding this halachah. A lenient ruling by Harav M. Feinstein holds that a corporation may pay ribbis for deposits, loans, or credits which it receives, even if the corporation is totally owned by Jews. The reason for the leniency is that a “borrower” is halachically defined as someone who has personal responsibility to pay a loan. When a bank or another corporation is the “borrower”, the loan is guaranteed by the company's assets, but not by any individual. Thus there are no Jewish “borrowers” and ribbis may be paid by the bank or the corporation.

This ruling of Harav Feinstein has been accepted by some poskim and rejected by others. Obviously, if possible, a proper Heter Iska should be made before drawing interest from a Jewish-owned bank. If it is difficult to do so, there are poskim who allow taking the interest, as per Harav Feinstein's ruling. [Note that a Heter Iska does not allow a Jewish-owned bank to offer free gifts to depositors if the gift is chosen and delivered at the time of deposit, since such gifts are a form of ribbis.]

Under no circumstances, however, is it permitted to borrow money from a Jewish-owned bank or corporation. Since the borrower is an individual who accepts personal responsibility to repay the loan, the above leniency does not apply.

Similarly, lending money to a Jewish-owned corporation with the personal guarantee of repayment by the owners would be prohibited even according to Harav Feinstein's lenient opinion.

For the above reason, it is prohibited to buy shares in a publicly traded bank which has a majority of Jewish owners and does not use a proper Heter Iska when borrowing money from Jews. A company in which most of the shareholders are not Jewish but the Jewish minority has significant enough holdings that their opinion carries weight in management decisions, is also considered a Jewish company according to the opinion of many poskim.

We have previously mentioned the concept of Heter Iska. While it be would be almost impossible to explain the logic behind this very complicated transaction, suffice it to say that Heter Iska is a tool--debated, revised, and perfected over many centuries-- with which a lender may lend money to a borrower and be halachically permitted to collect interest on the loan. It is a legal document which transforms the loan [or part of it] into an investment, with a remote chance of loss of principal to the lender. Since ribbis is only forbidden when a fully guaranteed loan takes place, this tool allows the lender to earn “profits” from his “investment” as opposed to “interest” from a “loan”, and it is therefore permitted. Heter Iska transactions are very common today and, when done under the auspices of an expert in these matters, are used in many business dealings in a permissible manner.

We must, however, point out an important reminder. According to the opinion of most poskim, including the foremost poskim of our generation, a Heter Iska is valid only if the money is being borrowed to invest in a business or in a property, or if the money being borrowed will free other money to be used for a business transaction. A person who borrows money to pay for his daughter's wedding, for instance, or for any other ongoing expenses, and does not have any profit-generating holdings or assets, may not use a Heter Iska to borrow money.

Many people are not aware of this limitation and are constantly borrowing money, or over-drafting their bank accounts from Jewish-owned banks, relying on a Heter Iska which is unacceptable according to most views. Certainly, one who is scrupulous and is generally not lax when it comes to other mitzvos of the Torah, should be aware that this transaction is not valid according to the majority opinion, and that it may be Biblically prohibited. When this situation arises, an expert Rav should be consulted, since there are methods that can be utilized in order to make this transaction valid according to most poskim.

QUESTION: Does the prohibition of ribbis apply to neighbors borrowing goods from each other? The prohibition of ribbis applies to goods borrowed between neighbors. A neighbor who borrows two challos may return only two challos to the lender. If a 5 lb. bag of sugar is borrowed, only that amount may be returned. There are, however, several notable exceptions to this prohibition:

If the difference between the item borrowed and the item returned is insignificant to the degree which people generally do not care about, the prohibition does not apply; a slightly bigger challah, therefore, may be returned.

When neighbors have a type of relationship where they are in the habit of borrowing from each other without being careful to return everything they borrow, then the prohibition of ribbis does not apply. This is because the neighbors are not “borrowing” from each other; they are giving each other gifts. [Note that many neighbors do not have such a relationship.]

When the borrower is uncertain of the precise amount he borrowed, he may return an amount which is great enough to assure that the loan is paid up.

A neighbor who borrows an item from his friend may return that item exactly as borrowed, even if the price of the item has gone up in the interval. This is permitted because prices tend to fluctuate by small amounts and neighbors generally are not particular about such a small difference.

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Verbally committing to a Sandek or a Mohel

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The Rishonim discuss a case where a father committed to honor someone with part of the bris ceremony, either as a sandak or a mohel, and then changed his mind. (See Beis Yosef YD 264)

The Maharam says that since these commitments are routinely made and kept, the commitment is enforceable in court.

Rabbeinu Yechiyel limits this to a commitment made after the baby was born.

The Radvaz holds that if the commitment was made before the baby was born, he is not obligated to honor it at all, for this would have the status of selling something that is not yet in existence. However, if he told him this after the baby was born, since these commitments are routinely made and kept, he cannot retract from his words. He concludes by saying that it is a well established principle by us that a custom is extremely significant, and one should not break it.

He proves this from our Gemora, which states: Rav Papi said in Rava’s name: A mark of identification (which the buyers would mark if they planned on buying it) on the wine barrels can effect possession (although they left them in the possession of the seller). This proves that although a proper kinyan was not performed, the making of an identifying mark can effect acquisition based on the custom of that locality.

The Rosh disagrees and says that only a standard kinyan is enforceable.

Rabbeinu Tam says that if one committed to a mohel to do his son’s bris, this has the status of a verbal commitment, and one who does not keep it is considered untrustworthy.

The Pri Yitzchak says that committing to a mohel has the status of a small gift, since the father typically cannot perform the bris, and he is simply giving the right to choose the mohel. However, committing to a sandak is a large gift, since the father himself can do that, and he is giving that right to the sandak. Since it is a large gift, a verbal commitment would not be binding.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Subjugating their Poor Brethren

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Rav Pappa said to Rava: My master should see how the rabbis pay the head tax for others, and then they work them excessively. Rava replied: I might have died without ever having told you this thing: Rav Sheishes said: The seal of bondage of these people lies in the king’s archives, and the king has decreed that he who does not pay his head tax should be made the servant of the one who pays it on his behalf.

Other Rishonim explain this Gemora differently: they say that the rabbis violated the prohibition of ribbis. This is because they paid the tax for their poor brethren, and by working them excessively, they were paid back more than what they laid out.

The Radvaz asks: How can the principle of “the law of the land is the law” trump the prohibition of subjugating a fellow Jew excessively?

He answers that since the excessive work is not regarded as money, for by law, they are obligated to serve them; the prohibition falls off by itself, for if there is no loan, there cannot be any ribbis.

The Ritva writes that by paying their taxes to the king, they acquire them as slaves until they are repaid; the money is not regarded as a debt at all.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Paying and Lashes

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The braisa states: If a document contained a provision to collect interest (in a forbidden fashion), we give him a fine. Not only is he unable to collect the interest, but he cannot even collect the principle. These are the words of Rabbi Meir. The Chachamim say: He can collect the principle, but not the interest.

Shulchan Aruch (C”M 52:1) rules according to the Chachamim that the principle may be collected.

The Ketzos Hachoshen (38:1) asks: If we hold that when one violates a negative precept, he cannot be liable to pay even if he does not receive lashes (chayvei malkos shogegin); then how can the principle be collected? Behold, the borrower is violating the prohibitions of “You shall not impose interest upon him,” and “You shall not give interest to your brother”? If so, why should the borrower be liable to pay? [This is a type of kim leih bid’rabbah minei (whenever someone is deserving of two punishments, he receives the one which is more severe)!?]

He answers based on one opinion that holds that the borrower does not transgress the prohibition of giving interest until he actually gives it. Accordingly, we can say that the principle of kim leih bid’rabbah minei does not apply here, for the liability to pay and the action which would theoretically cause him to be liable for lashes are not simultaneous. In such types of cases, he will not be exempt from paying.

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Interest-Free Loans

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The Gemora quotes a different version of Rav Huna’s statement. Rav Yosef explained that the verse discussing lending states: if you will lend money to Ami – my nation, to the Ani – the poor one – Imach – with you. This verse teaches that the priority in lending is first to a Jew over a non Jew (Ami), then to a poor person over a rich person (Ani), and to a local poor person over a poor person somewhere else (Imach). Rav Huna says that the priority given to a Jewish debtor is even when the non Jewish debtor will pay interest.

The Pnei Yehoshua discusses what the halachah would be in a case where if he would lend money with interest to a gentile, he would gain substantially. Is he still required to lend to a Jew without interest?

He questions the basis of the halachah: Do we not say that whenever a person would suffer a loss, his needs take precedence over others?

He answers that it is different here, for the mitzvah to lend to a poor person is a mitzvah of tzedakah; one is required to do whatever is in his means in order to sustain his fellow Jew. One must be concerned about his own losses only when the mitzvah regarding his fellow is to prevent him from a loss.

The Megilas Esther writes that one is obligated to lend to a Jew interest-free even if he has the possibility of lending to a gentile for a substantial amount of interest. This is because the Jew is not losing; he is merely not gaining.

The Shaar Hamishpat disagrees with this, and Ahavas Chesed cites several different opinions with respect to this issue.

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Don't Call him Evil

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The Gemora states: If he calls him a evil person, he (the insulted person) may descend against his life (he is permitted to hate him to such a extent that he may attempt to reduce his income).

Rashi explains this to mean that the insulted person may fight with him as if the libeler hit him, and it is as if he was coming to kill him. Furthermore, Rashi heard that he can compete against him in his line of business in an attempt to decrease his income.

Rashi asks that it is hard to understand how the Chachamim would allow this person to take revenge.

Some answer that here it is permitted because he suffered personally and he was subject to a public humiliation. The Chafetz Chaim, however, writes that it is unclear if this is the accepted halachah, and therefore, one should be stringent in the matter and not take revenge.

Others answer that it is permitted because if people think that he is indeed a evil person, his income will suffer tremendously, for people will not have compassion on him.

Tosfos writes in the name of the Gaonim that it is permitted to burn one-third of his grain. Tosfos concludes that this is bewildering, for where is the source for this?

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Can you Pay Someone to be a Cosigner for a Loan?

by: Reb Avi Lebowitz

There is a disagreement between the Taz (170:3) and Nekudas Hakesef whether one can hire someone to be a cosigner on a loan where the cosigner has full responsibility as much as the borrower himself (areiv shluf dotz).

The Chochmas Adam in his sefer Binas Adam (sha'ar mishpat tzedek 2) points out that this discussion took place before the Ritva on Bava Metzia was accessible. However, now that it is accessible, the answer is resolved. Rava had stated that Reuven may pay Shimon to go convince Levi to lend money to Reuven because Reuven is only paying Shimon for s’char amirah (payment for talking). The Ritva asks: Why does the Gemora need to permit it based on this rationale, it should be permitted anyway based on the other rationale that the Gemora suggests that the Torah only forbids interest that is paid directly from the borrower to the lender? The Ritva answer that we are referring to a case where Levi refuses to lend money to Reuven, but is willing to lend it to Shimon, who then goes and lends it to Reuven. Even though it emerges that, technically, Shimon is the one who lends to Reuven and therefore when Reuven pays him, it is ribbis that is paid from the borrower to the lender; it is nonetheless permitted since it is only s’char amirah.

The Binas Adam learns from the Ritva that it is only is a situation where Reuven doesn't request of Shimon to be an areiv shluf dotz; rather Shimon decides on his own to borrow from Levi and lend it to Reuven. But, if Reuven would be paying Shimon to be such a high level guarantor, it is as if he were hiring Shimon to borrow from Levi and then lend to him, which would constitute a prohibition of paying ribbis, since it is no longer just s’char amirah.

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