| Halachah |

A Matter of Interest

Is borrowing in your best interest?


Prepared for print by Faigy Peritzman

I’d like to invest in a prominent brokerage firm, but I have no way of knowing if it’s owned by a Jew. Am I obligated to find this out?

There is a fundamental distinction between investments and loans: Investments, which are not subject to the halachos of ribbis, are defined as money invested with another Jew with the understanding that the investor is taking a calculated risk, and if the investment goes bad, he might lose his principal and/or profits.

Loans, which are subject to the halachos of ribbis, are defined as money lent to another Jew risk-free, which means that regardless of what the borrower does with the money, he must pay back in full. Since you are looking to invest in a brokerage firm, it makes no difference if you’re investing with a Jew or a non-Jew, since the halachos of ribbis aren’t applicable.

I borrowed several eggs from my neighbor and returned them the next day. But she wouldn’t take them back, claiming she’d given me large eggs, while I returned extra-large. Isn’t returning the same number of eggs sufficient?

If the difference in price between large and extra-large eggs is “insignificant” (an amount most people don’t pay attention to), then you may return the extra-large eggs. But nowadays, when eggs have become expensive, it’s possible that the price difference would be considered significant enough to make the halachos of ribbis applicable.

In my office, we frequently borrow money from each other. While I try to write down exactly how much I owe people, occasionally I forget. If I’m not sure how much to pay back, is it better to pay back less than I think or more than I think?

If you’re unsure of the precise amount you borrowed, you should return an amount great enough to enure that the loan is paid up. Even if it turns out that you overpaid, it wouldn’t be considered a violation of ribbis, since you’re not paying extra in appreciation of the loan, but are just making sure you paid in full.

We’re purchasing our first home, and as we don’t have enough credit history, my father offered to take out the mortgage in his name, and we’d pay him back every month. I thought it was a great idea, but my husband said it’s not permissible.

This type of arrangement is strictly forbidden. Although technically the money is being borrowed and repaid to a non-Jewish bank, legally and halachically your father is the one responsible for paying the principal plus interest to the bank, and you’re responsible for paying your father that same amount. Each payment you’ll make to your father will be considered a ribbis payment to a fellow Jew, even though the money will eventually end up being paid to the bank. The good news, however, is that you may enter into a properly executed heter iska agreement (a halachic business document that turns a risk-free loan into a calculated investment) with your father, which would allow this arrangement, as investments aren’t subject to the laws of ribbis. There are several different types of heter iska documents that may be used, so you need to consult with your rav as to the details.

I went out for coffee with some friends, and we split the bill, with one friend paying, and the rest of us paying her back. It came out to $9.78 per person, so I gave her 10 dollars and told her to keep the change. I didn’t even want a bunch of coins back, but she insisted. Can’t I pass?

If, as I suspect, you and your friends consider 22 cents insignificant, then “keeping the change” is permitted. Otherwise, telling her to keep the change may be prohibited mid’Rabbanan.

I was in a bind and borrowed 50 dollars cash from my neighbor, returning it the next day and thanking her profusely. She felt awkward and told me that according to halachah, I shouldn’t be thanking her, since that, too, is ribbis. Is this true?

Thanking or praising profusely is a mid’Rabbanan violation of ribbis devarim (ribbis involving words) according to all views, since the lender is receiving an abundance of gratitude or blessings in addition to getting the loan fully paid. Even just expressing a simple thank you, or a tizku lemitzvos, which is permitted by some poskim as plain decency to someone who did you a favor, is questioned by other poskim. A good way to avoid this issue is to thank the lender for exerting himself on your behalf without mentioning the actual loan transaction.

My brother graciously lends me his car often, and I try to fill it up with gas before returning it, as my way of showing appreciation. But he recently told me he prefers I don’t do that, as it may be ribbis.

Ribbis applies only to consumable products, such as money or food, but not to items that are supposed to be returned after they are used, such as a tool or a car. Although the borrowed gas is being consumed and thus subject to ribbis restrictions, it’s still permitted to fill up a car with extra gas before returning it, since it’s obvious that the extra amount of gas being filled is being added in gratitude for use of the car, and not as payment or gratitude for use of the gas.

A wealthy person in my community was gracious enough to lend me a large sum of money toward my down payment on a house. May I invite him to my son’s bar mitzvah dinner?

If you were acquainted with each other before the loan took place and would have invited him regardless, then you may invite him now as well. Even if you weren’t friends before the loan took place, but became socially connected as a consequence of the loan, you may still invite him, since at this point you’re extending the invitation due to your social connection. If, however, your relationship is solely based on the loan, and you wish to invite him as appreciation for the loan, then you shouldn’t invite him to attend the bar mitzvah dinner.

On the flip side, if he invites you to his son’s bar mitzvah, it’s permitted for you to attend and give a gift to the bar mitzvah boy, but only if the following three conditions are satisfied: 1) The gift is given to the boy after his 13th birthday takes place 2) It is the type of gift that will be used individually by the child, not something the entire family will benefit from 3) It’s an item a father wouldn’t normally purchase for his child.  


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 841)

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