by: Rabbi Yechezkel Khayyat
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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).