By Rav Boruch Eliyahu Isaac
Reviewed by Rabbi BZ Karman
As the Daf Yomi cycle just finished learning Perek Eizehu Neshech, which deals primarily with the halachos of the prohibition of interest, it is an opportune time to introduce a sefer which will not only serve as a guide to these complicated halachosas they apply to business transactions, but will also bring to light how surprisingly common they are to everyday circumstances.
The halachos of ribbis are complex in their own right, but become even more intricate when they are combined with the myriad financial instruments of our time. A rov who must issue a ruling must be an expert not only in these dinim, but must have clarity in the mechanisms of the laws and processes of financial institutions. Because they are so sophisticated, this 190 page sefer helps navigate this area in so many ways. What may seem to be ancient business practices mentioned in the gemara, rishonim and the poskim come alive as the mechaber applies them to modern day shailos. The halachos are presented in a question and answer format, which makes them easier to find and understand.
For the beginner, it will make him awareof how hilchos ribbis is enmeshed in our everyday lives, and enable him to develop a pathway to delve into these matters further. The advanced student will enjoy the intricate discussions, and develop a course of action to eliminate the issurim that arise. Surely anyone involved in monetary transactions will appreciate the way it is presented in the sefer, and will be better prepared to present it to a moreh horaah for guidance.
This sefer, which includes many haskamos from the gedolei haposkim, gives clear and concise answers and original solutions to hundreds of practical shailos, many of which are appearing in print for the very first time. Thesewere discussed with the gedolei poskim here and in Eretz Yisroel who gave their guidance and approval. As Rav Shlomo Miller writes in his haskamah, “We discussed many issues in hilchos ribbis . . . and I saw that he had already studied the issues of ribbis well . . . and I was happy with many things that he told me.” In his own approbation, Rav Asher Weiss writes, “This sefer excels in its clarity,breadth and straightforward reasoning etc., which has the benefit of not only attracting the heart of the learner, but also to helping him to determine the halachic outcomes of thesugya, and illuminating the path from the sugya to the final halachah. I have strolled with the author through the length and breadth of hilchos ribbis, and I see he is completely full (in his knowledge) and a tremendous expert in these difficult halachos, and can rule definitively in this broad topic.”
Many of the halachos of ribbis apply to cases where there is no direct payment of interest; even payment in the form of favors or actions can be included in the prohibition of ribbis. May one give mishloach manos to his creditor if he would not have sent to him otherwise? May one mother say to another, “I will baby sit your child for an hour today if you babysit mine for two hours? (9, 15)
Lending items that will be consumed (saah bisaah) is prohibited mi’Derabanan. How about lending ‘air miles’ to someone, and receiving‘air miles’ in return at a later date? Or borrowing a car with a full tank of gas, and returning it with gas that was newly purchased? (50, 52)
Early payment discounts have their own set of shailos. May a simcha hall offer a discount for payment before the scheduled day of the affair? May a yeshiva or camp offer an early bird discount for tuition payments? (101, 104, 105) Late fees, as well, can be problematic; may a landlord penalize a tenant for his late rent? (121)
The issurim of ribbis apply not only to the lender and borrower, but also to people who help facilitate the loan, including the witnesses and guarantors. Does this also apply to the brokers, lawyers and notaries? Can they process loans with interest between two non-observant Jews? Do the laws of ribbis apply to corporations or LLC’s? (3, 4, 24)
Perhaps the most common shailos deal with the present-day banking system. May one take out a mortgage under another person’s name (e.g. a son under his father’s name)? May a borrower pay the expenses incurred by the lender, such as document preparation? When there is a co-borrower on the loan, is the primary borrower allowed to pay the entire interest? (63, 76, 89) May one advance money to a developer to build a house for him? (96)
The transfer of loans to another party, a common practice in modern mortgage markets, can easily lead to problems. What should a person do if he took a loan from a non-Jew and the loan is sold to a Jew? Or if he took out a loan, and discovers later that the lender is Jewish? (133, 134)
There is aspecial section dedicated to the laws of heter iska. For example, may one use a heter iska for hard money loans? What if fees are paid before the profits of theheter iska investment are realized, for example paying ‘points’ upfront for a loan? (132) Included in the sefer are several heter iska forms that are necessary to execute a variety of transactions. The documents, provided by Beis Din Maysharim, may be used in practice.
A list of all the shailos translated into English appears at the end of the sefer. They are grouped by topic which allows the reader to easily find the shailah that affects him.
Birchas Eliyahu includes a collection of maamarim of chazal, rishonim and achronim which deal with the severity of the prohibition of ribbis. For example, the Kli Yakar (Vayikra 25:36) explains the reason for the prohibition of ribbis is because when a person feels guaranteed in his return, his level of bitachon is diminished since he no longer feels he needs to rely on Hashem for his income. For this reason, says the Kli Yakar, lending to a non-Jew is permitted, since the lender is less certain that he will be repaid.
The author, Rav Boruch Eliyahu Isaac is a talmid of Yeshiva of Philadelphia, where he had a close relationship with the roshei yeshivah, Rav Elya Svei zt”l and ybl”c Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, with whom he maintains a close relationship. He began learning hilchos ribbis in a chaburah in Bais Medrash Govoah of Lakewood, and spent nearly a decade clarifying and codifying the numerous shailos which frequently came his way. He also researched the legal aspects of various financial instruments and how they affect the outcome in halachah, noting how slight variations often alter its outcome.
The publication ofSefer Birchas Eliyahu at the time when daf yomi finished learning this topic will surely help the Torah world gainan awareness and familiarity in this crucial area.