Parshas Behar


Laws of prohibition of interest loans and of forgiving debts in the seventh year


1. The Torah strictly forbids lending either money or products at interest to another Jew. This prohibition applies both to the loan giver and the one indebted and also to the mediators in the undertaking. If one’s debtor has already returned the debt with interest, it’ll be a mitzvah to reimburse him the interest.


2. If debtor was not going to pay the interest at first, but by the time of reimbursement he suddenly decided to pay it off as a gift, it is forbidden to do so. It is also forbidden to give presents to someone, so that he will be willing to give us a loan in the future.


3. Debtor is forbidden to do anything as means of gratitude to someone from whom he has borrowed. Even if debtor has never greeted his benefactor, but after the loan started to do so, it is forbidden.


4. It is forbidden to lend to someone, on the condition of intention to borrow from him a bigger amount or for a longer period of time.


5. In some cases it is forbidden to lend products, whose price is subject to constant changes. The reason is that the price might rise by the time of reimbursement, and the debtor will be returning more that he had borrowed. In order to avoid the prohibition, one should evaluate the product by the price of today and lend it on condition that is the price rises, the payment of the product will be made according to the original price.


6. It is forbidden to sell products whose price is certain and stable, at a bigger price just because the debtor will pay it off later. All the more so, it is forbidden to say: “If you pay me right away, I will sell it to you for $10, and if you pay in a month, it will be $11”.  


7. The Torah allows us to lend and borrow at  interest from a non-Jew. There are rather complex laws about loans, in which two Jews and one non-Jew are involved. For instance, a non-Jew borrows from a Jew and then lends it to another Jew; or a non-Jew borrows from a Jew, and another Jew guarantees the pay off, etc. In each and every case one should consult a Rabbi.


8. The Torah commands us to forgive our debtors at the end of Shmitah (the seventh year). The debts, unpaid by Rosh Hashanah should be automatically cancelled. The next Shmitah year will be in 5768.


9. If one does not want to forgive someone’s debt, he may prepare the Pruzbul, a special paper by means of which he transfers the loan to the Jewish court. These loans do not get cancelled at the end of Shmitah. In order to prepare the kosher Pruzbul, one should consult a knowing Rabbi.


Parshas Bechukosai


Laws of Tithing.


1. According to the Torah, one should separate the Trumah, Maaser and Maaser Sheni off certain kinds of fruits and vegetables. In the olden days, about 1/50 of the harvest was being given away to Kohanim. The Maaser made one tenth of what had been left and was being given away to Leviim. The second Maaser, i.e. one tenth of what had been left, was subject to various laws. In the third and the sixth years of a seven year cycle, the Maaser Sheni was being given to the poor. In the rest of the years it was commanded to be consumed in Jerusalem. If the master had difficulties transporting a big amount of the Maaser Sheni, he could redeem it with money and buy new food in Jerusalem with it. Nowadays, we are still commanded to separate these parts of the harvest, but the Trumah is burnt and the Second Maaser is redeemed with using a coin.


2. The Torah obligates us to separate the Trumah and both Maasers only off the food, growing in the Holy Land, but the Rabbis required that we separate them also from the food, growing in close proximity to the land of Israel (in Babylon, Egypt, etc). In the lands, situated far from the land of Israel, there is no obligation to separate Trumah or Maaser. Nevertheless, even outside the Land of Israel, one is not allowed to consume vegetables and fruits, growing in the Holy Land, unless the Trumah and Maaser have been separated.


3. We are allowed to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from non-Jews. At the same time, we are to be sure these are not the fruit of Israel. In case of buying Israeli fruit, one needs proper “Hashgahah” (rabbinical supervision) to make sure the Trumah and Maaser have been separated. Moreover, the vast majority of non-religious kibbutzim keep cultivating the soil also in the seventh year. In this case one is forbidden to buy anything grown by them. Some Israeli Rabbis sell the whole land of Israel to a non-Jew for the seventh year, but according to the majority opinion, this doesn’t help the case, because prohibition to work the soil in the seventh year is still in power even after the sale. Moreover, selling any part of the Holy Land to a non-Jew is generally forbidden.