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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Charging Interest

Can you explain the concept in Jewish Law which prohibits the charging of interest. Is there a loophole to charge interest even in Orthodox business circles?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The Torah states that it is forbidden to charge a fellow Jew interest on a loan (Leviticus 25:37).

Maimonides comments on this passage that the highest form of charity is to prevent a person from becoming poor - e.g. by offering a loan or employment, investing in his business, or any other form of assistance that will avoid poverty.

Interest is forbidden because we are obligated to help out others when in need. If someone is in dire need for money, in order to sustain himself and his family, and he refuses to accept charity, we should lend him the money he needs, without him worrying about the interest ruining his future.

"Interest" is any time a person gets back more than they loaned, whether it was pre-arranged or not. Not only is it forbidden for the borrower to give the lender back more money than what was loaned, but he must not give anything extra as a result of the loan.

What about business loans?

Imagine a situation where someone wants to do business and is need of a financer. He can make a business deal whereby the full amount of the loan is not guaranteed to be paid back. It is a risk the lender takes, like any other business deal. The borrower is just an agent to do business for the lender (for whatever share they agreed upon). In such a case, a special contract is drawn up called a "Shtar Iska." A copy of this text can be found in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chapter 66. (see Shulchan Aruch - Y.D. 167)

A Shtar Iska is displayed in most banks in Israel.

In any case, it is permitted to borrow and/or lend from a non-Jew with interest, which is why many observant Jews prefer using banks that are owned by non-Jews.

There are also rabbinic authorities who say there is no prohibition of taking/giving interest from a corporation, only from individuals. Some people rely on this in case of great necessary.

Since the laws of "interest" in the Torah are very complex, in any actual case you should consult with your local rabbi.

Pinking on Drurim

If it is so good to get drunk on Purim, why not do it all the time?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In the days of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews went from being the target of annihilation, to being the heroes and victors. It was a miraculous 180-degree shift in fortune. We learn from here that even though it may be hard to see God in the world, even when things look really bad, in some way it has to be for the best. Because there is a beneficent God behind everything, manipulating events for our good.

So what does this all have to do with drinking?

When we drink, we loosen our reliance on physical senses - and our souls are freer to transcend limitations and feel the Oneness of God and the universe. We see that everything is part of God's "grand eternal plan" - where ultimately Haman is punished and Mordechai is rewarded. There is indeed ultimate justice.

That's why the Talmud (Megillah 7a) says that "A person should drink on Purim until the point where they can't tell the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." We drink to the point where we can't intelligently debate which aspect of God's revelation is greater. Because in truth, it's all the same.

On Purim, we wear costumes and perform skits - mocking our hang-ups, idiosyncrasies, and worries. We attack the source of our debilitating anxiety - and laugh about how silly it really is!

So why don't we drink all the time? Because while alcohol can help a Jew lose inhibitions and get closer to God, this is only the beginning. Performance of mitzvahs require a clear mind and steady hand. On Purim, we try to jump-start a process which will carry us through the rest of the year.

By the way, on Purim one should not become so drunk that he will be negligent in performing mitzvahs, since it is improper to pray if one is "unfit to stand before the King."

To learn more, go to http://www.aish.com/h/pur/

Land for Peace?

Is it permitted to disengage from areas of the West Bank, which constitutes the biblical heartland of Israel? Through news reports, I am able to keep up with what seem to be very frightening developments that world powers are trying to impose on our beloved Land of Israel. You at Aish, however, are literally on the frontline. What is your perspective on the situation: refugees, united Jerusalem, borders, etc.? I am anxious to hear of your hopes and fears.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Some people publicize the opinion that we have to defend (even with our lives at risk) all of biblical Israel and especially Jerusalem.

However, Rabbi A.Y. Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, writes clearly that we should not endanger our lives because of land. In other words, we can give up land, if it will bring peace – colloquially called "land for peace." ("Mishpat Cohen" 142-144; c.f. "Michtavim U'Mamarim" 1:14 by Rabbi Elazar M. Schach)

The bottom line from a Torah standpoint is whether a particular political act -- in this case, giving up land -- will preserve the safety of Jewish lives, or endanger Jewish lives.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef stated: "If the heads and commanders of the army, together with the government, state that saving of life is involved; that if areas of Israel are not given back, the danger exists of immediate war on the part of our Arab neighbors; and if the areas are returned to them, the danger of war will be averted; and that there is a chance of permanent peace; then it seems that according to all opinions it is permitted to return areas of Israel in order to achieve this aim, since nothing is more important than the saving of life."

In setting diplomatic policy, one general principle is that we should not do anything that will cause a severe backlash from the nations of the world. (Talmud – Ketubot 111a)

One possible solution to the crisis is to ensure that Arabs are educated in the ways of democracy, so they will see the benefit of upholding any agreements, and will protest against elements in their society that seek an all-or-nothing solution.

An additional factor needs to be considered: Holy sites like the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are our deepest roots. Cutting off the Jewish people from those places may likely have an adverse affect in terms of both morale and spiritual strength.

Certainly in terms of preserving access to the holy sites for all people, it would be best to keep them under Israeli control.

What will the political leaders decide? King Solomon wrote, "Like streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of the Almighty. Wherever He wishes, so He directs it." (Proverbs 21:1)