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Shemos-Thanking one who lent him money

 

Question

I recently returned an interest-free loan to a friend who helped me out greatly by lending me money when I really needed it. When I returned the money I thanked him for helping me out when I really needed the loan. He replied that I am not allowed to thank him because it is an issue of ribbis-interest. Neither of us could understand why thanking is a problem of ribbis since he didn’t get any more than he lent me. He just said that’s what he was told and so I shouldn’t do it. Is there really such a din and if yes what is the reason?

Answer

In order to answer your question we have to introduce the concept of ribbis devorim-verbal interest. While you are correct that the Torah prohibition is only to receive extra money, nonetheless, the Rabbonon (Mishna BM 75A) extended the prohibition to a borrower who verbally did something to benefit his lender. This is according to most opinions. (It appears that Tosafos in Kiddushin 8B maintains that it is a Torah prohibition but the Ran and Ritvo certainly disagree.)

The SA (YD 160, 10-12) brings three examples to illustrate this concept. In order to understand the prohibition it is important to study these examples. The first example is where a borrower starts teaching Torah to his lender without charging, even if he also teaches other students for free. The reason is because by teaching him for free, which he did not do until now, the borrower is showing that he is beholden to his lender.

The second example (according to many) is where the lender asks the borrower to inform him when a certain individual arrives in town. The reason this is prohibited is because in asking the borrower to do him a favor, the lender shows that the borrower owes him something because he lent him money, since otherwise he would not have felt comfortable making such a request.

The third example, which is the most similar to your situation, is that a borrower who did not in the past greet the individual who lent him money, begins greeting him after he received a loan from him. Again, the prohibition is because by beginning to greet his lender only after he received a loan from him, the borrower shows that he feels beholden to his lender.

From these examples we learn that the prohibition includes speech or actions that exhibit a feeling that the borrower owes something to his lender for having lent him money. Certainly the borrower may not bless his lender as we can see from Tosafos (Kiddushin 8B), because a blessing is a real benefit (as we see many times in the Torah), which is similar to the first example.

An important distinction between money interest and verbal interest is the time that the interest is given. Whereas it is forbidden for the borrower to add money even after the loan has been repaid if the connection to the loan is clear, the prohibition on verbal interest is limited (according to most opinions) to the time that the loan is outstanding.

Now we can consider whether saying thank you is prohibited and if it is, when it is prohibited.

A source for the prohibition is the Shulchan Aruch Horav (Ribbis 9) who writes, “Even saying something nice because he has received a loan is prohibited. This prohibition includes greeting the lender if he wasn’t used to doing so and certainly he is not allowed to praise the lender in his presence, to thank him or bless him.” We see that he understood that thanking a lender is even worse than beginning to greet him and the prohibition to thank is derived from the prohibition to greet a lender.

Most of the literature on the subject is from latter day sources. A well-known source is a responsum of Rav S. Z.  Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo 1, 27). He ruled there that it is permitted to say thank you but one may not say tizke lemitzvos-may you merit to perform mitzvos. Some people who think that thanking is forbidden say tizke lemitzvos, thinking that since it is not an expression of thanks it is permitted. However, Rav Auerbach argues that since it is a blessing it is certainly prohibited. However, he maintained that thanking is permitted because the lender deserves it. It is not giving him something extra but merely what he rightfully deserves since one should be grateful to one who lent him money.

However, Rav Auerbach later wrote a second responsum (2, 68, 2) where, in deference to the Rav Shulchan Aruch, he retracted his permit to thank a lender.

There are different views. Rav Eliashev (quoted by his son-in-law and printed also in Ashrei Ish) did not take issue with the Shulchan Aruch HaRav but argued that the usage of thank you has changed. Since people nowadays say thank you for every small favor it no longer constitutes ribbis devorim. For example, even if a person meets his neighbor in the grocery store and borrows a few dollars until he returns home in a few minutes he will thank his neighbor even though the duration of the loan is insignificant. The thanks is not due to the loan but because he received a favor. Similarly, if someone holds the door for five seconds for someone else the recipient will thank the one who held the door for him. No loan is involved. Since the thank you in general is not related to a loan but is a courteous acknowledgment of a favor received, Rav Eliashev maintained that there is no longer a prohibition. Similarly, he permitted saying tizke lemitzvos since people don’t mean to give berachos (its literal meaning) but just are being courteous.

The argument of Rav Eliashev that one sees from the fact that people say thank you even if they must repay immediately proves that thank you is not for the loan, was given earlier by the Mahari Castro (Oholei Yacov 126)

Similarly the Torah Temimo (Devorim 23, 20) permitted thanking because he said the thanks is not for the loan but for the effort the lender expended in order to lend him money. Rav Shteinman writes (Ayeles Hashachar Devorim 23, 20) in the name of the Chazon Ish somewhat differently but the same principle. He says that the Chazon Ish said the borrower can say he thanks the lender for his efforts because it is not thanks for the actual loan. The difference between the Torah Temimo and the Chazon Ish is that whereas the Torah Temimo says that it is implicit in the borrower’s words, the Chazon Ish says that the borrower must say explicitly that his thanks is for the effort and not for the loan.

The arguments of Rav Eliashev and the Chazon Ish and the Torah Temimo are all well understood in light of the principle we derived at the outset: that the entire prohibition is that one may not show that he is beholden because of the loan he received. Thus, wherever saying thank you does not show such a feeling it is permitted.

Another leniency is based on the rule that the prohibition of ribis devorim applies only during the course of the loan but not after the loan has been returned. Thus, the Oholei Yacov (ibid) writes that even if one rules that one is not permitted to say thank you before the loan is repaid, one may say thank you after he repays the loan. The Marbe Torah (29 cited by Darkei Teshuvo 87) writes that the borrower should wait a little before saying thank you.

It is also important to note that since the prohibition applies only if the borrower thanks the lender, one who borrows money from a gemach (a free loan society) may thank the manager of the gemach for extending him the loan since the manager is an administrator and not the owner of the funds. He is lending other people’s money.

The Nesivos Shalom (160, 11) says that the only time there can be an issue is if the manager of the gemach has his own funds in the gemach. He says that it then depends on whether the manager lent the money to the gemach or deposited the money in the gemach. If the money was lent it is permitted to thank the manager since the money which the manager is lending is no longer his own since it was loaned to the gemach. However, if the manager just deposits his money with the gemach then the borrower may not thank the manager since he is himself the lender.

In conclusion: There is a dispute whether saying thank you is prohibited. Even the stringent opinion allows thanking a little after the loan was returned. Furthermore, if one borrows money from a gemach he may thank the manager.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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