By: Rabbi Ari Marburger
Reviewed by: Harav Dov Kahan, Av Bais Din Maysharim
The purpose of this article is to create an awareness of common Halachic issues. A Rav should be consulted for any practical application.
Thanking the lender
Hakoros Hatov and common courtesy require a person to acknowledge a favor that was done for him. People are expected to express their appreciation to a person who has helped them. There is however an exception to this rule. In one particular case, saying thank you is not only unexpected, it is prohibited. There is a category of Ribbis known as Ribbis Dvorim, Ribbis that involves spoken words rather than actual monetary payments. Any praise that the borrower gives the lender is considered an added ‘payment’ for the loan and is included in this prohibition. Giving the lender a Bracha is prohibited as well. Even thanking the lender for the loan would be included in this category of Ribbis. The Poskim do, however, allow the borrower to thank the lender for his effort and the inconvenience involved with extending the loan, as opposed to thanking him for the use of his money.
A student once borrowed money from Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, the renowned Mirrer Mashgiach. The student started thanking him for the loan. Rav Yeruchem stopped the student and explained to him the concept of Ribbis Devorim. the student returned to Rav Yeruchem to borrow money a second time. Remembering what had happened the year before, the student took the money and left without saying a word. Rav Yeruchem called him back and admonished him for not having proper Hakoras Hatov. The student protested that he was not allowed to say thank you for the loan, as Rav Yeruchem himself had previously pointed out. Rav Yeruchem explained that while, in fact the borrower is prohibited from actually saying thank you because of Hilchos Ribbis, he must still have the appropriate Hakaros Hatov towards the lender. He may not express it by giving the lender a monetary or even a verbal present, but he must feel the proper gratitude for the loan. Rav Yeruchem sensed that the student lacked the appropriate feelings
This story illustrates the Hashkafa of Ribbis Devorim. Although a loan is clearly a favor for the borrower, and indeed he must be grateful for the loan, the Torah prohibits the lender from being compensated by the borrower. Therefore, though the borrower is prevented from demonstrating his Hakoras Hatov, he must still be appreciative.
In a similar vein, a gadol was once asked whether lending money with the intention to generate friendship is considered ribbis. He replied that Hilchos Ribbis encourage us to help each other with free loans. It teaches us how we should act towards a fellow Jew. Creating and strengthening friendships by offering free loans is the purpose of Hilchos Ribbis, and is certainly not a violation of its laws.
Ribbis Dvorim applies to other scenarios as well. A borrower may not greet the lender if he would not have done so before the loan. If the lender greets the borrower first, the borrower may return the greeting.
Ribbis Dvorim applies only during the loan and at the time of repayment. After the loan has been repaid, there is no prohibition of Ribbis Dvorim. There is a debate among the Poskim as to how soon after the payment one may thank the lender.
Sending the lender a gift as a token of appreciation has a different set of rules. If the gift is sent before the loan is repaid, it is considered Avak Ribbis. If however the gift is sent after the loan has been repaid, it falls under the category of Ribbis M’ucheres (delayed interest) and is subject to the following guidelines.
After the loan is repaid
If the borrower specifies that the gift is in appreciation of the loan, it is considered Ribbis. Sending a bottle of wine with a thank you note after repaying a loan would be included in this prohibition.
If the borrower does not specify the reason for the gift, then the Halacha depends on the value and the timing of the gift. An expensive present that would clearly not be given if not for the loan is Ribbis even if it given a while after the loan is repaid. This often occurs in a situation when people realize that they have inadvertently entered into a prohibited Ribbis agreement. The borrower, who is prohibited from making any interest payments, may want to reimburse the lender for the ‘lost’ interest by giving him a ‘gift’. This would be Asur even after the loan has been repaid if the size of the gift makes it obvious that it is being given because of the loan.
If, however, the gift is small enough that the borrower may have given it even in the absence of the loan and the gift is given after the loan has been repaid, the lender may accept the gift. There are no set rules that define the exact size of a problematic gift. The particular relationship between the borrower and lender will determine what is considered appropriate.
Even in circumstances in which the lender may accept the gift, there are Poskim that prohibit the borrower from giving it with the intention of thanking the lender for the loan.
If the lender inadvertently accepted Ribbis M’ucheres, he may keep the present and has no obligation to return the gift to the borrower. In contrast, Avak Ribbis, which is given before the loan is repaid, should be returned to the borrower.
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