Teshuva for Shoplifting

December 23rd, 2009

By Rabbi Yitzchok Basser


In his teenage years, someone shoplifted from a store owned by a family friend. He wants to make amends. Is it sufficient to anonymously return the value of the item stolen, or must he take the difficult step of identifying himself and asking Mechila.


It is preferable to ask Mechila, but he is not required to do so. In a case of difficulty one may be lenient and not ask.

There is apparent contradiction regarding this issue. The Rambam in the Laws governing Personal Injury (Hilchos Chovel U’mazik 5:9) states that there is a distinction between causing another person bodily harm, and damaging monetary possessions. The latter needs only to pay for the damages incurred, where as the former must also ask Mechila, forgiveness, from the victim. This would imply that stealing, which only involves monetary harm, would not obligate requesting Mechila.

However, in the Laws of Teshuva the Rambam (2:9) states that Teshuva only helps for transgressions Bein Odom LaMokom, between man and his Creator. However regarding transgressions against another person, such as causing him bodily harm, or cursing him, or stealing from him, one will never attain atonement until he returns what has taken, and appeased his friend.

The Meforshim point out this seeming contradiction. The Meforshim take two approaches in answering this question. The Lechem Mishna (Hilchos Chovel) answers by noting that the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva refers to stealing as Gezaila, which connotes a form of thievery whereby the thief takes the object by force from the owner, and proceeds to derive personal benefit from the object. Such an act causes emotional distress, and therefore warrants asking for Mechila. However the Rambam in Hilchos Chovel is referring to damaging another person’s possessions, which lacks the element of causing significant emotional distress, and would therefore not require asking Mechila.

The Sefer Hakovetz (see also Darchei Dovid B”K 91b) takes a completely different approach. He understands the Rambam in Hilchos Chovel to be discussing the minimum obligation to attain any level of atonement. Only on who causes bodily harm would be included in such an obligation. However in Hilchos Teshuva the Rambam discusses the proper approach that a penitent person should have, and that is to request Mechila even for transgressions that are not as severe as causing bodily harm.

Getting back to our question, whether a shoplifter is obligated to ask Mechila, it would depend on the two approaches. According to the Lechem Mishna, since the stealing took place in a manner that did not cause emotional distress, he would not be obligated to ask Mechila.

However, according to the approach of the Sefer Hakovetz it would be proper to ask Mechila.

In our case, since asking Mechila involves emotional difficulty, and according to the Lechem Mishna there is no obligation at all to ask Mechila, and even according to the Sefer Hakovetz doing so would not be a strict obligation, one may be lenient and not disclose his identity for the purpose of asking Mechila.

It would be proper to send an anonymous letter apologizing for his indiscretion and asking for forgiveness.

Is Factoring Ribbis?

December 23rd, 2009

By Rabbi Yitzchok Basser


I would like to purchase a business that engages in Factoring. This involves purchasing debt at a discount and collecting it at full value. For example, Company A owes Company B $100. The factoring company would buy the note for $75 from company B, and collect $100 from company A when it becomes due.

Should Company A default, there are two types of arrangement possible. In a non recourse arrangement, the factoring Company bears the loss. In a recourse arrangement, the factoring Company would be reimbursed by the Seller (Company B) for the full face value of the debt ($100)

Is there a Ribbis problem with either of these arrangements?


A non recourse structure is permitted. In a recourse structure, If Company B is a not incorporated, there would definitely be an issue of Ribbis, and it would require a valid Heter Iska. Even if they are incorporated, according to many Poskim a Heter Iska should be drawn.

The Shulchan Aruch (CM 173:4) discusses the sale of a Shtar Chov, a loan note drafted by a borrower to the lender. The lender is willing to sell this note at a reduced price for cash up front. When the loan matures the buyer will collect from the borrower the full value of the loan. The Shulchan Aruch permits such a transaction only in the event that the buyer accepts responsibility for the non payment of the debtor (a non recourse sale). Should the seller accept such responsibility, there would be a problem of Ribbis (this concept is known as Karov L’Schar V’Rochok Mihefsed). The source of this ruling is the Ramban, who says that this practice is Rabbinicaly prohibited.

The Nesivos Shalom (ibid) brings a number of Achronim that the Ramban is discussing a case that the buyer can be compensated only for the outlay that he provided to the seller. Should he be guaranteed the full value that the creditor would owe, the prohibition would be prohibited by the Torah. Some Achronim say that if the money can be immediately collected, there would be no prohibition.

In our case, since the money owed by the creditor is generally not immediately collectable (typically the money is not due for 30 days), it would only be permissible to structure the arrangement as a non recourse. A recourse arrangement would involve a Torah prohibition (even to collect from Company A) according to a number of Poskim.

However, there is another issue to consider. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe YD 2:63) permits lending money with interest to a Jewish owned corporation. The reason is because there is no personal liability on the part of the owner, there is merely a lien against the corporation’s assets, the Torah does not consider this to be a loan.

In our case if the company selling the debt were to be a corporation or an LLC, there would be no issue of Ribbis according to Rav Moshe Feinstein.

However a number of Poskim disagree with this ruling (Minchas Yitzchok1:3 and 4:16, Har Tzvi YD 126, Bris Yehuda 7 n:66. See also Minchas Shlomo 28). It would therefore be preferable to write a Heter Iska Klali, which would have to be referenced before each deal is made (with any Jewish owned companies).