Talmud Tips

For the week ending 10 December 2016 / 10 Kislev 5777

Bava Metzia 72 - 78

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: “Whoever has money and lends it without witnesses present transgresses the Torah prohibition of ‘You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person’ (Vayikra 19:14).”

This gemara follows a mishna which teaches the numerous possible Torah prohibitions that the various participants — such as the lender, borrower, witnesses and guarantor — transgress when they are involved in a loan that demands interest (“ribit”) to be paid in addition to the principle. This statement by Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav in the gemara teaches that a lender may also be transgressing a negative command of the Torah even when he lends without charging interest in certain cases. If a lender loans money without witnesses to the loan he transgresses the lav of “Lifnei Iver”. Why? Since there were no witnesses present at the time of the loan, the borrower may think he can get away without paying back the loan, and be believed, since the lender has no proof that a loan ever took place. In this sense the lender is “putting a stumbling block” in front of the borrower, since he is handing him the opportunity to steal from him (Rashi). Rather, the lender should ensure that witnesses are present, or that a document that records the details of the loan is written and given to the lender.

The Sage Reish Lakish adds in the gemara that a lender without witnesses is opening himself up to bring curses upon himself. If he requests repayment of the loan and the borrower denies owing the money, other people will curse him, saying that he is speaking slanderously about a righteous person. Reish Lakish cites that Tehillim 31:19 hints to this message.

The prohibition against lending money without witnesses applies even to a loan made to a Torah scholar. This is evidenced by a case taught in the gemara in which Ravina refused to lend Rav Ashi money with witnesses, in order to not transgress. Rav Ashi said to Ravina: “All the more so am I concerned about lending to you without witnesses, since you are so wrapped up in your Torah study that you are liable to forget about the loan, and I would end being cursed by the people (Rashi).”

All of the above scenarios of lending without witnesses are codified in Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 70:1. The Aruch Hashulchan notes that many people are not careful to lend only in the presence of witnesses (or with other proof), and suggests a reason for this common behavior. The people involved in the loan, he writes, know each other, and trust each other, and they are confident that the lender will not eventually deny having borrowed the money. I heard many years ago from a great Rabbi in Jerusalem that if the amount of the loan is relatively small, then it can be assumed that the lender will forgive the debt (“mochel”) in the event that the borrower denies the loan.

The Rashash notes the seemingly unusual wording used by Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav to state the halacha in the gemara: “Whoever has money and lends it without witnesses transgresses the Torah prohibition….” Obviously we are dealing with a lender who has money — otherwise there would be nothing to lend! The Rashash suggests that this prohibition perhaps applies only to a lender who is wealthy — i.e. “has money”. Only if the lender has much money is there concern that the borrower may be brazen enough to deny having borrowed, since he feels that the lender will not “miss” having this particular loan returned. However, if the lender is not wealthy there is no real concern that the borrower will act brazenly to the generous, not wealthy lender, and will therefore not deny having received the loan from this kind, gracious (and perhaps needy himself) lender.

  • Bava Metzia 75b

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