by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – August 28, 2012
In the Torah section of Ki Tetze, the Torah unequivocally declares (Devarim 23:21), “You may charge interest to the gentile, but to your brother you shall not charge interest.” Similarly, towards the end of the Torah section of Behar, we read (Vayikra 25:36), “You shall not take from him interest; and you shall fear your G-d and let your brother live with you.” We are warned by G-d not to attach interest to a loan to one of our brethren. However, while we are not to take interest from a fellow Jew, we may do so from a gentile. In contradistinction, all forms of theft or cheating is prohibited from gentile and Jew alike, as is cited in our code of law, Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat 348:1 and 359:1. Why are theft and cheating prohibited “cross the board”, while the prohibition of interest is limited?
An explanation can be found in Ketoret Samim, cited by Ma’ayana Shel Torah. A monetary loan is a form of mutual agreement between two parties. If one has some excess funds that he is not in need of for the time being, he may loan money to the other party, and, when the other party has some excess funds, he may loan some in turn. This is fine when both are Jews obligated by G-d and His Torah to perform mutual acts of kindness. Gentiles, however, who did not accept the obligations of the Torah, provide loans, generally, only as a form of business – accruing interest. Were Jews obligated to provide non-interest loans to gentiles, while gentiles would charge Jews interest, this would amount to an unfair advantage. Consequently, to maintain the equilibrium and avoid a one-sided unfair situation where one side would be taken advantage of, G-d prohibited Jews from taking interest for loans to each other but encouraged Jews to take interest from gentiles who would not do otherwise in relation to them.
Fair is fair and, as they say “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”. Although, many inhabitants of this planet are of the opinion that the rules by which gentile peoples abide should not apply to the Jewish people – that Jews should not protect themselves and their property in the same way that gentiles do – G-d in this law has shown to lean otherwise. Jews need not and should not take unnecessary risks – not with their possessions and certainly not with their persons. Fair is fair; and Jews should be fair to themselves. One no less than G-d thinks such. We should not think less. Jews should not “sell themselves short” – so to speak. We need not and should not engage in one-sided situations whose “decks are stacked” against us. This is the lesson of the aforementioned verses in the Torah. This is the lesson taught to us by G-d.