SALT - Wednesday 17 Iyar 5778 - May 2, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Thursday 18 Iyar, May 3
            The Torah in Parashat Behar (25:36-37) reiterates the prohibition against lending on interest to other members of the nation, introducing this law by requiring that when one’s fellow falls into financial straits, “you shall support him…so that he may live among you” (25:35).
            Chatam Sofer, in one of his responsa (likutim, 26; see also his commentary to Bava Metzia 73a), views this introduction as halakhically relevant background to the prohibition against interest.  At the heart of this prohibition, Chatam Sofer explains, lies the obligation to assume responsibility to help a struggling fellow Jew secure a livelihood.  This obligation demands the willingness to extend a free loan to help a struggling person regain his financial footing, rather than take advantage of his situation by taking interest.
            On this basis, Chatam Sofer supports the controversial ruling of Rav Eliezer of Touques (one of the Tosafists), cited by the Or Zarua (Bava Metzia 181), allowing interest on delayed wages for work.  Rav Eliezer himself was once owed salary which was delayed for a long period of time, and he demanded interest from his employer.  Ultimately, the two parties agreed to a compromise.  The Or Zarua questions Rav Eliezer’s position, claiming that any payment made to compensate for the withholding of money constitutes forbidden interest.  This is the view taken by Beit Yosef (Y.D. 160) and the Rama (Darkhei Moshe, Y.D. 176:3).  The Bach (Y.D. 161) ruled that in light of the different opinions that exist among the Rishonim, this question must be treated as an unresolved issue, such that the employer cannot be required to pay interest, but if the employee seizes the funds, it is not taken away from him. 
Chatam Sofer, however, upholds Rav Eliezer’s position, asserting that the entire basis for the usury prohibition is the special obligation upon prospective lenders to help lift their fellow from his financial straits.  The lender may not accept interest because he is required to help alleviate the borrower’s situation, rather than capitalize on it.  In the case of wages for employment, the relationship is reversed: the employer, who owes the money, bears an obligation to support the employee in exchange for the service he provided.  Therefore, the prohibition against interest does not apply in any way, and the employee can rightfully demand interest to compensate for the profitable opportunities he lost as a result of the delay in payment.
It should be noted that some authorities conceded that the prohibition of interest is inapplicable in such a case, but nevertheless disputed Rav Eliezer’s claim that the employee may demand interest.  According to these writers, the employer may volunteer to pay his employee interest to compensate for the delay (whereas generally interest may not even be paid voluntarily), but the employee cannot demand interest.  (See, for example, Mishneh Le-melekh, Hilkhot Malveh Ve-loveh 7:11.)
(Taken from Yeshivat Mir’s Beit Midrash, Parashat Behar-Bechukotai, 5777, p. 3)
For the previous SALT click here.