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Are we allowed to charge interest or not?

Any action or deed which is not considered ethical for ourselves, should also apply on others as well. Also throughout the known history of Jews, ribbis has always been linked with them. If we look at the character of Shylock depicted in the Shakespeare's play: The Merchant of Venice, we notice the cruelty and cold-heartedness of that Jewish character.

So why does Judaism forbid taking interest from Jews but allow taking it from non-Jews?

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marked as duplicate by Menachem, Isaac Moses Apr 19 '12 at 17:22

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Someone will present it better, but in short it's the same way you wouldn't take interest on a loan to your brother or sister. Jews are supposed to treat each other as family. – Double AA Apr 19 '12 at 16:34
As far as the mostly anti-semitic depiction of the Jew in The Merchant of Venice, Jews had been expelled from England some 300 years earlier, and it is entirely likely that Shakespeare (as well as your average Englishman) had never met one. – HodofHod Apr 19 '12 at 16:47
@ Maxood, the other interesting thing is that the Christians originally had the same policy, so no Christians were moneylenders, so that vacancy was filled by the Jew. – HodofHod Apr 19 '12 at 16:53
@Maxood Is it prejudice to give interest-free loans to you siblings? What about your first cousins? Second cousins? Old roommates? We aren't giving non-Jews subpar treatment; we are giving Jews above par treatment. – Double AA Apr 19 '12 at 17:06
@Maxood, are you asking for the Halachic/textual reason, or for the philosophical reason/justification? Halachically, it's because that's what G-d dictated in the Torah. – Seth J Apr 19 '12 at 17:14

2 Answers 2

As I understand it,

One is legally allowed to make money from his money. Just like one can rent houses and cars, one can rent money. The only reason one cannot charge interest from a Jew is because all Jews are family, and one doesn't charge interest to family.

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I've heard this, too, but a source would be nice. – msh210 Apr 19 '12 at 17:03
@msh210 see Alex's answer – Shmuel Brin Apr 19 '12 at 18:09
Technically, the gemara does actually forbid charging interest on loans even to Gentiles... – Loewian Oct 11 at 14:26


There is nothing wrong or unethical about lending with interest. It is a common practice which is done in all civilized law-abiding societies.

Still, the Torah expects of us to treat all our fellow Jews as family--and when a family-member asks for a loan we don't charge interest. As the verse says (Deuteronomy 23:20),

"You shall not cause your brother to take interest."

As far as your second point, that Jews are associated historically with being moneylenders, I'll repeat what I said in the comments.

As ShmuelBrin correctly pointed out, Jews in Europe were barred from most other professions at many times throughout history. One of the only available jobs left to them was moneylending. The fact is that historically, the Christians followed the Torah's prohibition against lending with interest to ones "brother"; but to the Christian, "your brother" is the Christian! So Christians could not charge interest rates to each other, so the Jew became a moneylender to fill that gap.

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is just another example of simple anti-semitism (despite the "sympathetic reading" that Wikipedia brings, with no sources). From

In medieval Europe, many governments restricted money handling and money lending to Jews and Arabs, believing them to be practices morally inappropriate for Christians. Entry into many fields was barred to Jews. Those who were competent financiers were most likely to succeed in a society where they were essentially personae non gratae.

Also, since Jews were constantly being expelled from this country or that one:

The need to flee at a moment's notice made it a bad idea to keep whatever they had accumulated in immobile forms, and more sensible to have it in gold or jewelry.

From this perspective, it's quite easy to see how the anti-semitic stereotype of Jews being greedy, miserly, opportunistic and cunning moneyhandlers etc. came to be.

As I mentioned in the comments, it's quite interesting to note that since Jews had been completely expelled from England 300 years prior to the writing of The Merchant of Venice, it is quite likely that Shakespeare, as well as the average Englishman, had never met a Jew in his life.

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I wouldn't dismiss the sympathetic reading so quickly or look for "sources." The play, itself, actually can be read to make a very sympathetic case, and vilify the dominant Christian culture. And as to the expulsion, it was not absolute and Shakespeare's comments about Judaism reflect a knowledge beyond the simple superficial. – Danno Apr 19 '12 at 17:37
@Dan, ummm... not so much, I think. I think you can take pretty much any anti-semitic work (the Protocols come to mind), and justify it by saying that it is mocking anti-semitism. What comments of Shakespeare betray a deeper understanding of Judaism? – HodofHod Apr 19 '12 at 17:41
I wouldn't take the protocols as mocking antisemitism as it is a coopted anti-Napoleonic tract used explicitly as anti-Jewish. But Shakespeare's depiction of Shylock includes justification, defense and context for his behavior, all of which is not necessary and unprecedented when a character in Bill's work is made the villain. I find that the inclusion of the phrase "drink with you" stands out as reflecting something more than just "eating" in the intercourse of Jew and non-Jew and may mean knowledge of yayin laws. And calling Jews a "sacred nation" is an interesting choice. – Danno Apr 19 '12 at 19:31
@Dan, My point on the Protocols is not that anyone could actually believe that they are not anti-semitic, given their creators' beliefs and the way they were used, but that if those were unknown (as they are by The Merchant), they could indeed be excused as satirical. Quite frankly, it is possible that Shakespeare intended it to be something other than anti-semitic, but the fact that anti-semitism was quite commonplace, as well as the fact that it is unknown if Shakespeare ever left England, make it unlikely that he had any different opinions of Jews than anyone else of his time and place. – HodofHod Apr 19 '12 at 20:00
@Dan So what if he knew of yayin nesech? That would make him more sympathetic to Jews? And I could easily say that Shakespeare calling the Jews a sacred nation was the satirical part. – HodofHod Apr 19 '12 at 20:02

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