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Let's say that, prior to Shemitah, Reuven borrowed a bottle of milk from Shim'on, it had already been opened and partially consumed. For whatever reason, Reuven was unable to return the milk, and since it was going to go bad, and he still could use it, he decided to finish it and buy Shim'on a new bottle. If he does this under normal circumstances, if I'm not mistaken, this would be a problem of usury (it might also be a problem for other reasons, such as theft, but my question is exclusively about usury - in any case, it's possible that Shim'on is not Makpid how much Reuven uses, and it's therefore not theft).

However, in this case, Reuven was unable to repay Shim'on before Shemittah cancelled the debt. Technically, he doesn't need to repay the debt (again, there may be other issues, but assume that any burden of theft doesn't apply). If he wants to be neighborly, may Reuven repay Shim'on with a new bottle of milk, or is this still prohibited as usury (רבית)?

  • Did Reuven own any milk at all when he borrowed it? – Double AA Oct 6 '14 at 2:22
  • @double Assume not, but why should that matter? – Seth J Oct 6 '14 at 2:33
  • I don't understand the case, actually. Was this Milveh or She'eilah? If Milveh, why was did it matter that it was going bad? If She'eilah, why would there be a Ribbis problem (and why would you borrow milk anyway?)? – Double AA Oct 6 '14 at 2:33
  • @SethJ it matters because 'repaying' with objects is generally prohibited anyway, even if it was the exact same amount of milk. But I don't understand the case either - what was the original deal? – הנער הזה Oct 6 '14 at 2:54
  • @Matt If Reuven owned a little milk he could have borrowed (Milveh) a lot and paid back in milk. – Double AA Oct 6 '14 at 2:58
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If it wasn't shemittah, you are right in thinking that returning more than the borrowed amount, if that addition is a recognizable amount, would be usury. This is true despite the fact that returning the same volume is allowed even if the product has increased in value, because it's assumed that such fluctuations aren't significant to neighbors or people who borrow small food items. (Mishna Berura O.C. 450:2 quoted in "The Laws of Ribbis" by R. Reisman, pg 269)

The laws of Shemitta do apply to lending objects (as in, where the deal was that the object would be replaced, not returned, which would be a case of borrowing) as it is no different than lending money. Thus, as long as the 'debt' was already due before shemittah (which, if not stipulated, is a period of 30 days) then shmitta would cancel that debt as well. ("The Laws of Ribbis" by R. Reisman, pg 359 quoting Chayim Shaal 2:38:13)

Returning money after shemittah can either be done as a repayment despite the shemittah, or as a gift of goodwill. If done as a gift, then as long as it's reasonable to look at the extra milk as such and not as reimbursement, then this would probably be allowed (as the Shach Y.D. 160:8-10 writes regarding a regular loan that wasn't cancelled by shemittah).

However, if the food is referred to as 'repayment', the question of whether or not extra food would be considered interest is probably dependent on a question of the Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 477) as to whether or not shemittah cancels loans automatically, without any action or intent of the lender and borrower, or if it is a mitzvah incumbent upon the lender. According to the latter view, which believes that the loan itself isn't cancelled, it's likely that one would violate the prohibition of usury even after shemittah. (On this, see Minchas Asher Gittin siman 59- he doesn't mention this specific issue but he does discuss the meaning of shemitas kesafim in general at length).

Bottom line, I'd say (besides for saying to first CYLOR) that 'being neighborly' should be clarified that this is meant merely a gift, and not repayment, so that there's no problem.

  • I should emphasize to CYLOR, since this sounds like a specific case. (Also, if this is a specific case that you think 'just happened', I should also probably make sure you know that we pasken that shemittas kesafism occurs at the end of shmitta, meaning rosh hashana of 5766, not 5765) – הנער הזה Oct 6 '14 at 3:30
  • I don't see anything in 162:1 about shmittah? – Double AA Oct 6 '14 at 3:34
  • It isn't, it's referring to the last half of that paragraph – הנער הזה Oct 6 '14 at 3:35
  • I'm not sure what you mean in that comment either so I suggest rewriting to clarify exactly what claims are sourced to what texts. – Double AA Oct 6 '14 at 3:36
  • @DoubleAA edited, though now that I though about it a bit more than knee-jerk reaction I don't really have much of an answer... I may delete it in an hour or so if I can't think of anything else – הנער הזה Oct 6 '14 at 4:23

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