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In a game like Monopoly, where the "money" is absolutely worthless, would charging ribbis (interest) or ona'ah (overcharging/undercharging) be permissible? That is, if a player owned, say, Mediterranean Avenue for $60, could he charge $100 if he sold it to another player? Likewise, can a player mortgage a property on interest?

Related: Is it permissible to cheat at board games?

  • What makes you think Mediterranean is still worth 60 after it's bought? – Double AA Apr 9 '17 at 12:54
  • @DoubleAA Just giving an example. – DonielF Apr 9 '17 at 14:32
  • @doni me too. There can't be onaah here if there's only one of everything – Double AA Apr 9 '17 at 14:32
  • @DoubleAA Yeah, but there's two browns (purples - why did they have to change that?) and they are worth exactly the same. – DonielF Apr 9 '17 at 14:36
  • @doniel no they aren't. Personally I prefer Mediterranean. Others may differ. Each is worth whatever people want to pay for it. Baltic has higher rent IINM. Also there may be better odds of landing on one than the other – Double AA Apr 9 '17 at 14:37
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It seems IMHO, (based on the OP) that there are three possible aspects; or questions here regarding the validity of game transactions in Halachah:

Q1. May a child be allowed to perform such forbidden transactions such as "ribbis or ona'ah" in a game as far as chinuch is concerned?

Q2. Can Monopoly game events/transactions (or any game), be ruled upon by Halachah at all, since it is not a real transaction or event? (except for chinuch concerns)

Q3. We might assume that the fact people devote time and take a game seriously by assigning some emotional or real sentimental value ("I care about winning."), grants it an aspect of "real life" so that Halachah applies to its function. If so, do we say that the game's transactions are judged by Halachah as what the transactions fantasize to be, or are they judged by Halachah as exchanges of blank paper, regardless.

In other words. If we do say Halachah even has an opinion on two Jews selling "Boardwalk" to each other in a "serious" game of Monopoly, would Halachah view it as a real estate transaction or a simple transaction of a blank paper marker.

NOTE: This is only being answered if the stakes are limited to winning or losing the game. If the stakes of the game involve winning a "prize" such as real life cash currency being given to the winner, then the answer may be different. It appears from the OP that winning for its own sake is all that is being discussed here.

A1. Bava Metziah 56b. Land, slaves, deeds, and redemptions of hekdesh are not subject to the laws of "overcharging/undercharging".

Monopoly is all about real property. Hence, no Ona'ah.

Mortgages in monopoly are paid to the bank. The bank can be assumed to be a non-Jewish corporation. Ribis applies only between Jews.

In Yeshivah, I remember hearing a story where the Brisker Rav was asked (when he was a child) if he was going to eat on Yom Kippur? He said: "Yes". He was then asked if he was going to make Kiddush? He said: "No. Because I am only required to do so for chinuch. Chinuch is so that when I grow up, I will do the real mitzvah. But, when I grow up, I will fast on Yom Kippur. Therefore I will never make Kiddush in this case for real. So, I do not need to worry about it for chinuch now."

Here, the fantasy transaction is selling real estate and paying ribbis to a Gentile bank. The Jewish child playing this will simply grow up to believe that its OK to charge what he feels like for real estate and transact with banks on interest. Chinuch checks to see what allowing the child to do now will cause him to do in the future. Since these transactions (if real) would be permitted, then they are certainly permitted within a fantasy setting, even if the papers traded are not really real estate, and even if the guy running the bank is a fellow Jewish player in the game. This is because the "fantasy" declares them to be Real Estate and the "Bank" is really nobody in the game.

However, a certain case that may be different, would be if the game requires a player to "steal" something. For instance, "stealing" the Afikomen is a custom forbidden by many Jewish groups/families (such as minhag Chabad) because it teaches the child that stealing is OK. This is true even though no actual theft is taking place at all according to Halachah. If the child grows up, he may think that grabbing someone's item is OK under certain conditions and theft doesn't matter so much (like the Afikomen).

A2. But, other than chinuch, it appears that a game's transactions do not fall under Halachic consideration at all. This is because the purchase of a fake item for fake money is not worth a shaveh prutah. Halachah does not recognize a transaction less than a shaveh prutah. And even if you will say that breaking Torah Law applies to things worth less than a shaveh perutah too; (its just not enforceable as damages; but it is still forbidden to steal less than a perutah.) here, the transaction is worth zero. So, it is even worse. It is defined as nothing or a non-event. Monopoly money buys nothing of value in reality. The transaction is not even worth "zero" since within a short time, it will all go back into the owner's box and be deleted as if it never happened. This is comparable to being less than stealing someone's chametz on Pesach or his avodah zarah tree. It is truly a less than non-event with no meaning in Halachah at all.

But maybe you will say that the "emotional value" a player assigns to winning or deal-making has value in Halachah? The Gemara in the first perek of Kiddushin says that a man could marry a woman by "dancing in front of her" because the entertainment (enjoyment value) is worth a perutah to the woman. If so, why can't a player's emotional investment in a game be worth a shaveh perutah too? If it is worth it, then maybe Halachah does apply to these game transactions?

IMHO, its not true. The woman is accepting entertainment value in exchange for a marriage kinyan in reality. The player who plays Monopoly is indulging in entertainment for the sake of pure entertainment. The player is trading "zero" in exchange for another "zero". (Even if some people take entertainment seriously, it is still merely entertainment.(As we said, no prize of real money is at stake.)) Therefore, it has no value in real terms and transactional Halachah should not apply.

Also, even if the "serious player's investment of emotion" does grant value; it still doesn't matter. This is because the "serious player" has already assumed that all transactions within the game will follow game rules as they appear on the box instructions or as invented by the players. (That's what makes him serious. :) ) And Monopoly instructions allow for ribbis and ona'ah all the way! In fact, if you would tell the player that he cannot charge what he wants, his game investment will lose value! (dissapointment)

Also, the player is in essence assuming all game "property and coin" is always in a state of perpetual "hefker"(ownerless) and agrees to it being utterly worthless as it truly is, vis a vis reality so as to be able to run the game according to its fanatasy rules regardless of Torah transactional Law in real life. That's why it is not possible to be a problem case of "masneh al mah shekasuv baTorah" .(It is usually forbidden to enter a transaction on condition that the parties agree its OK to violate the Torah Law about it) This is because the Torah has nothing to prohibit here in such a case of hefker.

Two proofs that (hint) tell me this is the case (the transactions in Monopoly are Halachically null):

First, the above Afikomen example. Poskim seem to be silent on outright forbidding people to steal the Afikomen (only some minhag forbids it for chinuch), even though real situations always arise where kids grab it from each other and from parents.

Second, the Gemara in Rosh Hashannah describes pigeon races and dice games of chance (even for money) as "asmachta lo kanya". The bets have no effect, since reliance upon chance games cannot cause a kinyan (transaction). So, games of chance cannot be taken seriously. This is where real money is at stake. How much more so in the case of the OP, where nothing tangible is at stake. Therefore, all Monopoly transactions are mere "asmachta" where they breathe. They never took place anyway.

Therefore, to illustrate the point perfectly, relying on the above reasoning:

If a person were to play an online multi-player dungeon game where different real people sign up and create characters with gold and inventory etc. It would be perfectly OK by Torah Law, to have your "thief" character pickpocket other players and transfer their gold or items to your inventory. This is true even if it causes emotional pain to a player who would now have to go out and spend real life time killing 20 more monsters to replace the stolen "gold".

So too, a Jewish player may make a treaty not to attack a fellow player's territories in RISK for three turns. He may then immediately attack him one turn later! He has not violated any Torah Law.

Of course, under A1. (Chinuch) this may be a problem.

A3. Finally, even if you disagree with my A2 above:

You would be claiming that Torah Law has recognized Monopoly transactions to be elevated to some form of reality. (which IMHO is vehemently not true)

IMHO, The fantasy rules of Monopoly assume that the pieces of paper are not "pieces" but rather represent real estate transactions. Monopoly also assumes that the "Bank" is nobody. Therefore, the people making the transactions are invested in the fantasy that the items bought and sold function as real estate. They also understand that the "Bank" is not a Jew. So the Torah would address its application to the fantasy investment of the players because that is the definition of the "real value" here.

So, even here, Halachah would say there is no ona'ah by real estate (you can charge whatever you want for Boardwalk) and there is no prohibition of interest, since the Bank is not a Jew.

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(original post) In a game like Monopoly, where the "money" is absolutely worthless, would charging ribbis (interest)... be permissible?

[Answer] Since halacha clearly states that the prohibition of ribbis applies even when dealing with values of less than a prutah, and since the Monopoly money does have a value, albeit little value, (as when one purchases a new set of monopoly money from the game company), there may be a problem of ribbis even when using monopoly money. Since the value of the Monopoly bills is not the "face value" of each bill, but rather the value of the bill as an item, If one player lent another player any amount of bills (amount as per count of bills, not of face value) and he receives in return a larger amount of bills than he lent, this would constitute a prohibition of ribbis, since he is receiving a greater value of return then the value which he lent. Based on this, there can be an interesting situation of ribbis with Monopoly money: If player A lent player B two Monopoly "100 dollar bills" and later Player B repaid player A the loan by giving him four "50 dollar bills", although at face value he did not pay back any more than he received, he would still have given ribbis. This is because with Monopoly money which has no real currency value the value is the cost of the bill and not its face value. (as opposed to legal tender currency, which even if the bills themselves have physical value, we only pay attention to the face value when considering questions of ribbis.)

One may argue that the players don't actually own their money during the game, so the "lending" of money from one player to another may not be considered a loan at all, and thus the laws of ribbis would not apply. Yet, since the game belongs to one particular party, and all the players are essentially borrowing the game parts which they use while playing the game, we could look at it as the lending player has borrowed the "money" from the game's owner, and then lent it to the other player. Even though the lender is not the original owner of the bills, since they are in his possession at the time, and he lends them to the borrowing player if the borrower repays more bills then he borrowed this would be ribbis.

It should be noted that this is only the case with items which are borrowed with intent to return other items of the same kind, as opposed to items which are borrowed with the intention of returning the same item which was taken. In same item loans, one may return more than was taken.

I Learned this from my Rebbe Rav Pinchos Vind of Yerushalayim. He is the author of Sefer Bris Pinchas and other ribbis related works, and is the Rosh Bais Hora'ah Bris Pinchos, which is specifically for ribbis related Shailos. He also runs a Ribbis Hotline for questions on the subject of ribbis.

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    Hi RibbisRabbi and welcome to MY! Are these your own ideas, or did you find them somewhere? If the latter, would you please include a link in this post? Thanks so much for your insights, and hope to see you around! – DonielF Apr 24 '18 at 21:50
  • The question wasn't talking about any actual transfer of ownership of the money. The money, together with the board, cards, hat, car, dog, etc., still belongs to the original owner. – Heshy Apr 24 '18 at 21:50
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    DonielF: I Learned this from my Rebbe Rav Pinchos Vind of Yerushalayim. He is the author of Sefer Bris Pinchas and other ribbis related works, and is the Rosh Bais Hora'ah Bris Pinchos, which is specifically for ribbis related Shailos. He also runs a Ribbis Hotline for questions on the subject of ribbis. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 24 '18 at 22:15
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    HESHY: As I explained, although the money, together with the board, cards, hat, car, dog, etc., still belongs to the original owner, they are borrowed by the players for the purpose of playing the game. Each player borrows the money which he receives at the beginning of the game to use during the course of the game and thus if he lends it to another player there can still be an issue of ribbis involved. – RibbisRabbiAndMore Apr 24 '18 at 22:18
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    @RibbisRabbi (you want to put an @ in front of people's names, that way they get notified) but they can't use the money however they like. They definitely can't go home with it, but besides that they can only use it in accordance with the rules of the game. For example the person "borrowing" the dog can't just put it on Go every time, he has to move it based on the dice roll. It's a major chiddush to say that in such constrained circumstances we look at the market value of the money, when what they're allowed to do with it has nothing to do with that value. – Heshy Apr 24 '18 at 22:24

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