I just borrowed a wonderful book from the local library (let's assume Jewish library - but does it matter?). My friend sees the book and wants to read it. My library lets me keep the book for a week, so I figure "why not?"

  • Can I lend the book to my friend? Or is this a case of אין השואל רשאי להשאיל ("a borrower is not permitted to lend (that which he has borrowed)", Bab. Gittin 29a; )?
  • Would it matter if my friend happens to have membership at this very library?
  • Is there an עבירה (sin) being committed by going ahead and lending it anyways (assuming the answers above are no)? Or am I just responsible if something goes wrong with the book?
  • Would it matter if the library puts up a sign that explicitly disallows lending?
  • +1 Great questions! (Although I assume the answer to the last one is a clear 'no'.)
    – WAF
    Sep 4, 2011 at 16:58

3 Answers 3


I think in these types of matters, one follows the general custom. I never heard of a library caring if someone lent the book to someone else. What difference would it make to them if that happened? This is not a personal loan where Reuven lends something to Shimon but didn't give permission to give it to Levi, it is large organization that lends out books. They take your card and can charge you for the book if it is not returned, you will have to pay for it regardless of who lost it. Though if your friend loses it, you will be able to collect the money from him.

If the library specifically disallows lending then that would prohibit it. Since we clearly can no longer assume they don't care, one must follow such conditions of the lender. It would be a sin to violate such terms. I assume it would be considered Gezeilah to misuse a borrowed item like that and perhaps one would become chayiv for certain damages to it that he would otherwise be exempt for.

  • 1
    I'd argue that it might depend on the type of library (or more precisely, on the type of people they'll allow to borrow books). If it's a public library, I agree - they're usually not picky about who has access to their materials. But say it's a private library, where you pay a fee for membership; they may well want to restrict who has access to their books, because (a) this way it's easier to go after the borrower for payment if need be, since they have his records, and (b) so as not to undercut the incentive to sign up for membership.
    – Alex
    Sep 15, 2011 at 16:04
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    I assumed it was a public library, but I'm not sure if it would be different for a private one, unless they say so. (a) they collect payment from whoever took it out, so that shouldn't matter to them. (b) the member still needs to be the one to take it. if it's a physical item, i think that's enough to motivate people to get membership. so I don't think Netflix tries to prevent people from lending their borrowed DVDs, but it might not want them lending their online subscription.
    – Ariel K
    Sep 15, 2011 at 16:42
  • @ArielK I also assume it's a public library. If, however, it's a private library - and certainly one that charges membership - it would no doubt be theft to allow a non-member to borrow the book. If it's another member, it would probably have the same issues as any other library, but there might still be an underlying assumption (and perhaps even a written policy) that forward lending is prohibited.
    – Seth J
    Sep 22, 2011 at 17:36
  • I guess one would have to ask them. However, I don't think you need to ask Netflix (or Quikster~) before lending out there DVDs.
    – Ariel K
    Sep 22, 2011 at 17:46

The answer to the first of the four bulleted items in the question, whether the scenario is an application of en hashoel rashay l'hash'il, would seem to me to be obviously "yes". Why not?

Ad the other three items: Shach 342 comments on the Shulchan Aruch's "and if he lent it to others..., he's liable", saying that that's sometimes[1] not the case if the owner commonly lends such items to those "others". That the Shach does not choose to comment likewise on the earlier statement of the SA, "A borrower may not lend", sounds to me as though he holds that the fact that the owner commonly lends to the second potential borrower would not permit the second loan. So the answers to the question's second, third, and fourth bulleted subquestions would then be, respectively, "it doesn't matter", "it's forbidden"[2], and "no".

But, of course, I may be reading too much into the Shach, or otherwise erring. In any event, as always, CYLOR for any practical questions.

[1] Not in any situations relevant today. (Also, the SA's exemption which I elided using "..." would not, I think, apply to library books: it requires the first borrower to prove the book mes mechamas m'lachto and would have done so at his own hands also, i.e. had he not lent it.)
[2] (And you'd be liable if the book is damaged, too, per the preceding footnote.)


There's another angle to consider.

If you're done reading it (I assume you must be, since you're prepared to let your friend borrow it for the duration of your week-long book loan), then there may be others who are on a waiting list for the same book. Of course you can argue that you're not obligated to return it until it's due, so the people waiting for it have no claim, and that's true, but you might still be violating anything from Onaah (oppression - taking advantage of someone else's weakness for your or your friend's benefit) to outright theft (of someone else's time) by allowing your friend to cut in line ahead of the others.

See Sanhedrin (32b), and 'Aruch HaShulhan (Hoshen Mishpat, 272:14) explaining that if two boats, wagons, etc. approach a passing simultaneously, they must come to an agreement as to who will pass first and the one chosen to pass first must compensate the one who has to wait. This is based on VaYikra 19:15 "בְּצֶדֶק, תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ." ("In righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour." - translation from http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0319.htm)

See: http://www.torah.org/advanced/business-halacha/5757/vol1no04.html

In other words, just because you have borrowed it and there's still time left until you are bound to return it, it may (heavy emphasis on "may") be an Isur DeOraitha (biblical prohibition) to allow someone else to borrow it, if there is someone else on a waiting list for the book. It might not just be a minor sin of lending out property that's not yours, but a major sin of enabling someone else to benefit from a third party's harm.

  • According to what your saying, if someone takes out a book for a week, and finishes reading it the first day, they'll have to return it immediately??!!
    – yydl
    Sep 21, 2011 at 20:01
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    No, I'm not saying that. The library has a system set up, wherein the borrower is allotted a certain amount of time to read the book, and there is no clause in the agreement that the borrower must return it upon completing it if the borrower finishes before the due date. However, by finishing early and allowing one's friend to borrow the book, the original borrower has allowed the friend to "cut in line", which may be prohibited. It's a bit of a stretch to say it's MiDeOraitha, I'll grant you.
    – Seth J
    Sep 21, 2011 at 20:25
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    In the case of cutting the line, an unexpected source of waiting was added. In this case it is perfectly normal and understood that the book will not be available until the due date.
    – yydl
    Sep 21, 2011 at 20:28
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    You are still giving someone else preferred treatment at someone else's expense, since you COULD have returned the book early. You chose not to do so, did not inform the library of your decision, and as such did not give the next person in line the opportunity to request the book ahead of your friend. You have the right to retain the book, to read it a second or third time, and you are not expected to inconvenience yourself to return it early; however, you do not necessarily have the right to allow someone else to cut the line.
    – Seth J
    Sep 21, 2011 at 20:42
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    I think there is an issue that needs to be considered based on the Halachah in the Gemara and Aharonim. Based on the Gemara's reading of the Pasuk, I think it stands to reason that there is more to it than mere loss of time. I believe it can be argued that preferential treatment itself might be the problem as an issue of fairness. If you're done with the book (and this is only if there is a waiting list), why does your friend have the right to cut ahead of the next borrower? I don't know why this is worthy of debate; I did say it's a stretch, and that was precisely because of your objection.
    – Seth J
    Sep 21, 2011 at 21:52

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