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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 61a

now, since this is redundant in respect of money neshek, as it is already written, Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother,1  utilise the subject [to teach that the prohibition of] ribbith [applies to] money.2  [From this] I know it only of the borrower:3  whence do we know it of the lender? Neshek is stated in reference to the borrower; also in reference to the lender:4  just as with respect of the neshek written in reference to the borrower, no distinction is drawn between money and provisions, neshek and ribbith,5  so also, in respect to neshek written in reference to the lender, you must draw no distinction between money and provisions, neshek and ribbith. Whence do we know to extend [the law] to everything?6  From the verse, neshek of anything that is lent upon usury.

Rabina said: There is no need of any verse [to teach] either that the prohibition neshek in respect of victuals, or of ribbith in respect of money, [applies to the lender]. For were it written, 'Thy money thou shalt not give him upon neshek, and thy food upon marbith,' [it would be] even as you say.7  Since, however, it is written, Thy money thou shalt not give him upon neshek and upon marbith thou shalt not lend thy victuals,8  read it thus: 'Thy money thou shalt not give him upon neshek and upon marbith, and upon neshek and upon marbith thou shalt not give thy victuals.'9  But does not the Tanna state, 'it is said…it is said'?10  — He means this: if the verse were not written [in such a way], I should have adduced a gezerah shawah: now, however, that the verse is couched [thus], the gezerah shawah is unnecessary. Then for what purpose do I need the gezerah shawah? — In respect of neshek of anything for which usury may be given, which is not written in connection with the lender.11

Raba said: Why did the Divine Law write an injunction against ribbith, an injunction against robbery, and an injunction against overreaching?12  — They are necessary. For had the Divine Law stated an injunction against ribbith [only], [no other prohibition could be deduced therefrom] because it is anomalous,13  the prohibition lying even upon the debtor.14  Again, had the Divine Law written an interdict against robbery [I might argue that] that is because it is against his [the victim's] wish,15  but as for overreaching, I might maintain [that it is] not [forbidden].16  And were there a prohibition in the Divine Law against overreaching only, [I might reason,] that is because he [the defrauded] does not know [of his loss], to be able to pardon.17

Now one could not be deduced from another: but cannot one be derived from the other two? — Which could be [thus] deduced? Should the Divine Law omit the prohibition of usury, that it might follow from these [robbery and fraud]? [But I would argue,] The reason why these are [forbidden] is because they lack [the victim's] consent:18  will you say [the same] of usury, which is [taken] with his [the debtor's] consent? And if the Divine Law omitted the injunction against overreaching, that it might be deduced from the others, [I would argue:] The reason why the others are [forbidden] is because commerce19  is not carried on thus!20  — But the Divine Law should not have stated the prohibition of robbery, and it would have followed from the others. For what objections will you raise: as for interest, that it is an anomaly? Then let overreaching prove it.21  [Should you argue,] As for fraud, [the reason of the prohibition] is that he [the victim] is in ignorance thereof, and cannot pardon: then let interest prove it.22  And thus the argument revolves: the distinguishing feature of one is not the distinguishing feature of the other, and vice versa. The characteristic common to both is that he robs him. So also may I adduce [actual] robbery [as prohibited]! — I will tell you: That indeed is so. Then what is the need of an injunction against robbery? In respect of withholding the payment of a hired worker. But [the prohibition against the] withholding of such payment is explicitly stated: Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy! … at his day thou shalt give him his hire!23  — To teach that he [who withholds payment] transgresses two negative precepts.24  Then let it25  be referred to interest or fraud, that [in their case] two negative commands are transgressed?26  — It is a matter deduced from its context,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The object of the loan being unspecified, it must include money, particularly as the verse ends, neshek of anything for which there can be neshek.
  2. It is one of the methods of the Talmudic exegesis that if a verse is redundant in respect of its own subject, it is applied to some other.
  3. This verse is assumed to refer to the debtor, and thus translated: Thou shalt not cause thy brother to take neshek, neshek of money etc. This follows because [H] is [H], causative; were the lender referred to, Scripture should have written [H]. Hence it teaches that if a borrower repays more than he receives, whether money or provisions, he transgresses two injunctions.
  4. Lev. XXV, 37.
  5. I.e., the prohibitions under neshek and ribbith apply to both money and food.
  6. To things which are neither money nor food.
  7. For then the two clauses would be distinctly separated, neshek being related to money, and marbith to provisions.
  8. Literal translation with disregard of the accents.
  9. I.e., since neshek and marbith are coupled in the middle of the verse, they are both read with the first half of the verse, which treats of money, and with the second half, dealing with provisions.
  10. V. supra. Since the Tanna deduces its applicability to the lender by a gezerah shawah, how can Rabina, an Amora, maintain that it is inherent in the verse itself, it being axiomatic that an Amora cannot disagree with a Tanna?
  11. V. p. 364. n. 4. Therefore the gezerah shawah teaches that the lender violates these injunctions, whatever he lends upon usury.
  12. Since the essence of all three is the taking of money (or goods) to which one is not entitled, had one been prohibited, the others would have followed as a matter of course.
  13. Lit., 'novel'.
  14. It is a principle of exegesis that an anomaly cannot provide a basis of analogy for other laws.
  15. The thing stolen is taken against the desire of its owner.
  16. Since the money of which the victim is defrauded is given of his own free will.
  17. So the injury remains permanently. But in robbery and usury the victim's forgiveness may wipe it out.
  18. Even in fraud, though the money is given of one's free will, still he does not consent to be defrauded.
  19. Lit., 'buying and selling'.
  20. I.e., by robbery or usury. But overcharging is sometimes a normal incident in trade, i.e., when one is particularly in need of an article, he may knowingly overpay.
  21. That robbery is prohibited, the prohibition against overreaching not being anomalous.
  22. The interest charge is known to the debtor and yet is forbidden.
  23. Deut. XXIV, 14f.
  24. The one quoted and the one against robbery making the offender liable to a twofold penalty of lashes. [The same answer could not apply to robbery itself, as robbery does not carry with it the penalty of flogging. V. Mak. 17a (Tosaf).]
  25. The superfluous injunction against robbery.
  26. I.e., instead of saying that it intimates an additional injunction against withholding the wage of a hired worker.

Baba Mezi'a 61b

and it [the injunction against robbery] is written in connection with a hired worker.1

What is the need of the injunction, Ye shall not steal,2  which the Divine Law wrote? — For that which was taught: 'Ye shall not steal,'3  [even] in order to grieve;4  'ye shall not steal,' [even] in order to repay double.5

R. Yemar said to R. Ashi: For what purpose did the Divine Law state [separately] the prohibition against [false] weights?6  — He replied: [To forbid] the steeping of weights in salt.7  But that is pure robbery! — [To teach] that one transgresses at the very moment that this is done.8

Our Rabbis taught: Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, and in weight, or in measure:9  'meteyard' means land measurement, [and] it forbids measuring for one in summer and for another in winter.10  'In weight', prohibits the steeping of weights in salt; and 'in measure' [teaches] that one must not cause [the liquid] to foam.11  Now surely, you can reason a minori: if the Torah objected to a [false] mesurah, which is but a thirty-sixth of a log, how much more so a hin, half a hin, a third of a hin, and a quarter of a hin; a log, half a log or quarter log.12

Raba said: Why did the Divine Law mention the exodus from Egypt in connection with interest, fringes and weights?13  The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, 'It is I who distinguished in Egypt between the first-born and one who was not a first-born;14  even so, it is I who will exact vengeance from him who ascribes his money to a Gentile and lends it to an Israelite on interest,15  or who steeps his weights in salt, or who [attaches to his garment threads dyed with] vegetable blue16  and maintains that it is [real] blue.'17

Rabina happened to be in Sura on the Euphrates.18  Said R. Hanina of Sura on the Euphrates: Why did Scripture mention the exodus from Egypt in connection with [forbidden] reptiles?19  — He replied: The Holy One, blessed be He, said, I who distinguished between the first-born and one who was not a first-born, [even] I will mete out punishment to him who mingles the entrails of unclean fish with those of clean fish and sells them to an Israelite.20  Said he: My difficulty is 'that bringeth you up'! Why did the Divine Law write 'that bringeth you up' here?21  — [To intimate] the teaching of the School of R. Ishmael, he replied. Viz., The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, 'Had I brought up Israel from Egypt for no other purpose but this, that they should not defile themselves with reptiles, it would be sufficient for me.'22  But, he objected, is their reward [for abstaining from them] greater than [the reward for obeying the precepts on] interest, fringes and weights?23  — Though their reward is no greater, he rejoined, it is more loathsome to eat them [than to engage in the other malpractices].24

AND WHAT IS TARBITH? THE TAKING OF INTEREST ON PRODUCE. E.G., IF ONE PURCHASES WHEAT AT A GOLD DENAR, etc. Is then the preceding example25  not interest? — R. Abbahu said: Hitherto it [i.e., the first instance] is interest in the Biblical sense, but from here onward by Rabbinical law.26  And Raba said likewise: Hitherto it is interest in the Biblical sense, but from here onward in the Rabbinical sense. So far,27  He [sc. the wicked] shall prepare it, and the just shall put it on.28  'So far' and no further?29  — But, [say] even thus far, 'He shall prepare it, and the just put it on.' Thus far it is direct30  interest, from here onward it is indirect interest.31

R. Eleazar said: Direct interest can be reclaimed in court,32  but not indirect interest. R. Johanan ruled: Even direct interest cannot be reclaimed in court. R. Isaac said: What is R. Johanan's reason?33  The Writ saith, He hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations:34  For it [this transgression] death is prescribed, but not return [of the money]. R. Adda b. Ahaba said: Scripture saith, Take thou no usury of him, or increase: but fear thy God:35  fear is prescribed, but not return. Raba said: It follows from the essential meaning of the verse, He shall surely die: his blood shall be upon him;36  thus those who lend upon usury are compared to shedders of blood:37  just as those who shed blood can make no restitution, so those who lend upon interest can make no restitution.

R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is R. Eleazar's reason?38  Scripture saith,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Lev. XIX, 13: Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning — and is by preference to be applied to the latter.
  2. Ibid. II.
  3. Adopting the reading as amended by Asheri and others. [The verse 'Thou shalt not steal', Ex. XX, 13, given in cur. edd. is explained as an injunction against abduction; v. Sanh. 86a.]
  4. I.e., even if the intention is merely to cause the owner temporary grief at his loss, and then return it.
  5. One may not stage a theft in order to repay double and thus make a gift to his fellow.
  6. Seeing that it is tantamount to robbery.
  7. Which naturally makes them heavier, and then using them when buying.
  8. I.e., merely steeping is forbidden, even without subsequent use.
  9. Lev. XIX, 35, [H] 'meteyard', is lineal measure; [H] 'measure', means liquid measure of capacity.
  10. Rashi: when brothers divide a landed legacy, one's portion must not be measured off in summer and another's in winter, because the measuring cord gives in winter and shrinks in summer.
  11. The foam subsiding, the measure is found to be short.
  12. 1 hin = 12 logs = 6.072, lit. 1 log = 0.506 lit. J.E. XII, 484.
  13. Interest: Take thou no usury from him, nor increase … I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt (Lev. XXV, 36, 38); fringes: Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make fringes in the borders of their garments … I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt (Num. XV, 38, 41); weights: Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God which brought you out of the land of Egypt (Lev. XIX, 36).
  14. Though this, particularly where the child is a first-born on the father's and not on the mother's side, is not always known to man but only to God.
  15. Gentiles being permitted to take interest, Jews pretended that their money belonged to them, and then lent it upon interest.
  16. [Probably indigo blue, an imitation of the genuine blue; [H], obtained from the blood of a mollusc, is enjoined in Scripture; Num. XV, 38.]
  17. These fraudulent actions may escape the notice of man, but not of God, who can distinguish what to man is indistinguishable.
  18. [Not the Sura of academy fame, but a town on the right bank of the Euphrates, 45 parasangs N. of Circesium; v. Obermeyer, op. cit. p. 38.]
  19. Lev. XI, 44, 45: Neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt.
  20. In a wider sense, [H] (reptiles) is used of all forbidden creatures, as here.
  21. Whereas in connection with interest etc. the expression is 'who brought you out of'; v. p. 366, n. 13.
  22. I.e., I elevated them above such baseness, 'who brought you up' being understood in a spiritual sense.
  23. This being implied by his answer.
  24. So that 'brought you up', i.e., elevated you above such repulsiveness, is more appropriate to this than to the other laws.
  25. [Lit., 'is that stated' according to MS.M.; cur. edd. 'Are all these stated'.] Viz., lending a sela' that five denarii should be returned.
  26. Lit., 'according to these words'. Lending a sum of money for a larger return is Biblically forbidden; but buying ahead, as illustrated in the Mishnah, was prohibited by the Rabbis.
  27. I.e., usury as defined in the first clause.
  28. Job XXVII, 17: i.e., if a man received interest, his heirs ('the just') are under no obligation to return it, but may put it to their own use.
  29. Surely not! If interest that is Biblically forbidden is not returnable by the heirs, surely that which is only forbidden by the Rabbis need not be returned!
  30. Lit., 'fixed'.
  31. Lit., 'dust of interest' [H]. Lending a sela' for five denarii is direct interest: speculating on 'futures' is only indirect interest, for it is not certain that the wine will appreciate in value.
  32. Lit., 'through the Judges'.
  33. For it is logical that that which is taken illegally should be returnable.
  34. Ezek. XVIII, 13.
  35. Lev. XXV, 36.
  36. Ezek. ibid.
  37. Translating the last phrase: 'his blood', i.e., the blood shed by taking usury, shall be upon him.
  38. That direct interest can be recovered in court.