Interest in Borrowed Clothing

Question

  1. Chavi was looking forward to her brother’s wedding, but had no
    suitable dress to wear. Since she could not afford to buy a new dress, she
    decided to ask her good friend, Baila, if she could borrow a nice one she
    had worn at her own sister’s wedding. Baila agreed, but on one
    condition. Chavi would have to have the dress professionally dry cleaned
    before returning it to her. Chavi has no objection to dry cleaning the
    dress after use, but is concerned that she is returning more than she
    received. Could this involve the prohibition of ribbis (forbidden
    interest)?

  2. Goldie gave birth prematurely to a healthy, but very small, baby
    boy. She could not find any clothes that fit him. She remembered that her
    neighbour, Pessi, also gave birth to a premature baby a year ago. Pessi
    readily agreed to lend the clothes to Goldie. Six months later, Goldie’s
    baby has outgrown these tiny clothes. Goldie wishes to show her gratitude
    to Pessi by giving some toys to her baby when she returns the clothes.
    Would such action infringe the ribbis prohibition?

Answer

There is a basic difference between lending money
and lending other items. When a person lends money, he does not expect to
have the same coins returned to him. He expects the borrower to spend the
money and returned an equivalent sum when the loan is due for repayment (milveh
l’hotzo’oh nitnoh
). The same rule applies when borrowing other
items, such as food, which are expected to be consumed. If a packet of
sugar is borrowed, the packet of sugar that is returned is considered
payment for the original loan. Wherever repayment of a loan is being made,
the laws of ribbis apply.

However, when borrowing a lawn mower or an
umbrella, the same item that was borrowed is expected to be returned
intact. Thus, if Baila had not worn her dress since it came back from the
dry cleaner, there is clearly no problem if she demands that Chavi have it
cleaned before she returns it. Such action would merely restore the dress
to its former state. Furthermore, even if Baila had worn the dress a few
times since she last had it dry-cleaned, expecting Chavi to have it
cleaned could be viewed as restoring it to its state prior to the loan.
People do not mind wearing their own clothes even if they have not been
freshly cleaned. However, they do have an aversion to wearing their
clothes if others have worn them. Thus, having them cleaned can be
regarded as once again making them wearable for the owner (see Oruch
Hashulchan
, Orach Chayim, 14:11, regarding borrowing a tallis
without permission).

 We can
go a step further. Since no payment is being made in this type of case,
but simply restoring the item to its owner, the laws of ribbis do
not apply. Adding a gift to the returned item is therefore not regarded as
payment for a loan (which is forbidden) but rather as a rental fee for use
of the borrowed item (which is permitted). This is the assumption even if
neither party made any mention of a rental fee (see Taz, Yoreh
De’ah
, 161:1). Thus, even if Baila usually sends her clothes to a
cheap dry cleaner, she may demand that Chavi have the dress cleaned by a
really high-class cleaner, whose clientele are exclusively millionaires!
It therefore follows that Goldie may also add a gift when returning the
baby clothes to Pessi. Indeed, even if Pessi would have made the loan
conditional on receiving such a gift, this would have been permissible.
Despite the fact that any addition is viewed as a rental fee, the borrower
still retains his standard responsibility for accidental damage. One
should note that these rules do not apply to borrowing items which do not
wear out through use (Yoreh De’ah 176:1).