Verbal Interest

Question

Rav
Yisroel finally published his new book, assisted by generous loans from
supporters. May he express his thanks to these supporters in writing, on
the title page of his work?


Answer

In Tractate Bovo Metzia
(75b), Rebi Shimon ben Yochai
states that it is forbidden for a borrower to be the first to greet the lender
with the "shalom"
greeting if he was not accustomed to behave in this way before being granted the
loan. He derives this law from a verse. Tosafos
in Tractate Kiddushin (8a) are of
the opinion that this is a Torah
prohibition, whereas the Ran in
Tractate Kesubos (46a) holds that
the prohibition is only rabbinic. The Halachic Authorities accept the latter
opinion. This concept is known as ribbis
devorim
(verbal interest).

What is included in this prohibition? It is clear from the statement
quoted above and from the Shulchan Oruch
(Yoreh De’ah 160:11) that only
greeting which is prompted by the loan is forbidden. Thus, if he was in the
habit of greeting the lender prior to the loan, he may continue to do so. It is
also clear that there is no problem for him to return the "shalom"
greeting if the lender greets him first. Indeed, to refrain from answering would
be wrong. Our Sages state that failure to answer a greeting is tantamount to
stealing from the greeter (Tractate Berochos
6a). Why is initiating the "shalom"
greeting forbidden? Tosafos in
Tractate Kiddushin (as above)
explains that the borrower is conferring a blessing
on the lender for having granted him a loan. It therefore follows that
initiating a greeting which is not a blessing is permitted (hello, etc.). The Rambam
(Laws of loans, 5:12) adds two further cases of ribbis
devorim
; praising the lender and going specially to his home to greet
him (mashkim lepischoh). It is
interesting to note that making a point of going to a person’s house to greet
him is also forbidden before reciting morning prayers. Our Sages (Tractate Berochos
14b) prohibited such action since one is thereby giving honour to a human being
before honouring Hashem. One can
therefore conclude that according the lender honour because of the loan falls
into the category of ribbis devorim.
Is it permitted to say "thank you" to the lender when one receives or
returns the loan? Again, if the thank you is just an accepted expression of good
manners, it is permitted. Should it be a special expression of gratitude, it is
forbidden. However, if the thanks (or yasher
koach
, tizkeh le’mitzvos)
is not given for the loan but specifically for some other favour, it is
permitted. "Thank you for your effort," would be in order (Sefer
Vechai Ochichoh Immoch).
Similarly, if the borrower’s new custom of
initiating the "shalomgreeting can clearly be attributed to new circumstances other than the loan,
it is also in order. For example, if the lender became his neighbour or his
relative, when such behaviour is expected, there is no problem in initiating the
greeting. Wishing mazel tov on a
joyous occasion is also permitted (Bris
Yehudah
, Chapter 11, Note 64).

It would therefore follow that publicly thanking those
people who lent money which enabled publication of a work inside the book is
prohibited. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, (Igros
Moshe, Yoreh Deah,
Vol.1, No.80) does permit listing the names of
those whose loans facilitated publication of the book (without thanks or
blessing). He also allows one to write that Hashem
will bless who assisted the spreading of Torah in this manner. In this instance,
the author/borrower is not giving the lender a blessing. He is merely stating a
fact, that Hashem blesses those
who help the furthering of Torah
study!