HUC Press Publishes Jewish Law in Transition: How Economic Forces Overcame the Prohibition Against Lending on Interest

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jewish Law in Transition: How Economic Forces Overcame the Prohibition against Lending on Interest by Hillel Gamoran 

A well-known biblical prohibition strictly forbids Israelites to lend to each other on interest. As formulated  in  Exodus 22:24,  “If you lend to anyone of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be to him as a creditor, and you shall not exact interest from him.” The intention of this prohibition was to prevent the wealthy from exploiting the unfortunate. However, in the course of time, it was seen to have consequences that militated against the economic welfare of Jewish society as a whole. As a result, Jewish law (halakhah) has over the centuries relaxed the biblical injunction, allowing interest charges despite the biblical prohibition.
Hillel Gamoran seeks to explain how and when a law of such high moral standing collapsed and fell over the course of the centuries. He explores five areas in which the talmudic Rabbis believed that business agreements violated the biblical ban: loans of produce; advance payment for the purchase of goods; buying on credit; mortgages; and investments. In the Bible, consideration is not given to any of these activities. But in postbiblical literature, these issues all arise. How was the biblical law to be applied to situations that had not occurred in biblical times? And how could the Rabbis allow these activities when they were hampered from doing so by the laws against lending on interest?

To answer these questions, Gamoran examines the biblical injunction and postulates when it was written, why it was written, and to whom it applied. He then considers the early and later teachers of the Oral Law, the Tannaim and Amoraim, who expanded discussion of the ban in light of various business activities from 70 c.e.. to 500 c.e. Finally, for each of the five activities, he explores how the original tannaitic proscriptions were upheld or relaxed over the centuries. Each activity is considered in the period of the Geonim (ca. 650-1050), the Rishonim (ca.1000-1500), and the Aharonim (ca.1500-2000), and for each period, Gamoran shows how the Rabbis, through inventive interpretation, struggled with the law and with one another to create the legal fictions necessary for business life to flourish.

Rabbi Hillel Gamoran was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion in New York and received his Doctorate from Spertus College of Judaica in Chicago.  He served as the spiritual leader of Beth Tikvah Congregation, Hoffman Estates, Illinois for thirty-four years.  Now retired, Rabbi Gamoran teaches Rabbinic Literature at the University of Washington.

196 pages    $35.00
Order from Wayne State University Press

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