Kenneth Cohen

Taking Interest

The Torah gives a very firm warning in connection with the taking of interest from a fellow Jew. The word, נשך, that literally means, “to take a bite,” is a reference to interest taking.

The Torah encourages people to give loans to those who are in need. But it must be done without adding interest. The Talmud devotes a great deal of time devising methods to be certain that the lender have a mechanism that will allow the lender to be paid back.

The term used in the Talmud is that we must not “lock the door before lenders.” The realization was that in order for society to function efficiently, there must be encouragement for those who are in a strong financial position, to give a boost to those having a difficult time. But if these loans would not be paid back, that would prevent people from lending.

In Pirkei Avot, there is a description of a good trait in a person. He is one who looks to the future and takes into account what might be the result of such actions. The opposite negative trait, refers to one who borrows and does not pay back his loan. He should not have taken the loan in the first place, if he did not know how he could pay it back.

Nevertheless, the Torah warns how a loan taken with interest, can really take a “bite” out of person. He may never manage to get out of debt, because of the interest.

It is also written that in Heaven, there is very little patience for one who takes interest. There is usually an angel that tries to defend us for our transgressions in the Heavenly court. There will be no angels available who are willing to defend the one who takes interest. We must be very careful with this commandment.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at