by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
There are times that people find themselves in need of some small amount of money that they does not have on them at the moment. People will often turn to their friends or acquaintances and ask to borrow money – sometimes even seemingly insignificant amounts – in order to buy a drink or pay a parking meter or the like. What many people do not realize is that there are some important halachos regarding borrowing money under these circumstances.
From the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch it is clear that it is only permissible to loan another person money if there are witnesses present. There are two reasons for this: 1) If there is no testimony to the loan, the borrower may be tempted to deny ever having taken the loan and then the lender will have been in violation of “Lifnei iveir lo titein michshol” – placing a stumbling block in front of someone. By leaving the “option” of denying the loan open to the borrower, the lender has violated this law. 2) Lending without proof is detrimental to the lender himself. If he attempts to collect on this loan and the borrower forgets that he had borrowed the money, people will curse the lender, accusing him of unjustly demanding money from his friend. The Gemara concludes that having witnesses to testify to the validity of the loan takes care of both of these issues.
Several poskim take note of the fact that it seems many people are lax in their fulfillment of this halacha, and offer a few options to lend money in a halachically acceptable manner:
– The poskim permit one to write an “IOU” note as evidence of the loan. If the lender keeps this as proof and it is recognizable as the writing or the signature of the borrower, then one may loan money without witnesses.
– If one lends the money with a check (made out to the name of the borrower) it is permissible, as that itself is evidence of the loan.
– If the lender is willing to completely forgive the loan and decides at the time of the loan absolutely that should the borrower forget the loan, he will not collect on it and completely write it off, then it is also not a violation of this halacha.
Rav Yosef Chaim Zunnenfeld zt”l, in the sefer Teshuvos Salmas Chaim, after addressing possible alternatives to lending without witnesses, concludes his teshuva regarding this matter by saying, “none the less, the best thing to do is to fulfill the words of Chazal as they were established – to not lend without witnesses or a document, if possible.”