By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan
Someone pledged a number of donations to a shul for aliyos he’d received and told the gabbai that he would pay them before Rosh Hashanah. When the year came came to a close, his financial situation was tight, so he assured the gabbai that he would pay up in a few months and add a compensation for the late payment. The gabbai agreed. Does adding money to the original amount due pose a concern regarding the prohibition of interest?
Ordinarily, adding to a sum owed is an outright form of ribbis – interest (ribbis ketzutzah) which is biblically prohibited. However, in our situation, the halacha depends on how we view the nature of the obligation to fulfill a pledge to tzedakah.
When someone promises to give a gift to a friend, no lien is placed on his property, for it is seen as a moral obligation to fulfill one’s word, not a monetary obligation.
Concerning a pledge to tzedakah, the poskim debate whether fulfilling one’s word should be viewed as a moral obligation or as a more severe monetary obligation, comparable to owing someone money.
If the pledge to tzedakah is considered a monetary obligation then the issur of ribbis would apply, but if it is a moral obligation then there is no issur of ribbis.
This person is therefore in a in a quandary. According to the poskim who rule that ribbis does not apply, he is obligated to fulfill his pledge, including the added amount; but according to those who do apply the issur of ribbis, he is prohibited to give the added amount he had pledged.
The solution therefore is the following: At first, he should only pay the amount of the original pledges. The following day, he should give the added amount he had pledged and stipulate: “If there is no issur of ribbis then I am paying to fulfill my word; however, if there is an issur of ribbis, I am now donating this money to tzedakah, unrelated to my previous statement.” As such, he will be giving the money without any concern.
One may ask: How is this different than giving a gift given after returning a loan, which is forbidden? The answer is: Usually we assume that the gift is being given for the loan, and is therefore a form of ribbis. Here, the money is being given due to a sofek that he may be obligated to give, and therefore it has no resemblance to ribbis.
טור וב”י חו”מ סי’ קכ”ה, סמ”ע שם ס”ק כ”ה, קצוה”ח סי’ פז ס”ק כ”א, וסי’ רצ ס”ק א, שו”ת חת”ס חו”מ סי’ קי”ד, שו”ת משיב בהלכה יו”ד ח”א סי’ צט.
Reprinted with permission from Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com