Friday, May 23, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Exodus 22:24, etc.

Your assignments for today were Exodus 22:24, Leviticus 25:36-37 and Deuteronomy 23:20.
When you loan silver to my people, to the poor with you, you shall not be urgent with him and you shall not place neshekh on him.
Do not take neshekh from him or ribit, you shall fear your Gd and your brother shall live with you.
You shall not give your money to him by neshekh or your food by ribit.
You shall not impose neshekh on your brother of silver or food or anything that can be the subject of neshekh.
Yes, of course I’m going to talk about the word neshekh and why I didn’t translate it.
The usual translation is “interest.”
What does that tell you?
You’re getting the point now! “Interest” is not a correct translation.
In modern finance, “interest” means that given the current balance of a loan, a given percentage will be charged as interest and the rest goes to pay off the principle.  That works fine in modern arithmetic with our ability to calculate percentages as fractions, but arithmetic has only been using fractions, decimal or otherwise, for about 400 years now.
Before that, 3/7 was thought of as a ratio of the whole numbers 3 and 7.
The Babylonians did their astronomy and the Egyptians did their engineering of the pyramids, by adding up a set of rational numbers based on tables they had drawn up.  They did not think of these numbers as fractions.  You’ll see another example of this later.
The definition of neshekh comes from Talmud and it says: If somebody borrows a dinar, which is worth five selas, the lender can charge up to four selas.  More than that is neshekh.
This says nothing about the charge being paid off little by little until the whole loan is paid back.  If it was required to pay the entire fee up front, that would resemble a thief having to pay the whole restitution in one payment, and having to take out a bond on himself if he didn’t have that kind of money.  Mishnah and Talmud don’t clarify when the payment had to be made.  Maybe that means it was so well understood that nobody had to argue such a case, leading to a clarification.  Maybe money loans to other Jews were far less common than taking out a bond. 
I mean, remember, six years is the maximum term on a bond.  Nothing says that a bond had to be for so much money that it was necessary to work six years to pay it off.  A person might bond himself out a day here, a day there, as he needed money over and above what he could get for his farm produce.
And that leads to the next concept, ribit, which is also addressed in these verses.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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