Talmud pages

Bava Metzia 72

Converted interest.

Over the last few pages, we have discussed the permissibility of a Jew lending to a non-Jew with interest or borrowing from a non-Jew with interest. A beraita on today’s daf discusses what to do if the non-Jew’s status changes in the interim:

The sages taught: A Jew who borrowed money with interest from a gentile, and established the interest as a loan (i.e. the lender consolidated the interest into the loan), and then converted, if the gentile established it as a loan for him before he converted, he may collect the principal and he may collect the interest. But if he established it as a loan for him after he converted, he may collect the principal but may not collect the interest.

To give a concrete example: Reuven borrows $1,000 from Simon, a non-Jew at the time of borrowing, with an interest rate of 5 percent. After a year has passed, rather than acting as though the $1,000 remains a discrete entity and the interest is separate, Simon declares that Reuven now simply owes him a debt of $1,050 dollars. Simon later converts to Judaism. In this case, Simon can collect the full $1,050 dollars from Reuven, despite the fact that the $50 was initially accrued as interest and Jewish law, which Simon is now bound by, prohibits the collection of interest. Since the $50 was consolidated into the debt before Simon’s conversion, by the time he becomes obligated by halakhah, that money no longer has the status of interest. However, if Simon tried to consolidate that money into the debt after converting, he cannot collect the $50, since at the time he became obligated by halakhah, the money still had the status of interest. 

While this example serves as a useful test case for the rabbis to examine the nuances of interest and how its status can fluctuate, it also engages meaningfully with the social and communal dynamics at play. The beraita proceeds to state that the rules are identical if the lender is a Jew and the borrower is a non-Jew who later converts: If the Jewish lender consolidated the interest into the debt before the borrower’s conversion, he can collect the entire sum, but if he attempted to do so after the borrower’s conversion, he can only collect the principal. However, unlike the first situation, the latter contains a dissenting opinion:

Rabbi Yosei says: If a gentile borrowed money with interest from a Jew (and converted), whether in this circumstance or whether in that circumstance (i.e. regardless of when the lender consolidated the interest and principal into a single debt), he may collect the principal and he may collect the interest.

Unlike in the first situation, where the ability of the convert lender to collect interest depends on the timing of the consolidation, in a case where a Jewish lender is collecting from a convert, Rabbi Yosei thinks he is able to collect the interest regardless of when the debt was consolidated. And despite his being a single voice of dissent, Rav Huna rules that we hold like Rabbi Yosei. Why is this? Shouldn’t we be concerned about potentially collecting interest from someone who is now a Jew?

Rava offers us an answer:

In order that people will not say: This individual converted due to concern for his money.

Rabbi Yosei worries that if a non-Jew converts while they have an outstanding loan from a Jewish lender, people will worry that they only converted to avoid paying interest. But if interest can still be collected even after conversion, there’s no room to question the sincerity of the convert’s motives.

Read all of Bava Metzia 72 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 10th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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