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>Israel Faxx
>JN July 21, 1998, Vol. 6, No. 128


"Heter Iska" is Binding

By Arutz-7 News Service

A court in Safed has accepted the legal validity of the "heter iska," a Halakhic formulation of a loan such that the prohibition against paying interest is not transgressed.

The agreement is well-known in all Israeli banks, most of which even have an announcement posted on a wall saying that all dealings are carried out in accordance with a "heter iska." In a precedent-setting ruling, the agreement was recognized by the court as formally binding.

The case at issue involved a religiously-observant owner of a toy store; he claimed that because he did not make any profit with the money that he received as a loan, and because the "heter iska" defines the lender and borrower as partners, he need not return the loan.

The judge, a Druze named Yosif Ismail, displaying a keen grasp of Halakhah, accepted the claim, and said, "The Torah of Israel forbids any form of interest. The prohibition is so far-ranging that not only the lender and the borrower are liable, but also the guarantors -- all are in violation of a negative commandment if interest is paid on the loan."

The lawyer representing the bank said that he plans to appeal, as such a ruling could have a catastrophic effect on many banks in Israel.


"The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads

Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels" By Nancy Beardsley (VOA-Washington)


Thomas Cahill is a former religious book editor who's undertaken an ambitious mission. He's writing a projected seven-book series called "The Hinges of History" exploring the sources of Western thought and culture. The first in the series, "How the Irish Changed Civilization," became a best seller when it was published in 1995. Now he's written a second best seller called "The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels."


"Before the Jews, everyone lived in what historians and anthropologists call a cyclical world, which is really a world ruled by fate. Think of the circular calendars of the Maya and the Chinese. You have the Year of the Dog followed by the Year of the Pig and then those years recur. Or think of the signs of the zodiac, where you only have 12 possibilities, and everyone fits into one of those possibilities. And the Jews begin to think of time as something that never happens again. This moment is what is important because it will never recur. So that we begin to think hopefully rather than fatalistically."


Cahill traces the source of that new world view back to the stories of the Hebrew Bible. He believes it began with the Patriarch Abraham, instructed by God to journey to a new land.


"That very act of setting out into the unknown creates a new sense of time, in which one looks forward to the future. And it also creates Abraham as an individual, as someone who is going to have a unique destiny."


"Abraham came out of Sumer, and the Sumerians really saw the gods, of whom there were a great many, as almost household pets. If you just stroked them the right way they would do what you wanted. It was very much a user relationship. And Abraham gradually learns that he can't use God. At one point he sees God, but normally it's a voice that is speaking to Abraham, and yet Abraham develops a real relationship with this voice. It's the beginning, maybe the tiny little beginning, of monotheism. I don't think you really get there until you get to Moses.


"With Moses comes the 10 Commandments, which is the ultimate expression of ethical consciousness among the ancient Hebrews. The commandments as they were originally given said things like no steal, no lie, no kill, and I think there were 10 because we have 10 fingers and you could count them out. You could memorize them very simply. But in any case it is in the commandments that we begin to see the elevation of everyone, not just one person, to truly human status. That really is the beginning of do unto others what you would have others do unto you."


To research his book, Cahill studied Hebrew, spent two years as a visiting scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and visited Bedouin nomads in the Sinai desert. But his popular success has also been attributed to his storytelling skills--his ability to inject humanity and even humor into tales of people from the distant past.


("The Gifts of the Jews" was published by Doubleday, 1540 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10036.)

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