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