The Jewish view on lending


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"Since I lent my neighbor my drill,
our relationship has gone down hill!"

By Moshe Widen

Has it ever happened to you that you lent something to a neighbor and it didn't come back the same way it was sent? That it was damaged in some way, and your neighbor claimed that it just happened while he was using it.

First, there was that moment of embarrassment; and then followed by an unpleasant feeling because both sides didn't know who should pay for what and how much. In the end it just finished, with both sides feeling not quite at ease with each other and a bit of a strain on what was before, a good relationship.

I just thought maybe it's just better not to lend. It's not the first time it's happened and . On second thought, I reconsidered, as the thought of saying no to a neighbor's request really didn't sound neighborly or realistic. Then I thought, if we all would know what was the proper behavior in situations like that, then that would solve at least half the problem.

I remembered an old friend of mine,-Abe, who loved learning about the Jewish law and was always telling me that Judaism has something to say about everything. So I decided I'd put him to the test. First, as an opening line, I asked Abe in how bad of a light does Judaism look upon someone who doesn't lend things to his neighbors.

I must admit he nearly floored me with his answer. He said: "Lets put it this way, if a husband tells his wife not to lend anything to the neighbors, that is grounds for divorce. Lending things is part of that Golden Rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

The truth is that I already knew that 'not lending' was not the answer. It's hard to turn down a neighborly request, especially from a friend. So I decided to get down to business with a pointed question; "I lent my cassette recorder to my neighbor Joe, and his tape got stuck in there and ruined the tape head. It cost me fifty bucks to fix it. Should Joe have paid the bill?"

Abe asked: "Was his cassette tape faulty?"

"No, it was a good quality and almost new tape" I replied.

Abe then asked me a hypothetical question. If I had borrowed my friend's new Volvo and while I was driving along the road, the engine blew up, should I have to buy him a new Volvo?

"Definitely not," I replied groping for a reason to differentiate between the cases. "Maybe the car was faulty when I got it" was the first thought that came to mind.

"And your cassette recorder wasn't faulty?" Abe asked. "Anyway," Abe continued, "you never know the lifetime of an object. Do you think that just because its lifetime ends while it's being lent out that the borrower should replace the object?"

In exasperation I said "What you're telling me is whenever the borrower is not at fault he doesn't have to pay?"

Abe patiently answered "It depends, if a person wants to borrow your article without any payment, he should take all responsibility for it. For example, if your neighbor borrows your cassette recorder and a bird flies in through his kitchen window and knocks your recorder to the floor, he should pay all the damages. Just as if he borrowed your Volvo and someone smashed it up, hit and run, and then that driver drove off into oblivion: Setting aside the insurance matter, he has responsibility for it. He should pay the bill."

"Hey" I cried out, "I'm confused. What's the difference between the tape getting stuck and the bird flying through the window? Doesn't he have responsibility in both cases!"

My friend Abe, ever so patient answered. "Your neighbor didn't borrow your cassette recorder to lock in the closet. You gave it to him to use it as it should be used. If it is faulty in any way, then it's your fault for giving it out. But if something happens regarding the safe keeping, or watching of the object, then he's responsible even if it's not his fault."

"Let me see if I've got it straight. If I lend out my object without charging money, then the borrower is responsible to look after the object. "This means even if something happens to it, despite his guarding it properly, he is obligated to pay. Also of course, if he doesn't use it in the proper and normal way, he is certainly at fault and obligated to pay the bill. But if the borrower uses it just like he was supposed to; and in doing so, the object goes bung, not due to any fault of his usage, then he doesn't have to pay because that's the lender's 'fault' for giving out an object that's 'faulty'".

I could tell by the smile on Abe's warm friendly face that I had got it right. I shook his hand and said to him. "Thanks, if everyone was aware of these principles, our neighborly relations would be in much better shape. Boy, we should publicize your ideas on 'E mail'".

Abe just laughed "It's already publicized in the world's best seller, the Bible; you just have to study the explanations."

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