For the Sake of Peace or Benefit of the Doubt?

Sheviit (5:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 12 years ago

Agriculture is not the only thing impacted in the shmittah year. Commerce and lending have the potential to be affected if there is a concern that the product will be used for prohibited activities.

The Mishnah (5:9) teaches that a woman may lend a sieve or hand-mill to her friend, even though the latter is suspected of retaining shmittah produce after it must be removed. She may not however assist her friend in sifting or grinding as this may be directly helping her during the performance of a prohibited activity. Nevertheless the Mishnah explains that lending was permitted “for the sake of peace” (darkei shalom). The implication is that if there were no issues of harmony, then such lending would not be permitted.

The difficultly raised with the above Mishnah is found in the Mishnayot that precede it. The Mishnah teaches that it is prohibited to sell any tools whose sole function is prohibited during the Shmittah year – e.g. a plough. If however the item in question can be used for both prohibited and permitted activities then their sale is permitted1 (5:6). Consequently, the case in our Mishnah should be permitted even without considering darkei shalom since, for example, the sieve can be used for both types of activities.

Rabbeinu Tam explains that our case is one where the friend only has shmittah produce (after the time of removal). Consequently it is comparable to the case of selling a plough, where the item would be used for prohibited activity. Since this case is one of lending, concerns for darkei shalom permit the items to be lent. In a sale however, there are no issues of darkei shalom – the prospective buyer could think that the seller does not wish to part with the item for that price. Therefore only when the item can also be used for a permissible purpose can it be sold.

Based on the Yerushalmi many Rishonim understand that even in our case the lent item can be used for both prohibited and permitted activities (Ramban, Rashba, Ran). If that is the cases our original question returns: why do we need the extra justification of darkei shalom? They explain that ideally one should not place themselves in a situation of doubt; they should not hand over the item if it there is chance it will used for a prohibited activity. In a case of sale, where it is the source of the sellers livelihood, this doubtful scenario is permitted. In our case of lending, since the lender gains no benefit, it is only situations of darkei shalom that it is permitted.

The Meiri offers another explanation for why the case of the sale can be treated more leniently. In that case, the item belongs to the purchaser immediately after the sale and is therefore permitted in a case where its intended use is in doubt. When an item is lent however, it continues to belong to the lender and forbidden work might end up being performed with his property. Consequently only with darkei shalom is lending the item permitted.

1 The Tosfot Anshei Shem explains this to mean that the likelihood of issur and heter is equal. If the likelihood of issur is far greater, then the sale is like in the case of the plough which is prohibited even though it might be being purchased early for the year after shmittah


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