Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Nevertheless, according to the Braitah, it is permitted interest because the Torah permitted it in these circumstances. A way of rephrasing the issue is whether a transaction that might or might not turn out to be a loan – depending upon the election of one party to the transaction, in this case the original owner – is or is not a transaction involving ribit.

This potential ribit situation is referred to in the Talmud as tzad echad beribit. According to the Mishnah, a transaction involving tzad echad beribit does not violate the prohibition of ribit, whereas according to the Braitah, it does.

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For those of us who thought the concept of escrow was a modern legal invention, the laws of batei arei chomah hold an interesting surprise.

On the last day of the year, following the sale of batei arei chomah, and in order to defeat the buyback rights of the original owners, the Mishnah tells us that buyers used to hide from the original owners. In order to put an end to this tactic, Hillel ruled that original owners unable to locate the buyers on the last day could deposit the refund money with the bet din in escrow for the buyers’ benefit, and they would then be permitted to evict the buyer from the property.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.

Comments to the writer are welcome at Rafegrun@aol.com.

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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Maran Hagaon Harav Dovid Feinstein, Shlitah. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, where he specializes in cross-border mergers and acquisitions, Raphael is the author of “Ner Eyal, a Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” (2016) and “Ner Eyal, a Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed” (2001), both of which are available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X Questions for the author can be sent to rafegrunfeld@gmail.com