Mr. Handel enjoyed tinkering and fixing all kinds of things; he had a large tool collection. His neighbor, Mr. Niess, needed a jig saw for an intricate wood project.
“Do you happen to have a jig saw that I can borrow?” he asked Mr. Handel.
“I do,” replied Mr. Handel. “It’s old, but still works well. You’re welcome to borrow it.”
Mr. Niess dropped by and picked up the jig saw. He used it for about a week, and then the motor died.
“I was using the jig saw and the motor suddenly died,” Mr. Niess apologized. “I didn’t do anything unusual.”
“I told you that the saw was old,” replied Mr. Handel. “That’s called meisah machmas melachah; it died through normal usage, and you’re not liable” (C.M. 340:1).
“I would like to replace the saw, regardless,” said Mr. Neiss. “I appreciate your lending it to me, and feel bad that you should lose out.”
“That’s very nice of you,” replied Mr. Handel. “It’s really not necessary, though. Furthermore, if you buy a new jig saw when you’re exempt, I’m afraid that it may be ribbis, especially if you return a new one worth more than the old one you borrowed.”
“I didn’t think of that,” replied Mr. Niess. “I’m not sure it’s a problem, but I can check with Rabbi Dayan. If there is no problem of ribbis, I feel better replacing the saw.”
Mr. Niess called Rabbi Dayan and asked:
“Can I return a new jig saw to Mr. Handel even though I’m exempt, and even though it’s worth more than the one I borrowed?”
“In English, the words ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ apply to both money and items, but there is a significant halachic difference between them,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In Hebrew, there are two distinct words: lending money to spend is called ‘halvaah,‘ whereas lending items to use is called ‘hashalah.‘
“Ribbis applies to halvaah – lending money or items such as food, where the intent is to consume the borrowed items and return others, instead” (Vayikra 25:37; Devarim 23:20; Y.D 161:1).
“However, the Gemara (B.M. 69b) teaches that ribbis does not apply to hashalah – lending an item to use with intent to return that item itself, especially if there is wear-and-tear and depreciation by using the item. Therefore, it is permissible to charge for such usage, which is effectively rental payment” (Y.D 176:1-2; Taz 176:1; Bris Yehudah 29:1).
Similarly, a person who borrows an item to use may give a gift to the owner in appreciation when returning it, or pay when exempt, even though the Sages prohibited giving a gift when returning an interest-free loan” (Y.D. 160:6; Bris Yehuda 29:11).
Moreover, when borrowing an item for use, it is even permissible to stipulate initially that if the item should be ruined, the borrower will pay extra, such as by returning a new item, and not just the value of a used one” (Chavas Daas 161:1).
“In some cases, there is both hashalah and halvaah. For example, when borrowing a car for the day, with the expectation of refilling the gasoline, there is hashalah of the car, which is returned itself, and halvaah of the gas, which is consumed. Thus, when returning the car, it is permissible to give a gift, even cash, in consideration for lending the car to use, but preferably the borrower should not purposely refill the gas tank more than there was when he borrowed the car. If the borrower explicitly states that he filled the tank fully – in appreciation for use of the car, it also seems permissible, since the loan of gas is incidental and insignificant relative to the primary loan of the car, which is hashalah” (see Bris Pinchas, Sefer HaTeshuvos #284).
“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “although you are not liable, you may return a new jig saw to Mr. Handel.”
Verdict: Ribbis applies to lending money and items intended for consumption, but not to items meant to be returned themselves.