A Study in Ribbit and of the Halakhah in Exile
This chapter explores an analysis of pawnbroking, which requires parsing simultaneously three areas of Jewish law: debt, pawns, and usury. Any analysis must also incorporate the practices of moneylending in medieval France and Germany and equally the laws governing pawnbroking in these countries. Pawnbroking generated problems. An item might be pawned by a prince, an abbot, a wealthy burgher, a peasant, or even a passing stranger, for people of every rank are occasionally confronted with an urgent need for cash. However, one should emphasize that making loans that are secured by a pawned item and pawnbroking are two different businesses. The chapter then discusses pawnbroking in Ashkenazic halakhic thought, examining ribbit (interest or usury). It also highlights the revolutionary role of Rashi in both halakhic theory and practice. Rashi and his grandson, Rabbenu Tam, dominate the landscape of pawnbroking and usury.
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