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Can I Honor my Father-in-Law as Sandak if I Owe Him Money?

Harav Chaim Weg, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Zichron Gershon L’Dayanus

Case:  Reuven borrowed money from his father-in-law. Subsequently, he had a baby boy and now wants to honor his father-in-law by asking him to serve as sandak at the bris. 

Question: Is this a ribbis problem? 

Answer:  For ribbis to be forbidden m’dohraysa, it must be ketzutzah, meaning that the amount must be agreed upon in advance. The Rabbanan further prohibited a borrower from giving  any gift to a lender because giving such a gift has the appearance of paying extra for the loan. 

Accordingly, it is forbidden by the Rabbanan for the borrower to do any favor for the lender because it would appear as if he is giving him ribbis. If, however, he would have done the favor in any case – whether he had been given the loan or not – it would be permitted. This means that if someone does a favor for his friend that he always does for him anyhow, or if he does something he would do for anyone (even if he never did it for this particular person per se), it would be permitted because the favor is clearly not related to the loan.  

If someone owes a close relative money and gives him a bracha at his daughter’s chuppah, it can be assumed that everyone knows he would have done so even without the loan, so it would be permitted. Similarly, everyone understands that a son-in-law would honor his father-in-law to be sandak even if he hadn’t given him a loan; therefore, it would be permitted.

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