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Using Ma’aser Instead of Charging Interest

Rav Baruch Fried

Question: I have a friend who is struggling in business. He needs an interest-free loan to stay afloat and he asked me to lend him the money, explaining that he is only able to pay it back if no interest is charged. Can I give him the loan interest-free and then deduct the amount I would have charged as interest [using a heter iska] from my ma’aser account?

Answer: I saw a similar shailah in a sefer. An individual had some money that he intended to invest in a specific stock. Before he did so, he was approached by a friend who needed a loan. This person decided that he would use the money to give the loan rather than investing it; however, he wanted to deduct the amount he would have gained from the investment from ma’aser. The sefer ruled that he could not do so because it would be a violation of ribbis, being that the lender is benefiting  financially from giving a loan. 

I would disagree with this conclusion. Ribbis is an issue when a lender is receiving a benefit from the borrower for lending him money. In this story, the benefit is coming from a third party, not from the borrower, so I don’t think this would classify as ribbis.

However, even if this is not ribbis, I would still find it improbable that one could “do business” with ma’aser in this way.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l does say that if someone wants to give his friend a loan, he can take out a loan with interest from a non-Jewish bank, and use that money to give his friend an interest-free loan. He can then deduct the amount he is paying for interest from ma’aser. It seems to me that while this is permitted, it wouldn’t be permitted to deduct from ma’aser an imaginary profit that one potentially could have earned.

A proper solution would be to lend the money with interest (with a proper heter iska) and then forgive the interest payments, with the lender having in mind clearly that he is counting the money he is forgiving as tzedakah and taking it out of his ma’aser.

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