By the Bais Hora'ah
In last weeks article we retold part of the story of Rav Amram Chasida, zt”l, Rav of Mad, Hungary, who died a mere four years after moving to Tzfas. The Chasam Sofer raised funds for Rav Amram and his family and sent the money to a bank that was run by a G-d-fearing individual.
Rav Yisrael of Shklov, zt”l (author of Pe’as Hashulchan), one of the outstanding students of the Gra, lived in Tzfas at that time and administered a free-loan fund. At the time of his passing, Rav Amram owed a large sum of money (600 reichsthaler) to the loan fund, and when Rav Yisrael of Shklov heard that money had arrived for Rav Amram he claimed that he had first rights to the money as repayment for Rav Amram’s loan.
The Chasam Sofer wrote back to Rav Yisrael of Shklov that due to Rav Yisrael’s personal interest in the loan fund, he was halachically disqualified from ruling on the matter. The Chasam Sofer then ruled that the money should be delivered to Rav Amram’s widow and children.
Q: Why was Rav Yisrael of Shklov’s claim rejected? Rav Amram borrowed the money and never repaid the loan. Why isn’t his family obligated to repay the loan?
A: Many details of the story are unknown. For example, we do not know what Rav Amram did with the borrowed money, nor do we know what was involved in the Chasam Sofer’s collection; obviously, those details could have a major impact on the halachah. We will, however, take the opportunity to discuss some of the related halachos.
Rav Amram’s family is not obligated to use the tzedakah that was collected, especially what was collected after Rav Amram passed away (as discussed in last week’s issue), to repay his loans.
Heirs are obligated to repay their father’s loans only from the estate he bequeathed to them (C.M. 107:1). Since Rav Amram did not leave his children any valuable possessions, his heirs were not obligated to repay his loan.
In this case, even the money that was collected during Rav Amram’s lifetime would not be encumbered to repay his loan, and this is true even if he took possession of that money before his passing. The halachah is that if a poor person collects tzedakah, his creditors may not take those funds as repayment of the loans they issued (Y.D. 253:12). The exception to this rule is if the benefactors were made aware that the poor person was collecting for outstanding debts (Rema, ibid.). The rationale is that it is obvious (anan sahadi) that the money was given for the poor man to support his family and not to repay wealthy people who had issued him loans.
Poskim debate whether the poor person may use the collected funds to repay his debts. According to some, if his family does not protest, he may use the collected funds to repay his loans. The presumption that the benefactors do not want their donated funds to repay loans to wealthy lenders means that the recipient may not be compelled to repay those loans, but if, of his own volition, he chooses to do so, it is permitted.
Others argue that the benefactors do not want their money to be used to repay his loans unless they specify that their donation may be used for that purpose (see Mishnas Hamishpat, Hilchos Tzedakah 253:63).
Some authorities contend that poor people who support themselves by borrowing money and then collecting funds to repay those loans may use funds collected, even if for his family, to repay his loans, since this is the manner by which he supports his family. If this person does not repay his loans, he will then be unable to borrow more money (Shevet HaLevi 2:125, 5:140).