When people go to the bank they often regard the heter
iska hanging on the wall as a sort of kashrus certificate
that does not affect them directly. Even those who have some
knowledge of what a heter iska represents, may not
realize that if they do not understand what a particular
heter iska seeks to communicate, that "heter"
may be invalid for them; in fact they may even come to
transgress prohibitions against ribis in their banking
The same problem applies no less in the case of shekel
gemachim in which debts are linked to the dollar.
Since depositors profit if the dollar rises in value between
the time of the loan and the repayment, the loan must be made
according to a heter iska. Here too, the lender must
understand the significance of the transaction taking place,
particularly when relying on the gemach's general
heter iska rather than signing a private heter
iska between the two sides.
Heter Iska is Not an Amulet
There is a well known jest about someone who wanted use the
Chazon Ish's famous nusach for separating terumos
umaaseros. Lacking a printed copy of the nusach he
wanted to exempt himself by using a very original
nusach: "May it be like the Chazon Ish wants."
This quip comes close to the truth in the case of the
heter iska because to many customers the bank's
communication does not appear to obligate them in any way,
but is essentially an agreement that says, "May it be like
the poskim want."
The heter iska is not a mysterious amulet to help the
business succeed, but an agreement that fully obligates both
sides. Based on the heter iska a legal suit for din
Torah against one of the banks was filed years ago. When
the banks argued in court that the heter iska was
merely a formality and not binding in its details, bank and
investment company directors were required to sign a pledge
that legally obligated them to honor the heter iska
with all of its details.
As a result the Institute for Economics Based on Halacha,
under the auspices of the Beis Midrash Hagodol for Halacha in
Agriculture, produced a unique booklet containing various
formulations of the heter iska to serve every purpose.
The booklet is made available to the public for practical use
by companies, associations, gemachim and individuals
making private loans. It opens with halachic and practical
information, including the definition of an iska and a
heter iska, the issue of sechar tirchoh and a
detailed explanation of the various heterei iska and
the differences between them, i.e. which rely on the
Shulchan Oruch (Yoreh Deah 167) and which rely on the
gemora (Bava Metzia 104a).
The "General Heter Iska"
The booklet also includes an explanation of the "general
heter iska," an idea conceived in 5682 (1922) by the
Admor of Lublin HaRav Ezriel Eiger, the great-grandson of R'
Akiva Eiger, and published in a sefer called
Takonas Rabim. Many gedolei Yisroel objected to
the idea, including HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer and his son-in-
law, HaRav Aharon Kotler (see Shut Mishnas Rabbi
Yet in the case of companies, banks, various commercial
enterprises and organizations such as gemachim and
learning institutions that have binding rules and
regulations, even opponents like HaRav Meltzer and HaRav
Aharon accepted it. They held that since these bodies are
backed by an authority requiring parties that deal with them
to meet their previously established rules and conditions, a
stipulation requiring the entire body to follow a heter
iska is binding and therefore can be relied upon even
when an individual heter iska was not drawn up.
(Nonetheless in any contract or agreement it is preferable to
add that all agreements are subject to the organization's
Therefore the general heter iska is widely accepted in
such cases in accordance with the opinion of gedolei
haposkim. However, since the parties involved are still
required to understand the meaning of the iska--
perhaps even more so in the case of the general heter
iska--the booklet currently being produced will provide
the public with valuable information.
Among the samples of shtaros heter it contains is a
special shtar formulated by Maran HaRav Sholom Yosef
Eliashiv shlita, for use by shekel gemachim
linked to the dollar (according to the representative rate --
sha'ar yatzig). HaRav Eliashiv holds that because this
representative rate does not refer to real coin or other
money the resulting gap in rates between it and currency is
considered profit prohibited by the laws of ribis.
The second portion of the booklet contains tear-out hetrei
iska for use by the general public.