Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Natural tensions between creditors and debtors were added to social, political, religious, and economic strains

Usury From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Look up usury in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Usury, from the Medieval Latin usuria, "interest" or "excessive interest", from Latin usura "interest") was defined originally as charging a fee for the use of money. This usually meant interest on loans, although charging a fee for changing money (as at a bureau de change) is included in the original meaning. After moderate-interest loans were made more easily available usury became an accepted part of the business world in the early modern age. Today, the word has come to refer to the charging of unreasonable or relatively high rates of interest.
The pivotal change in the English-speaking world seems to have come with the permission to charge interest on lent money: particularly the Act 'In restraint of usury' of Henry VIII in England in 1545 (see book references).
Historical meaning Main articles: History of banking and History of pawnbroking
The historical rendition of usury as a vile enterprise stems not only from a spiritual view that charging exorbitant interest is a flagrant manifestation of unchecked greed, but carries with it social connotations of perceived "unjust" or "discriminatory" moneylending practices. This is well explained by the historian Paul Johnson, who believes:
Most early religious systems in the ancient Near East, and the secular codes arising from them, did not forbid usury. These societies regarded inanimate matter as alive, like plants, animals and people, and capable of reproducing itself. Hence if you lent 'food money', or monetary tokens of any kind, it was legitimate to charge interest.[1] Food money in the shape of olives, dates, seeds or animals was lent out as early as c. 5000 BC, if not earlier. ... Among the Mesopotamians, Hittites, Phoenicians and Egyptians, interest was legal and often fixed by the state. But the Jews took a different view of the matter.[2]
The Torah and later sections of the Hebrew Bible criticize interest-taking, but interpretations of the Biblical prohibition vary. One common understanding is that Jews are forbidden to charge interest upon loans made to other Jews, but allowed to charge interest on transactions with non-Jews, or Gentiles. However, the Hebrew Bible itself gives numerous examples where this provision was evaded.[3]
Johnson holds that the Hebrew Bible treats the lending as philanthropy in a poor community whose aim was collective survival, but which is not obliged to be charitable towards outsiders.
A great deal of Jewish legal scholarship in the Dark and the Middle Ages was devoted to making business dealings fair, honest and efficient. One of the great problems was usury, or rather lending money at interest. This was a problem the Jews had created for themselves, and for the two great religions which spring from Judaism. [4]
Usury (in the original sense of any interest) was denounced by a number of spiritual leaders and philosophers of ancient times, including Plato, Aristotle, Cato, Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, Aquinas, Muhammad, Moses, Philo and Gautama Buddha. For example, Cato in his De Re Rustica said:
"And what do you think of usury?" - "What do you think of murder?"
Interest of any kind is forbidden in Islam. As such, specialized codes of banking have developed to cater to investors wishing to obey Qur'anic law. (See Islamic banking)
As the Jews were ostracized from most professions by local rulers, the church and the guilds, they were pushed into marginal occupations considered socially inferior, such as tax and rent collecting and moneylending. This was said to show Jews were insolent, greedy usurers. Natural tensions between creditors and debtors were added to social, political, religious, and economic strains.
... financial oppression of Jews tended to occur in areas where they were most disliked, and if Jews reacted by concentrating on moneylending to gentiles, the unpopularity - and so, of course, the pressure - would increase. Thus the Jews became an element in a vicious circle. The Christians, on the basis of the Biblical rulings, condemned interest-taking absolutely, and from 1179 those who practised it were excommunicated. But the Christians also imposed the harshest financial burdens on the Jews. The Jews reacted by engaging in the one business where Christian laws actually discriminated in their favour, and so became identified with the hated trade of moneylending.[5]
Peasants who were forced to pay their taxes to Jews could personify them as the people taking their earnings while remaining loyal to the lords on whose behalf the Jews worked. Gentile debtors may have been quick to lay charges of usury against Jewish moneylenders charging even nominal interest or fees. Thus, historically attacks on usury have often been linked to antisemitism. According to Walter Laqueur,
"The issue at stake was not really whether the Jews had entered it out of greed (as antisemites claimed) or because most other professions were barred to them... In countries where other professions were open to them, such as Muslim Spain and the Ottoman empire, one finds more Jewish blacksmiths than Jewish money lenders. The high tide of Jewish usury was before the fifteenth century; as cities grew in power and affluence, the Jews were squeezed out from money lending with the development of banking."[6]
In England, the departing Crusaders were joined by crowds of debtors in the massacres of Jews at London and York in 1189-1190. In 1275, Edward I of England passed the Statute of Jewry which made usury illegal and linked it to blasphemy, in order to seize the assets of the violators. Scores of English Jews were arrested, 300 hanged and their property went to the Crown. In 1290, all Jews were expelled from England, allowed to take only what they could carry, the rest of their property became the Crown's. The usury was cited as the official reason for the Edict of Expulsion.
The growth of the Lombard banking and pawnbrokers, who moved from city to city along the pilgrim routes, was important for the development of trade and commerce. Laqueur continues:
"Following centuries of church condemnations of Jewish usury, the Jews were expelled from many countries and regions, their communities were impoverished, and very few individuals had the necessary capital to engage in money lending. Money lending continued, of course, and the Lombards took 250 percent interest (this, however, did not cause a wave of anti-Lombardism)."[6]
In 1745, the Catholic teaching on usury was expressed by Pope Benedict XIV in his encyclical Vix Pervenit, which strictly forbids charging interest on loans, although he adds that "entirely just and legitimate reasons arise to demand something over and above the amount due on the contract" through separate, parallel contracts.

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