Question: Someone lent me money many years ago and never bothered asking for it. Must I still pay, even though many years have passed and the lender totally forgot about the loan?
Answer: In principle, there is no statute of limitations on a loan in halacha (other than sh’mitas kesafim). However, there are a number of issues that warrant discussion.
1. Some authorities maintain that if the lender does not ask for payment, the borrower is not required to initiate payment of his own accord. The fact that the lender does not ask for the money indicates that he intends to forgo the loan, grant it as a gift, or extend the time. However, if the lender ultimately demands the loan, even many years later, it must be paid. Others maintain that, regardless, the borrower has a personal responsibility and mitzvah to pay his debts. (See Shach 232:2; Pischei Choshen, Halva’ah 2:4)
2. If the lender abandoned hope of reclaiming the loan, there is a dispute whether the concept of yei’ush (despair) – that exists regarding lost items – also exists regarding a loan. Many authorities maintain that the concept of yei’ush does not apply to loans and they remain in force even after yei’ush. (See C.M. 98:1; Rama 163:3; Pischei Choshen, 2:29)
3. If there is a statute of limitations in secular law, it is doubtful whether the concept of dina d’malchusa dina applies. However, if the loan was granted in a commercial setting, the concept of minhag hamedina (common commercial practice) would apply. (Pischei Choshen, 2:ftnt. 72)
Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian
These articles are for learning purposes only and cannot be used for final halachic decision.
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