2-5770 Mitzvah 60
November 23, 2009
Negative Mitzvah 60 – This is a negative commandment: Do not take as a pledge (or take as collateral for pawn) the garment of a widow.
Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “nor shall you take a widow’s raiment to pledge.” (Deut. 24:17). This applies whether she is poor or rich; and neither at the time of the loan nor after the loan was made, nor through the court. If he (the creditor) took an object in pledge from her, it is taken back from him against his will. If the object taken was lost before he returned it, he would violate this prohibition irrevocably, since he can no longer fulfill his duty to return the object taken in pledge. It is in force everywhere, at every time for both men and women.
One of the hallmarks of the Torah’s legislation is its protections for the poor. While it is true that the law of the Torah applies to both the rich and poor alike, God is seen as the defense attorney and protector of the poor and those who have no one else to protect them. This includes widows, orphans and the homeless.
In this mitzvah, we are reminded that a widow is already in a precarious financial position. To offer her financial support is the mark of one who is committed to Tzedakah, acts of Justice. To offer a loan with collateral is considered to be taking advantage of her unprotected status. Especially in the case where the collateral is an article of clothing; one does not take clothing as a pledge as this would cause too much pain for the widow who is forced to sell her clothing to cover her debts. She is to be supported because it is the right thing to do.
But even if she is not poor, a creditor cannot take an article of clothing in pledge. First of all it is a bad policy, since if we allow it in one case it would be too hard to convince people not to take an item in pledge when the widow is poor. Also, even a rich widow has a certain amount of dignity that you rob from her if you take an item of clothing in pledge.
I do note that the Hafetz Hayim does not distinguish clearly between an item of clothing taken in pledge and any other item taken in pledge. I understand this his way of saying that while the Torah mentions only articles of clothing, it is the responsibility of the community to support the widows in their midst and clothing is just one of the items that are included in the prohibition. Tzedakah is what is called for here, not a loan. We must look out for those who are at risk in our community and help them get back on their feet without crushing them under further debt.