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Gemach is a Jewish
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 free-loan fund which subscribes to both the positive Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

The primary meaning of the Hebrew word refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God...

 of lending money and the Torah prohibition against charging interest
Interest is a fee paid by a borrower of assets to the owner as a form of compensation for the use of the assets. It is most commonly the price paid for the use of borrowed money, or money earned by deposited funds....

 on a loan. Unlike bank
A bank is a financial institution that serves as a financial intermediary. The term "bank" may refer to one of several related types of entities:...

 loans, gemach loans are interest-free, and are often set up with easy repayment terms.

Gemachs operate in most Jewish
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 communities. The traditional gemach concept — that of a money-lending fund — extends loans on a short- or long-term basis for any need, including emergency loans, medical expenses, wedding expenses, etc. However, many people have expanded the concept of gemachs to include free loans of household items, clothing, books, equipment, services and advice.

Gemachs may be operated both on a communal basis (such as by treasurers of community funds) and an internal basis (such as by businesses, organizations, schools and families). The ideal of contributing to or forming one's own gemach was popularized by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan
Yisrael Meir Kagan
Yisrael Meir Poupko , known popularly as The Chofetz Chaim, was an influential Eastern European rabbi, Halakhist, posek, and ethicist whose works continue to be widely influential in Jewish life...

 (the Chofetz Chaim), who addressed many halachic questions about the practice and lauded its spiritual benefits in his landmark book, Ahavat Chesed ("Loving Kindness").

Biblical source

Money gemachs fulfill the Biblical imperative, "You shall lend money to my people" (Exodus 22:24) as well as the Biblical injunction, "You shall not give him your money for interest, nor may you give him your food for increase" (Leviticus
The Book of Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Bible, and the third of five books of the Torah ....


Gemachs which provide other services, such as clothing, books and equipment, fall under the general Biblical commandment to do kindness, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

Modern history

Gemachs, known as Jewish or Hebrew Free Loan Societies in English-speaking countries, were among the first institutions established by Jewish immigrants to the United States from Eastern Europe. Most gemachim were founded between 1880 and 1914 in communities where Jews settled, although some were established as late as 1940. The Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York
Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York
Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York, founded in 1892, is the oldest money gemach in the United States. It spawned similarly named free-loan funds in many other cities, including Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Holyoke, Massachusetts....

, the oldest gemach in America, was established in 1892 when 11 men pooled their savings to establish it. They initially raised $95, which they loaned out in increments of $5 and $10. The society is still in existence today.

By the turn of the 20th century there were approximately 500 gemachs in the United States. One reason for their prevalence was that banks did not want to make loans to low-income Jewish borrowers. But with repayment rates exceeding 99 percent, banks eventually realized that Jewish borrowers were desirable customers, and began loaning to them in the 1940s.

The global financial crisis of 2008–2009 sparked a resurgence of gemachim in some cities. Milwaukee, which had a gemach at the turn of the century, is in the process of creating a new free-loan society.

Types of loans

Gemachs are best-known for lending money on a short- or long-term basis.

The size of the loan will depend on the lender's resources. A home-based gemach might offer loans of $100 and up, while a wedding gemach may extend a loan of several thousand dollars. Typically, gemachs also offer favorable repayment terms, enabling borrowers to repay the loan over a long period of time, in keeping with the imperative of "doing kindness." One Jerusalem family offers loans of $750 with repayment of $150 per month. A wedding gemach offers a $3000 loan with repayment of $100 per month.

While poor families and individuals in debt are frequent users of gemachs, borrowers need not be poor. Money gemachs also cater to students, workers, or any individual in need of a loan. Internal money gemachs are common fixtures in yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

s, synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s, and workplaces, among others.

The gemach concept has expanded to include free loans of household items, clothing, books, equipment, services and advice. Following is a sampling of gemach services found in the Jerusalem telephone directory of 2002:

Low chairs and other necessities for mourning; food for simcha
Simcha is a Hebrew word with several meanings. Literally, the word "simcha" means gladness, or joy. It comes from the root word "sameyach," which means glad or happy.The concept of simcha is an important one in Jewish philosophy...

s; food for the needy; food for hospital visitors; moving boxes; used clothes; English and American stamps; Dead Sea mud; sewing patterns; hosting guests; hosting guests near hospitals; transporting invalids; wedding needs; wedding dresses; health food and vitamins; tallit
A tallit pl. tallitot is a Jewish prayer shawl. The tallit is worn over the outer clothes during the morning prayers on weekdays, Shabbat and holidays...

s; telephone cards; cell phones; form letters; burners; tools; banquet dishes; tables and chairs; playpens; fans; loudspeakers; baby paraphernalia; suitcases; mezuzah
A mezuzah is usually a metal or wooden rectangular object that is fastened to a doorpost of a Jewish house. Inside it is a piece of parchment inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah...

s; mattresses; partitions; computers; water urns; folding beds; microwaves; haircutting equipment; inhalers; sewing machines; tablecloths; cameras; blankets; projectors; fridges and freezers; toys; glasses; candles; segulot
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

; ladders; pots; sifrei Torah
Sefer Torah
A Sefer Torah of Torah” or “Torah scroll”) is a handwritten copy of the Torah or Pentateuch, the holiest book within Judaism. It must meet extremely strict standards of production. The Torah scroll is mainly used in the ritual of Torah reading during Jewish services...

; books; cribs; film; Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 hot plates; Shabbat candlesticks; furniture; vacuum cleaners; work tools and more.

The Neve Yaakov
Neve Yaakov
Neve Yaakov also Neve Ya'aqov, , is a neighborhood located in northeastern Jerusalem, north of Pisgat Ze'ev and south of al-Ram. Established in 1924 during the period of the British Mandate, it was abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War...

 telephone directory currently includes gemach listings for a plumber
A plumber is a tradesperson who specializes in installing and maintaining systems used for potable water, sewage, and drainage in plumbing systems. The term dates from ancient times, and is related to the Latin word for lead, "plumbum." A person engaged in fixing metaphorical "leaks" may also be...

 and a guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

ist who offer free advice by telephone.


To ensure repayment of a money loan, gemachs will typically ask the borrower to provide two guarantors as co-signers
The act of co-signing involves a promise to pay another person's debt arising out of contract if that person fails to do so. Many realtors and landlords require a cosigner for college students, people with bad credit or people whose income is less than a certain, low multiple of the amount of rent...

 on the loan. (In halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 this is known as areivut.) Should the borrower fail to repay on time, the gemach owner can turn to these co-signers and demand repayment, a claim which will be upheld in a beit din
Beth din
A beth din, bet din, beit din or beis din is a rabbinical court of Judaism. In ancient times, it was the building block of the legal system in the Biblical Land of Israel...

(Jewish rabbinical court).

Laws also pertain to the person who borrows clothing, equipment, or other items from a gemach. Goods that are damaged must be replaced or reimbursed. Although a Jew should lend to those in need, he is not obligated to continue to lend to someone who consistently loses things or returns them damaged.

See also

  • 613 mitzvot
    613 mitzvot
    The 613 commandments is a numbering of the statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice contained in the Torah or Five Books of Moses...

  • Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York
    Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York
    Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York, founded in 1892, is the oldest money gemach in the United States. It spawned similarly named free-loan funds in many other cities, including Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Holyoke, Massachusetts....

  • Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia
    Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia
    The Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia provides interest-free loans to members of the Philadelphia Jewish community in need. Founded in 1984 as the Hebrew Free Loan Society at Beth Sholom and housed at Beth Sholom Congregation , by 2006, over $2 million in loans had been granted from...

  • Israel Free Loan Association
    Israel Free Loan Association
    The Israel Free Loan Association is the largest free loan association in the world, having lent out nearly $150 million in the last two decades. This non-profit organization offers interest-free loans to citizens of Israel only. It is supported primarily by private donations and grants...

  • International Association of Hebrew Free Loans
    International Association of Hebrew Free Loans
    The International Association of Hebrew Free Loans is an umbrella organization for Hebrew Free Loan societies, organizations that offer interest-free loans. There are members around the world, with most in North America. Each member organization has its own rules regarding such things as who may...

  • Yad Sarah
    Yad Sarah
    Yad Sarah is currently the largest Israeli national volunteer organization, aiding disabled, elderly and housebound people and aimed at making home care possible...

  • Sukuk
    Sukuk is the Arabic name for financial certificates, but commonly refers to the Islamic equivalent of bonds. Since fixed income, interest bearing bonds are not permissible in Islam, Sukuk securities are structured to comply with the Islamic law and its investment principles, which prohibits the...

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