Various ancient Jewish conceptions in connection with bankruptcy jurisprudence were discussed by Louis E. Levinthal, prominent Philadelphia Jewish attorney and authority on bankruptcy law, before the National Association of Referees in Bankruptcy at its annual conference in connection with the 55th annual meeting of the American Bar Association. Mr. Levinthal read a paper on “Some Historical Aspects of Bankruptcy”.
Mr. Levinthal, during the course of his paper, brought out many interesting comparisons between the ancient principles of Jewish bankruptcy and other systems of law, including the fact that Jewish, in common with Roman, French, Spanish and Italian systems, did not discharge the bankrupt.
“Some see in the Jewish Sabbatical Year of Release something analogus to a bankruptcy law”, Mr. Levinthal said. “As a matter of fact, the Sabbatical discharge was intended to apply to all debtors, whether solvent or insolvent, honest or dishonest, after the lapse of a certain number of years”. Hence, Mr. Levinthal pointed out, this cannot be construed as a bankruptcy discharge.
One of the most interesting contrasts brought out by Mr. Levinthal was that according to Jewish law, unlike the general practice, where there were several creditors, the estate was divided not pro-rata, but equally, it being of course provided that no creditor should receive more than the amount of his claim. In this way a higher percentage of the smaller as compared to the larger debts were paid in full, it being felt that the creditor who extended credit recklessly or over-generously should be penalized as against the conservative creditor with a smaller claim. This point evoked a great deal of interest among those attending the conference.
Mahatma Gandhi’s recent fast which forced Great Britain to capitulate on electoral reforms in India, may be traced back to the ancient practice of “sitting d’harna”, common in India of old and ancient Ireland, Mr. Levinthal stated in his paper. In both, Mr. Levinthal explained, a creditor placed himself before the debtor’s doorway there to remain until the debt was paid. “The expected payment was seldom delayed,” he said, “for public opinion would have punished severely and instantly the debtor who allowed his creditor to become exhausted or die of starvation before his door. Mahatma Gandhi’s recent fast is a striking illustration of the revival of the ancient practice of ‘sitting d’harna’”.