Mitzvah of Shemitas Kesafim
Principles of the Mitzvah
- The concept of shemitas kesafim is that a lender is commanded to relinquish the money he is owed come Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year; he may not claim payment from the borrower (רמב”ם פ”ט שמיטה ויובל ה”א). This is derived from the pesukim (דברים ט”ו, א’ ב’), “מקץ שבע שנים תעשה שמיטה וזה דבר השמיטה שמוט כל בעל משה ידו אשר ישה ברעהו, לא יגוש את רעהו ואת אחיו כי קרא שמיטה לה’.”
- The monei hamitzvos learn from here that there is a mitzvas asei to relinquish the ability to collect any money borrowed from us and a lav to claim such payment (רמב”ם ספה”מ ע’ קמ”א, חינוך מצוה תעז).
Reasons for the Mitzvah
- Multiple reasons are given for this mitzvah. To teach us the wonderful middos of generosity and benevolence (חינוך שם); to instill in our hearts bitachon in Hashem (חינוך שם); to teach us to stay far from gezel – if I have a chiyuv d’oraisa to forgo money I deserve, I certainly cannot steal or extort someone else’s money (חינוך שם); to understand that the main purpose of our existence in this world is not to be a slave to our jobs or to amass money, but to step back as much as possible and connect ourselves to Hashem – doing more business does not make one wiser (עקידה פ’ בהר, תומים סי’ ס”ז סק”א). Additionally, this mitzvah is to benefit poor people (מורה נבוכים לרמב”ם ג’ ל”ט). Some say it is a mitzvah that Hashem commanded without giving us a reason (דרישה חו”מ סי’ ס”ז סק”א).
Status of the Mitzvah Nowadays
- There is a machlokes Tannaim (גמ’ גיטין דף ל”ו ע”א) whether shemitas kesafim applies when yovel is not in force, and the Rishonim argue about what the halachah is.
- D’oraisa. Some say shemitas kesafim applies d’oraisa even today (רמב”ן ס’ הזכות גיטין ל”ז., עיטור ח”א אות פ’, שו”ת שאגת אריה החד’ סי’ ט”ז).
- Does not apply. Others write that shemitas kesafim does not apply today at all (ראב”ד בהשג’ על הרי”ף גיטין דף ל”ז, שו”ת תמים דעים לראב”ד סי’ קל”ג בשם רב נוטרואי גאון, ספר התרומות שער מ”ה ח”א סי’ ד’ בשם בעל המאור). They hold that shemitas kesafim applied in the times of Rebbi, when there were still fixed batei din in Eretz Yisroel and yovel was counted on a d’rabanan level. Today, however, when yovel is not in force whatsoever, shemitas kesafim does not apply. In many places in the world, in fact, the minhag was not to do shemitas kesafim even though many poskim questioned this practice (שו”ת מהרי”ק סי’ צב, שו”ת מהרלב”ח סי’ קמג, שו”ת מהר”י בן לב ח”א כלל יב סי’ סז, שו”ת מהרי”ט ח”ב חו”מ סי’ קיג, תרומת הדשן סי’ דש, שו”ת חת”ס ח”ה חו”מ סי’ קיג).
- Eretz Yisroel vs. chu”l. Some poskim hold that it applies today in Eretz Yisroel, but not in chutz la’aretz (ספר התרומות בשם הרז”ה, באר הגולה בדברי הרמ”א חו”מ סי’ ס”ז ס”א, פאת השלחן סי’ כ”ט ס”ג).
- D’rabanan. However, most Rishonim hold that shemitas kesafim applies today mid’rabanan, so that it is not forgotten altogether (רמב”ם פ”ט שמיטה ויובל ה”ב וג’, סמ”ק, סמ”ג, חינוך, ריטב”א ור”ן גיטין שם).
- In practice. The poskim rule that shemitas kesafim applies today mid’rabanan even in chutz la’aretz (שו”ע סי’ ס”ז ס”א, רמ”א שם, לבוש, ערוה”ש, של”ה, שו”ע הגר”ז). To the generation’s credit, Yidden today practice it everywhere. Therefore, the minhag throughout Klal Yisroel is to write a pruzbol before shekiyah of Rosh Hashanah at the end of shemitah in order to be able to collect debts (below, 20).
Some Halachos about Shemitas Kesafim
- Shemitah only cancels loans at the end of the year, as the posuk says, “מקץ שבע שנים תעשה שמטה” (ספרי פ’ ראה פי’ קי”א, גמ’ ערכין דף כ”ח ע”ב). This takes effect at shekiyah on the evening of Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year (רמב”ם פ”ט ה”ד, רשב”א ח”ב סי’ שי”ד).
Shemitas Kesafim in Practice
- Issur of לא יגוש. A lender may not claim payment of debts canceled by shemitah, e.g., if he did not write a pruzbol, lent money after writing a pruzbol, etc. One who does so violates the lav of לא יגוש. Even if the borrower did not end up paying, the very act of claiming payment violates this lav (שו”ת בנין שלמה חו”מ סי’ א’, דרך אמונה פ”א ה”א סק”ד).
- Some say that if the borrower repaid because of the claim, the lender also violates לא תגזול and must return the stolen money (מנ”ח מצ’ תע”ז, שו”ת התעוררות תשובה ח”א קנ”א). Others say he does not violate this issur (הגרשז”א, הגר”ש וואזנר הובא בס’ שמיטת כספים ופרוזבול עמ’ קי”ד הע’ ט”ו).
- Borrower repaid on his own. If a borrower voluntarily wants to repay his debt, the lender must say “משמט אני,” i.e., the debt was already released. Still, it is proper for the borrower to respond, “Even so, I want to give it to you as a gift” (גמ’ גיטין דף ל”ז ע”ב, רמב”ם פ”ט הכ”ח כ”ט). If he says this, the lender may take the money as a new gift. The Chachamim are pleased with a person who repays his debts after shemitah in the above manner (משנה שביעית פ”י מ”ט).
- If a borrower came to return a debt and the lender did not say “משמט אני,” he forfeited the mitzvas asei of שמוט. Some say he also violated the lav of לא יגוש (הגרי”פ פערלא בספה”מ לרס”ג עשה ס”א).
Debts Not Canceled by Shemitah
- There are many halachic details about which debts are canceled by shemitah and which are not, too many to detail here. However, we will cite some principles to help us understand the basis of a pruzbol and the need for everyone to write one. We will give examples of shemitah canceling loans without a pruzbol even when a person thinks he has not lent any money.
- Payment due after the end of shemitah. Shemitah only cancels debts with a due date before the end of the shemitah year. Debts with a due date set for after the shemitah year are not canceled (גמ’ מכות דף ג’, שו”ע חו”מ סי’ ס”ז ס”י). Nowadays, if money was lent without any due date specified, shemitah cancels the debt (ע”פ מג”א או”ח סי’ שי”ז סקי”ד, גל’ רע”א חו”מ סי’ ע”ג).
- Collateral loan. If a lender takes an asset as collateral for the loan, shemitah does not cancel the loan, as the collateral makes it as if the debt was collected (שו”ע סי’ ס”ז סי”ב).
- Borrower gave a security check. If the borrower gave the lender a check with a date after Rosh Hashanah, it is implied that the due date is set for after Rosh Hashanah, so shemitah does not cancel the loan. Also, it is like collateral (אג”מ חו”מ ח”ב סי’ ט”ו). Most poskim hold that even if the date is before Rosh Hashanah and the lender did not cash the check, shemitah does not cancel the loan because it is as if the debt was already collected and because the check can be used in lieu of cash (שו”ת מנחת שלמה תנינא סוף סי’ קכ”ג, הגר”ש וואזנר שביבי אש סי’ ט’ אות ה’).
- Gave shtaros to beis din. If a lender gave his loan agreement documents to beis din for them to collect the debts, shemitah does not cancel them. The posuk says “את אחיך תשמט ידיך” – this excludes one who gave his shtaros to beis din (ספרי ראה פיסקא קי”ג). Only a lender may not claim payment. If he withdraws his claim and instead transfers the debt to beis din, there is no issur for beis din to claim payment (סמ”ע סי’ ס”ז סקכ”ג). This halachah forms the basis for the enactment of pruzbol, which is a way of transferring debts to beis din, as if beis din is collecting instead of the lender.
Enactment of Pruzbol
- Hillel HaZakein saw in the time of Bayis Sheini that the wealthy were refraining from lending to the poor out of concern the poor would not repay before the end of shemitah, when the debt would be canceled. In doing so, the wealthy were violating the words of the Torah: “השמר פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל לאמר קרבה שנת השבע שנת השמיטה ורעה עינך באחיך האביון ולא תתן לו.” Hillel enacted a special solution for everyone’s benefit: lenders would draft a pruzbol, which would prevent the cancelation of loans and enable collection even after shemitah. The poor also gained because now they could find people to lend them money (שביעית פ”י משנה ג’ ד’).
- Pruzbol. The word pruzbol is an abbreviated form of two Aramaic words: pruz, enactment, and buli, the wealthy. In other words, it is an enactment for the benefit of the wealthy by preventing them from losing their money (גמ’ גיטין דף ל”ו ע”ב, עי’ ב”ח סי’ ס”ז ס”כ).
Nature of the Enactment
- According to most Rishonim, Hillel’s enactment was based on the concept of giving shtaros to beis din (above, 19). When a lender gives his shtaros to beis din, the borrower’s debt is to beis din, to whom the issur of claiming payment after shemitah does not apply. Hillel’s enactment did three things: 1) removed the need to actually give the shtaros to beis din – one may simply declare to beis din that he gives them his debts; 2) worked even for loans without a shtar; 3) allowed the lender himself to collect payment as beis din’s shaliach (רמב”ן ור”ן גיטין שם).
Who Should Write a Pruzbol?
- Every man. Every man should write a pruzbol before Rosh Hashanah even if he does not know he is owed money, as he may have lent a small sum and forgotten. Also, people inevitably have various debts that shemitah cancels, e.g., loans between neighbors or with banks, business arrangements, etc., and this can easily lead to violation of the issur (תשובות והנהגות ח”ג סי’ תמ”ז).
- Women. A married woman or single girl supported by her parents who does not have money that is specifically hers does not need to write a pruzbol. Her husband’s/father’s pruzbol suffices.
- A married woman with her own money, e.g., a bank account under her name alone that she deals with or money she has that her husband does not have authority over, must arrange her own pruzbol (תשובות והנהגות ח”ג סי’ תמ”ז), but she can appoint her husband as a shaliach to arrange it. Similarly, a widow, divorcée, or self-sufficient single woman must arrange a pruzbol. She can do this through a shaliach.
- Bochurim. Bochurim who learn in yeshiva far from home and have their own money must arrange a pruzbol. Similarly, seminary girls who do not live at home must arrange a pruzbol; this can be done through a shaliach.
- Katan. Ketanim do not need to make a pruzbol since they do not have their own money. Even if a child has money from Bituach Leumi in his name under the Chisachon L’kol Yeled plan, the child never acquired the money and is thus not in charge of it. Strictly speaking, no pruzbol is necessary for this (הרבה פוסקים ופסק עדה”ח).
Verbal Pruzbol Declaration
- Even if one does not have a formal pruzbol shtar, he can write one by hand; it does not need to be printed. Some hold that if one cannot do this, he can deliver it verbally by saying the nusach of “מוסרני וכו’,” as it does not need to be written (רמא סי’ ס”ז ס”כ). Others hold that only talmidei chachamim, not the general public, can rely on a verbal pruzbol (שו”ע שם, חכ”א שער”צ שער מצות הארץ פכ”א).
- Authoritative beis din. Some hold that a pruzbol can only be written by a prominent beis din with expert dayanim accepted by the people of the city (שו”ע סי”ח, שו”ת רדב”ז ח”א סי’ קע”ו). Sephardim follow this.
- \Any three-member beis din. Others hold that any three-member beis din can write a pruzbol (רמ”א שם). Ashkenazim, who go by the Rama, follow this. However, it is best to use bnei Torah who understand the concept and halachos of a pruzbol (קצשו”ע סי’ ק”פ).
- Night. The poskim argue whether a pruzbol may be written at night (ערך לחם הג’ שו”ע סי’ ס”ז סל”א, אור שמח פ”ט הי”ח, שו”ת מנחת יצחק ח”י ס”ק, דרך אמונה שמיטה ויובל ביאה”ל פ”ט). Therefore, it is best to write one by day (הגריש”א, שבות יצחק עמ’ ל”ד).
- Relatives. The poskim similarly discuss whether a pruzbol can be written by dayanim who are related to each other or to the lender or borrower (ערך לחם סי”ח, דרך אמונה פ”ט הט”ו). If a prominent beis din is necessary (above, 29), it is likely that they must also be unrelated. However, according to the opinion that any three-member beis din is good enough, relatives are likely fine (שו”ת מנחת יצחק ח”י סי’ ק”מ, שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ט סי’ רפ”ח).
- Any language. A pruzbol may be written in any language (ספר שמיטת כספים כהלכתה סוף פי”ג). Therefore, in places where people do not know Lashon HaKodesh, it can be written in English, French, Spanish, Russian, etc.
Debts for Which a Pruzbol Is Effective
- A pruzbol is effective for both debts with a shtar and debts without a shtar.
- Debts incurred after it was written. A pruzbol only works for money lent before it was written. Loans made after a pruzbol was written are canceled by shemitah. Therefore, some wait until right Erev Rosh Hashanah to write a pruzbol so that it covers all loans until that point. Many people do it with the three kosher Yidden they used for hataras nedarim. One can also do it earlier, being mindful of subsequent loans. Some intentionally lend a small sum of money after writing a pruzbol and then forgo the money owed to fulfill the mitzvah in the most ideal way.
Time in a Pruzbol
- Date. One must write the time in a pruzbol, i.e., on which date in Elul the shtar was written. If the shtar is postdated, e.g., the shtar was written on 25 Elul but has the date 28 Elul, it is completely invalid. Otherwise, one could use it to collect payment for loans made after the shtar was written when in actuality, shemitah canceled them (above, 35). However, a backdated shtar is fine (שו”ע סל”ב).
- Time. It is not necessary to indicate the time when the shtar was written (שו”ת מנחת שלמה ב’-ג’ תנינא סי’ קכ”ג, שו”ת שבט הלוי ח”ט סי’ רצ”א). A lender is trusted to say what time it was written.
Lender’s location. When it comes to pruzbol, the lender’s location is what is important since the lav and asei of shemitah apply to the lender. Thus, as long as a lender makes a pruzbol before shekiyah of Erev Rosh Hashanah, it is kosher even if it is past shekiyah in the borrower’s location, e.g., if the lender is in the United States and the borrower is in Eretz Yisroel.