Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
“At the end of seven years you shall institute a release (shmitah). And this is the matter of the release: Every creditor shall release his hand from what he lent his fellow; he shall not press his fellow or his brother, for He has proclaimed a release for Hashem.” (Devarim 15:1-2)
• There is a positive mitzvah in the Torah to cancel all debts during shmitah and a negative mitzvah against demanding payment on a debt once shmitah has passed. These mitzvot are from the Torah and apply when yovel is observed.
• According to most opinions, today, shmitat kesafim (“monetary shmitah”) is m’dirabban (rabbinic).
• Shmitat kesafim occurs at the end of shmitah – on erev Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year.
• Shmitat kesafim applies to monetary loans or loans of monetary value, purchases which were made on credit, wages, checks, and bank accounts (the relevant laws are fairly complex), when the payment date is before erev Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year.
• Shmitat kesafim does not erase debts which were initiated in the beit din or which were transferred to the beit din. Similarly, shmitat kesafim cancels neither a loan which was given with a surety nor a loan which was issued on condition that the debt is not erased. Furthermore, shmitat kesafim does not cancel a debt to tzedakah, and there are those who are stringent in this regard.
• The mitzvah of shmitat kesafim applies to men and women.
• According to most opinions, the mitzvah of shmitat kesafim applies in chutz la’aretz as well.
• When Hillel HaZakein realized that people were loath to issue loans, he established a prozbul. This is a declaration that the lender is transferring the debt to the beit din, which authorizes him to collect the debts after shmitah. (Proz means takanah, and bul means wealthy. In other words, a prozbul serves as a takanah which encourages the wealthy to loan to the poor. A debt which has been transferred to beit din is not cancelled during shmitah. Prozbul is based on the principle of hefker beit din hefker and the fact that shmitah is d’rabbanan today.)
• The prozbul is written during the month of Elul at the end of shmitah. Some people are meticulous about writing it on the very last day of the month. (Others have a custom of writing a prozbul before shmitah.)
• Mei’ikar hadin, today, just about every person – men and women – must write a prozbul.
• A prozbul may be written either during the day or at night.
• A single prozbul is sufficient for all of one’s loans.
• One may appoint a shaliach (emissary) to write a prozbul. The prozbul should indicate that a shaliach is involved. Moreover, one may write a prozbul for someone who certainly would want a prozbul, even if he or she has not specifically requested a prozbul.
• Ashkenazim follow the Rama’s ruling that any beit din can be used today. (Ideally, the dayanim – judges – should not be related to each other.) However, Sephardim follow the Shulchan Aruch, who holds that an “important” beit din, which is wellversed in the shmitah laws, is required. Since such a beit din is hard to find, the lender refers the matter to an “important” beit din in the presence of witnesses.
• Ashkenazim issue a prozbul using the following procedure:
1. The lender prepares the prozbul document.
2. One of the dayanim (judges) prepares a handkerchief in order to make a kinyan sudar (literally, an “acquisition”).
3. The lender stands before the beit din and says, “Indeed, this year… whenever I please.”
4. When the lender reaches the words, “I give you as a gift for an acquisition four amot of soil from the land which I have,” the dayan gives him the handkerchief, and the lender makes a kinyan sudar.
5. The dayanim sign the prozbul and give it to the lender.
• The lender must keep the prozbul document as evidence. However, if the document gets lost, the lender may be trusted when he says that he had written a prozbul.
• The prozbul only applies to loans which were issued before the prozbul was written.
• If the lender did not write a prozbul and the borrower wants to repay the loan after Rosh Hashanah, the lender must say, “I have erased the debt, and you are no longer obligated to repay me.” However, if the borrower replies, “Nevertheless, I give you this as a gift,” the lender may accept the payment. Such a borrower is commended. But if the borrower does not indicate a willingness to repay the loan, the lender may convince the borrower to give him the payment as a gift.
• Some people issue a monetary loan after writing the prozbul and specify that the loan is due before Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year. In this way, they observe the mitzvah of shmitat kesafim. Alternatively, one may observe the mitzvah by specifying in the prozbul that one specific loan is not included.
Prozbul text for Ashkenazim:
ו נ י פ נ ב א ל א ו נ י ח ד א ה ו א כ נ ת א ב י ד י ת ב ת ל ב מ ו _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ) י ב ן נ ו פ ל פ לוני (לנו ואמר ” : פ ה ל ע ב ו ש ט ר ת ב ו הן שנה זו היא שנת השביעית ויש לי חוב , ל ע ם י ש ה א נ ז י א , ל ו ב ז ו ם פ ר כ י פ נ ל ס ר ו מ י א נ י ה ר ו , ד ן י ה ב ק נ ב מ ת נ ן ו כ ה ב ת ל י ו ‘ ת ו א מ י ת ל ק ר ק ע מ א ר ע א ד א י , ע ל י ת ל ת ד א י ב ו ח ו ל כ ב י מ ג ן ל ו ת כ ת י א ר ש י ן ה ו ב י ג ע ל ו י ש נ י א , י ל ו ה ו ת ק ב ל ו ו ה ו ב ת ג ו א נ י י ד י ל ו ו ה י ת ה ת מ ע ו , ת ה א ת ם מ ע ו ה ו ב א ת ג א ם ל ו ם א ד ל כ ל ם א צ ו י ה ד ע י ש ל י ש ב ו ח ל ה כ ב ו ג י א נ י ה ה ר ז ל ו ב ז ו יון שמסרתי לכם פ ר כ כל זמן שארצה .”
י ד י ע ל ו ת י ו ב ח ו ל ב ה כ ג י ו ה י א ת ש מ ט ל ל ד ו ח כ ו נ י פ י ו ו י ב ר ד ו ש מ ע נ ן י ת ד י ב ו ח נ א נ ו ח ז ו ל ם ה ל ת ק נ ה כ ל ז ב ו ז פ ר ו ” ל . ם ו ם י ה ח ת ו ע ל ו ב א נ ו _ _ _ _ ד ש ח ו ל _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ שנת התשס”הקודש ח פה עיר ____________.
נאם _______________ נא _______________ נאם _______________
Sitting as a beit din of three, we were as one, and _____________ (Ploni ben Ploni) came before us and said to us, “Indeed, this year is the seventh year, and I have debts – written and verbal – from certain people. And behold, I submit before you a prozbul and I give you as a gift for an acquisition four amot of soil from the land which I have. And on their basis, I permit you to collect the debts that I have over people. And from now on, you shall be judges for me, and you shall accept them for me. And if you do not collect them, from now on, since I transferred this prozbul to you, behold, I shall collect every debt which I have to this day, from any person whenever I please.”
And we, the beit din, heard his words, and we authorized him to ensure that [the debts] will not be cancelled on him. And he may collect all his debts with this prozbul, as established by Hillel and Chazal. And we affix our signatures on this ___________ (day of the week) in the month of ____________ (month) in the year 5768 here in the holy city of ___________ (location).