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Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen

Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen - Rabbi, Cong. Ohaiv Yisroel, Monsey, New York; Rebbi, Yeshiva University High School for Boys

  1. "Nohaig bechol makom uvechol zeman." This means that when it is in force, the directive applies in all places and for all times. However, the imperative to cancel debts (shemitat kesafim) is in effect only when the Jubilee (yovel -- the fiftieth year) is also observed. Since the Jubilee is no longer applicable today, there is no biblical imperative to observe shemita. (Tosafot to Gittin 36b indicate that the rabbis did not institute that yovel should be observed, on a rabbinic level, because of the hardship involved in not farming the land for two consecutive years.)

    However, according to most rabbinic authorities, there is still a mitzvah derabbanan -- to keep the shemita with all its requirements because the rabbis have decreed that we should continue the biblical practice, although there are some who consider that there is not even a rabbinic requirement to cancel debts. See Ramo, Choshen Mishpat 67:1 and Aruch HaShulchan, ibid, note 1.

    Even though only a minority of authorities consider that shemitat kesafim is no longer in practice, that minority opinion has been relied upon by many, who therefore took no steps to assure that debts were not automatically cancelled (by writing a pruzbui). The Rosh (14th century) writes in strong protest of what apparently was the practice in his society, that people did continue collecting their loans, but he does not seem to have been successful in stopping the practice. However, the Ramo and the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav do state that although one may rely on the lenient opinions, a truly pious person should write a pruzbul to cover his loans.

    The prevailing and accepted position today among rabbinic authorities is that shemitat kesafim, cancellation of debts, does apply today on a rabbinic level. Therefore, if one does not want his loans to be cancelled, he must write a pruzbul.

  2. The majority of poskim consider that the debts are cancelled automatically -- hafka'ata demalka akarkafta degavra. This means that if a person does collect his debt, he is a thief (Minchat Chinuch 477:4). But the Yereim 164 maintains that the borrower has to take the lender to beth din, which forces the lender to declare that the loan is forgiven. But the Minchat Chinuch 84 disagrees, pointing out that if the Yereim is right, the mitzvah would not apply to women, who are exempt from all positive mitzvot which are time bound.
  3. In the commentary of Torah Temimah to Devarim 15:11, there is discussion of the possibility that if a person did collect his debts after shemita despite the biblical prohibition, the Jewish court might force him to return it to the borrower.
  4. The Mishnah in Shevi'it explains how this is done, with a simple formula. A much longer version of the pruzbul can be found in Melechet Shlomo, chapter 10, mishnah 4, Shevi'it. A facsimile of the pruzbul used by the Chazon Ish is printed in his biography, Pe'er Hador, Vol.11, p. 245. Other versions of the pruzbul are recorded in Iggerot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 19, and Minchat Yitzchak 6:160. The standard text is printed in the Luach of Ezras Torah.
  5. Gittin 36a. Rashi, Tosafot, and the Meiri discuss whether yovel was in effect in the days of Hillel.
  6. Mordechai, Gittin 379.
  7. Ramban, Gittin 36b; Rashba, 2, 313.
  8. Choshen Mishpat 67:21.
  9. 4:63.
  10. Choshen Mishpat 67:20. This is a leniency which may be relied upon if it is very late on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and there is no time to write out a pruzbul.
  11. Ibid. 67:10. Minchat Yitzchak 10: 140.
  12. Meiri, Gittin 36a.
  13. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 67:18.
  14. Gittin 36b.
  15. Shulchan Aruch, ibid.
  16. Shevet Halevi 4:193 discusses whether the pruzbul is proof that one's IOU's were given to beth din for collection or whether the document simply allows the lender to collect his debts.
  17. Ibid., note 5. See Minchat Yitzchak 10:140 about writing a pruzbul at night, and whether the judges may be related to one another.
  18. If a person did make a pruzbul at the beginning of the Sabbatical Year, he would have to make another one at the end, to cover loans transacted in the course of the year; Chelkat Yaakov 3:143. This opinion creates a difficutty when we consider the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, who said to make the pruzbul at the end of the sixth year, and if not, to make one at the end of the seventh. But even if a pruzbul were written at the end of the sixth year, there would still be a need to write another one at the end of the year, to cover the loans made during the year. See Yechave Daat 4:62 for the case of a person who makes a pruzbul during the year and thereafter makes a loan.
  19. Gittin 4:20. However, note the Radvaz 1:5, who distinguishes between a loan made during the seventh year and one made before the year.
  20. No. 36. The difficulty with this ruling is that a pruzbul written at the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh year does not cover loans made during the whole of the seventh year.

    In his Shearim Metzuyanim Behalacha, part 3, 128:25, Rav Braun cites the Chazon Ish who reasoned that since the Gemara wrote that a pruzbul can even be written on chot hamoed, of necessity it must have meant during the sixth year.

  21. Yechave Daat 4:62.
  22. Choshen Mishpat 67:22. Aruch Hashulchan considers that a further reason that pruzbul was not done was due to the lack of land ownership by either the lender or borrower.
  23. In view of the fact that there is virtually no one who does not own or borrow or rent land, the Pitchei Teshuva, note 4 on No. 67, questions when it is that a pruzbul cannot be written?!
  24. See Mishnat Aharon II 75; also Tosafot to Ketubot 55, s.v. Shevi'it; also 272 and Shevi'it 1.
  25. Rashi rules that this regards a debt inherited from their parents, but Ran rules that it applies even to debts that they have incurred themselves.
  26. Chidushei HaRashba, Bava Kama 36b. However, Rav Yosef, Yechave Daat, IV, 63, instructs the administrator of a charitable fund to write a pruzbul for all outstanding pledges.
  27. The question arises, then, why there was a need to institute the pruzbul, since there are so many other ways to avoid one's loans being nullified? See the Mishnah Rishonah to Shevi'it 10:3; also, the Ritva to Makkot 3b, and Shevet HaLevi IV, 193.
  28. Yechave Daat 64. Rav Yosef also discusses whether one of the group can be an agent for the others.
  29. Gittin 36b. Tosafot write that no oath is required either.
  30. Choshen Mishpat 67.
  31. Ibid , 33. See the Mishnah Ketubot 9:9 and Rambam, Hilchot Shemita VeYovel 9:24.
  32. Shevi'it, chapter 10, mishnah 5. Tosafot Yom Tov explains why the document is not rendered invalid by virtue of the false statement about its date.
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