Sep 9, 2015
Part of the observance of Shemitah is the forgiving of all loans. Debts that are unpaid at the conclusion of the last day of the Shemitah year are cancelled. Even if a borrower wishes to repay his debt, the lender may not accept it unless he reminds the borrower that the debt has been cancelled, and the borrower still insists on giving him the money “as a gift.”
So where does this leave the modern lender and borrower?
In the first century BCE, Hillel the Elder saw that people were avoiding giving loans as the Shemitah year neared. This posed two problems:
- The wealthy people were transgressing the Torah prohibition against withholding loans out of fear of Shemitah.
- The poor people who desperately needed loans had no way to procure them.
He came up with a novel solution. Hillel noted that the Torah tells us that only private debts are cancelled by Shemitah: If, however, one owes the court (i.e., the community) money, Shemitah does not affect the loan. Based on this rule, he instituted the pruzbul: a mechanism by which debts are transferred to a beit din - a PRUZBUL, which makes your private debts public.
Isn’t this a loophole devised to circumvent a divinely ordained law?
The Talmud explains that nowadays the Shemitah loan amnesty is no longer in effect according to biblical law. Thus, since the Shemitah that we observe today is a rabbinic injunction, Hillel was empowered to circumvent these laws due to pressing need.
What do I need to do?
This year, the last day before Rosh Hashanah will be Sunday, September 13, 2015, and you should have made your pruzbul by then. Not all debts are cancelled by Shemitah but it is worth filling the form out for those debts that are relevant.
You fill out a form which says:
"I give over to you [the beit din] all debts which I have, so that I may collect them any time I wish."
1. The lender writes his name
2. The beit din fill their names
3. The lender recites the above declaration including the names of the beit din as filled in
4. The beit din then sign the bottom section. (For this purpose, the beit din may consist of any 3 adult males who are not related to each other or to the creditor).