Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 5 September 2015 / 21 Elul 5775

Shemitas Kesafim and The Prozbol

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Shemita Basics
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The Ben Ish Chai[1] relates a story of a certain Talmud Chacham who, at the Pesach Seder, exhorted his son during Korech, to perform not only the ‘Zeicher L’Mikdash K’Hillel’ of Korech, but to make sure to also perform the important Takkana of Hillel’s of the Prozbol before Rosh Hashanah of the eighth year. Perhaps anecdotal, yet, all the same, the story has important ramifications for us all. But first some background is in order.

Shnei Shmittos

The Torah enumerates the importance of observing Shemitta, not working the land on the seventh year, several times, stressing its significance. That there are agricultural prohibitions and produce restrictions (addressed at length in several previous articles) in letting the land lie fallow is known to most. Yet, there is another important aspect of Shemitta observance, and that is the cancelling of debts.

The pasuk states in Parshas Re’eh (Devarim Ch. 15: 2): ‘And this is the matter of Shemitta: every creditor that lends to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not demand payment of debts from his neighbor or brother”.[2] This teaches that all loans between Jews are cancelled by the Torah. This is known as Shmittas Kesafim.

Yet, there is another pasuk regarding this issue, which adds another dimension to this rule: (Devarim Ch. 15: 9), “Guard yourself, lest there be in your heart a lawless thought, thinking that the seventh year, the year of Shemitta, is approaching, and you look selfishly upon your needy brother and do not lend him anything, and he cries out to Hashem against you, and it is considered a sin on your part”. This teaches us that one transgresses a prohibition if he refuses to lend to a fellow Jew before Shemitta due to fear of his debts being cancelled.

Enter… The Prozbol

Yet, unfortunately that is exactly what happened. The wealthy refused to loan to their poorer brethren out of fear of not recouping their cash. The Mishnah[3] teaches us that Hillel Hazakein instituted the device of Prozbol (or Pruzbol) to alleviate the plight of the poor on Shemitta. Quite interestingly, and not even remotely connected to the similar sounding All-Star Football game, Prozbol is an abbreviation of the words ProzBoliBoti - meaning institution for rich and poor people. In other words, it allowed the poor to benefit from loans from the wealthy, who would not be afraid that their loans would be automatically cancelled in the Shemitta year.

The Prozbol entails handing one’s debts over to Beis Din, or appointing Bais Din to collect on his behalf.[4] The actual Shemitta prohibition is that a lender may not pressure a borrower to pay him back. This does not preclude Beis Din's being able to collect on his behalf. Hillel’s institution of Prozbol is considered so incredible that the Mishnah literally describes it as a ‘Tikkun HaOlam’ (loosely translated as ‘World Saving’).

Bezman Hazeh

There is some debate among the authorities whether Shmittas Kesafim nowadays is biblical in nature or not. Although the Ramban and Baal HaItur maintain that in this day and age it is still a Mitzvah D’Oraysa, we find at the other extreme that the Rema cites several Rishonim who are of the opinion that this Mitzvah is currently not applicable at all.[5] However, the vast majority of poskim rule that in our time it is nevertheless a Mitzvah Derabbanan.[6] Moreover, and as opposed to Shemittas Karka’os, the Shemittah of the Land, regarding this Shemittas Kesafim, the halachic consensus is that it applies equally in Chutz La’aretz.

This is indeed the halacha. The Tur relates that his father, the Rosh, screamed at those who did business as usual without writing a Prozbol. In fact, many later authorities, including the Levush, the Bach, Rav Yonason Eibeshutz, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, the Chasam Sofer, the Shlah, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Ben Ish Chai, and the Aruch Hashulchan,[7] all stressed Shmittas Kesafim’s significance, even nowadays, and in Chutz La’aretz, as well as the importance of making sure to write a Prozbol.

Pre- or Post-Prozbol?

Another important matter is defining when the Prozbol should be written, prior to the onset of the Shemitta year, or before it ends. The Torah clues us in. Regarding the issue of Shmittas Kesafim it states: “Mikeitz Sheva Shanim Taaseh Shemitta, At the end of every seven years, you should make a release”. The Gemara (Erechin 28b) explains that this is referring to the end of Shemitta.

The Sifri[8] elucidates that this is similar to the Mitzvah of Hakhel, which is exclusively observed at the end of every Shemitta cycle - which means the eighth year, where similar wording is used. So too, concludes the Sifri, Shmittas Kesafim only wipes out loans at the end of the Shemitta year. Therefore, a Prozbol must be written at the conclusion of the Shemitta year, prior to the onset of the eighth year. This is the actual halacha.[9] In fact, the Beis Yosef writes that “this is the minhag pashut in Eretz Yisrael and its environs, to write a Prozbol on Erev Rosh Hashana of Motzai Sheviis”.

Tale of Two Prozbols?

Yet, we find that the Rosh,[10] quoting a Tosefta, maintains that a Prozbol should be written before the Shemitta year, not at the end. He explains that although Shmittas Kesafim takes effect only at the end of the Shemitta year, nevertheless the prohibition of ‘lo yigos’, not demanding the lent money during Shemitta, already applies from the start of the Shemitta year. Therefore, he maintains that a Prozbol should be written prior to the onset of Shemitta. Several Rishonim agreed with this approach. However, it has since been proven that the version of the Tosefta the Rosh quoted had textual mistakes (incorrect girsa)[11]. Additionally, most authorities reject this novel approach outright, averring that it is not normative halacha.

On the other hand, several authorities, including Rav Yonason Eibeshutz and the Shulchan Aruch Harav,[12] argued that lechatchila one should take the Rosh’s opinion into account and should write a Prozbol before the onset of Shemitta as well. It is said that the Vilna Gaon was machmir to write two Prozbols, one before and one again at the end of the Shemitta year, to fulfill both opinions.[13] Although not the basic halacha, and many great authorities did not write a Prozbol before the Shemitta,[14] it is known that Rav Shmuel Salant zt”l of Yerushalayim ruled that it is proper to do so, as later did the Steipler Gaon zt”l and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l.[15]

That is why many were makpid to write an additional Prozbol before the onset of Shemitta. However, practically, regarding this Prozbol, the rules are somewhat relaxed. In fact, according to Rav Moshe Sternbuch,[16] since this Pre-Shemitta Prozbol is not me’ikar hadin, one need not bother to seek out an actual Beis Din, or even members of a Beis Din, but may suffice with three fellow knowledgeable Yidden serving as an ad hoc Beis Din, similar to the annual Erev Rosh Hashanah Hataras Nedarim.

Either way, whether or not one performed the chumrah of a pre-Shemitta Prozbol, everyone should ensure that he follow the actual halacha to write an end-of-Shemitta Prozbol, as the Talmud Chacham in the Ben Ish Chai’s story exhorted his son. To sum it up, a little Prozbol can alleviate a lot of future complications.

This article was written L'iluy Nishmas the Ohr Somayach Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga and l’zechus Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua sheleimah teikef umiyad!

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el U' Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

[1] Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Ki Savo 26 s.v. prozbol).

[2] In fact, the Gemara (Gittin 36a) derives from the double language of the word Shemittah in this pasuk that there are two types of Shmitta: Shmittas Karkah and Shmittas Kesafim. See also Sefer Hachinuch (Parshas Re’eh, Mitzvah 477). The Rambam (Hilchos Shmitta V’Yovel Ch. 8: 1) writes that from the fact the Torah used the word ‘Shmote’ (which is a command) to describe this occurrence, it is an actual Mitzvah D’Oraysa encumbent upon us to actively let Shmitta erase a debt.

[3] Mishnayos Sheviis (Ch. 10: 3 & 4) and Gittin (34b) and accompanying Gemara (36a-b) and commentaries.

[4] There is some debate among the Rishonim whether writing a Prozbol and Mesiros Shtaros L’Beis Din are considered the same institution or not. See Tosafos (Gittin 36a s.v. mi and Makkos 3b s.v. hamoser), Ritva (ad loc.), Meiri (Gittin 37a), Rambam (Hilchos Shemittav V’Yovel Ch. 9: 15), Sefer Haterumos (Shaar 45, 11), Yam Shel Shlomo (Gittin Ch. 4: 45), and Minchas Chinuch (Parshas Re’eh Mitzva 477: 12). Either way, both are practically effective methods of not having debts cancelled by Shmitta [see Mishnayos Sheviis (ibid.), Rambam (ibid. 15 & 16), and Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 67: 11, 18, and 19).

[5] See Rema (Choshen Mishpat 67: 1, and in Darchei Moshe ad loc. 1), Beis Yosef (ad loc. s.v. v’hashmatas), Biur HaGr”a (ad loc. 5), SM”A (ad loc. 3), Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. 1), and Shu”t Igros Moshe (Choshen Mishpat vol. 2: 15 s.v. uv’etzem). The Rishonim who held this way include the Baal HaMaor, Maharil, Maharik, Terumas Hadeshen, and the Raavad. Although not the practical halacha, this nonetheless does make a practical halachic difference, there are those who hold [see, for example Shulchan Aruch Harav (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Halva’ah 35)] that nowadays a Prozbul does not need a genuine actual set Beis Din, nor the applicant to actually own karka, as opposed to the strict letter of the law in the Mishnah (Sheviis Ch. 10), and later the Rambam (Hilchos Shemitta V’Yovel Ch. 9) and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 67).

[6] This is due to the fact that we no longer have Yovelos. Therefore Shmittas Kesafim is no longer D’Oraysa, but rather Derabbanan. See the main commentaries to Gittin (36-37) - Rashi, Tosafos, Rif, Ran, and Rosh, SMaG (Lavin 270), Sefer Hachinuch (Parshas Re’eh, end Mitzvah 477), Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 67: 1), Shulchan Aruch Harav (ibid. 34), Pe’as HaShulchan (Ch. 29: 3), Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat 67: 1), and Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Ki Savo 26). See also Rambam (Hilchos Shmitta V’Yovel Ch. 8: 1 - 3) who writes that although it is an actual Mitzvah D’Oraysa to actively let Shmitta erase a debt, he nonetheless concludes that nowadays with Yovel currently non-applicable, this Mitzva Chiyuvis is strictly Derabbanan. The Rambam adds a very important point (ad loc. 16), based on Abaye’s conclusion in Gemara Gittin 36a, that the whole reason a Prozbol works is because Shemitta nowadays is Derabbanan. When Shmitta’s status reverts to a D’Oraysa obligation, he avers that a Prozbol will not help one to collect his loans.

[7] Levush (Choshen Mishpat 67: 1), Bach (ad loc. 6), Urim V’Tumim (67, Tumim, 1), Shulchan Aruch Harav (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Halva’ah 35), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (vol. 5, Choshen Mishpat, beg. 113 s.v. kibalti), Shlah (Shaar Ha’osiyos, Kedushas Ha’achilah), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (180: 1), Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Ki Savo 26 s.v. prozbol), and Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat 67: end 10). See also Elef HaMagen (on the Matteh Efraim, 581: 133).

[8] Sifri (Devarim, Re’eh,Piska 58 pg. 122b), cited by the Bach (Choshen Mishpat 67: end 4). The Rambam (Hilchos Shemitta V’Yovel Ch. 9: 4) gives the same explanation. For more on this drush, see the commentaries of the Malbim and Netziv on the Sifri, and Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv (Mahadura Rivi’ai vol. 1: 10).

[9] See Rambam (ibid.), Ramban (Teshuvos 98), Rashba (Shu”t vol. 2: 314), Ohr Zarua (Avoda Zara vol. 1: 107), Sefer Hachinuch (ibid. s.v. m’dinei), Shu”t Radbaz (vol. 5: 2238), Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 67: 32), Shulchan Aruch (ad loc. 30), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (vol. 2, Yoreh Deah 19 and vol. 5, Choshen Mishpat 50 s.v. nachzor; cited by Pischei Teshuva ad loc. 5), Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv (Mahadura Riviai, vol. 2: 53), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (180: 13), Aruch Hashulchan (Choshen Mishpat 67: 2), and Shu”t Rav Pe’alim (vol. 1, Kuntress Sod Yesharim 11).

[10] Rosh (Gittin Ch. 4: 18 and 20) citing the Tosefta (Sheviis Ch. 8: 11). The Baal HaItur (OsPei, Pruzbol pg. 76c), and Tur (Choshen Mishpat 67: 30) hold this way as well. Rabbeinu Chananel (Shabbos 148b) heavily implies that he is of the opinion that the beginning of Shemitta cancels debts. [Thanks are due to Rabbi Yehoshua Pasternak for pointing out this important source.] The Yerushalmi (Rosh Hashanah Ch. 3, end Halacha 5), according to statement of Rabbi Yochanon, implies this way as well, regarding the Shmittas Kesafim of Yovel. See also Netei Gavriel (Hilchos Shemittas Kesafim U’Prozbol Ch. 15 pg. 101 - 102, footnote 3) who adds that Rabbeinu Yerucham, Rabbeinu Nasan Av HaYeshiva, the Mahar”i ben MalkiTzedek, and the Kaftor VaFerach all held akin to the Rosh’s shittah, that the issur of ‘lo yigos’, not demanding the lent money during Shmitta, already applies from the start of the Shemitta year, and therefore a Prozbol should already be written prior to the onset of the Shemitta year. This is also the explanation of the Minchas Bikkurim on that Tosefta.

[11] The Ramban (Teshuvos 98), cited by the Beis Yosef (ibid.), proves that the Rosh and Baal HaItur had an incorrect girsa in the Tosefta. Similarly, see Haghos HaGr”a on that Tosefta (Sheviis Ch. 8: 11, 3) who amends the Tosefta’s text to read that the proper time to write a Prozbol is on Erev Rosh Hashana of Motzai Sheviis; and not Erev Rosh Hashana of Sheviis. See also Ketzos Hachoshen (67: 1) who maintains that if the Rosh’s shittah holds true, then there is an apparent stirah in his shittah here and Shu”t HaRosh (77: 4); the Ketzos concludes that the Rosh’s opinion is ‘tzarich iyun’. Interestingly, the Bach (ibid. 32) and the Radbaz (ibid.) maintain that there really is no machlokes between the approaches of the Rosh and the Rambam. However, it seems that most authorities do not concur. See also Shu”t Chasam Sofer (vol. 5, Choshen Mishpat 50) at length.

[12] Urim V’Tumim (67: Urim 54 and Tumim 26; ‘hayarei v’chareid yesh lehachmir la’asos pruzbol b’erev Sheviis’) and Shulchan Aruch Harav (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchos Halva’ah 36). The Mahar”i Assad (Shu”t Yehuda Yaaleh vol. 2: 179), the Misgeres Hashulchan (on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 180: 9), and Chasdei Dovid (on Tosefta, Sheviis Ch. 8: 11) wrote similarly, to be makpid for the shittah of the Rosh.

[13] The Vilna Gaon being machmir for both opinions is cited in Pe’as Hashulchan (ibid. 97), Rav Moshe Sternbuch’s Shemitta Kehilchasa (Prozbol Erev Shnas HaSheviis s.v. uva’ikar), and Netei Gavriel (Hilchos Shemittas Kesafim U’Prozbol Ch. 15, pg. 102 - 103).

[14] See, for example, Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s Derech Emunah (vol. 4, Hilchos Shemitta V’Yovel, Ch. 9: 80) who relates that the Chazon Ish did not write a Pruzbol before Shemitta. See also Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (vol. 3: 143), Shu”t Divrei Yisrael (vol. 2: 41), Shu”t Kinyan Torah B’Halacha (vol. 3: 15), Shu”t Lechem Shlomo (Choshen Mishpat 17), Miktzoa L’Torah (Choshen Mishpat 67: 15), and Netei Gavriel (Hilchos Shemittas Kesafim U’Prozbol Ch. 15, pg. 101 and 104) citing the Klausenberger Rebbe, the Tzehlemer Rav, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, and the Minchas Yitzchak.

[15] Aderes Shmuel (Piskei Rav Shmuel Salant zt”l; Hilchos Sheviis, Pruzbol, 420, pg. 428 - 429), Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 2, 378; to have an additional zechus for Rosh Hashana), and Netei Gavriel (ibid. pg. 105), citing that Rav Elyashiv zt”l told him that “although me’ikar hadin one does not need a Prozbul before the Shmitta year, nevertheless ‘Yakirei Yerushalayim Mehadrim B’zeh’, as this was the custom of Rav Shmuel Salant”. This author has also heard this psak from Rav Elyashiv’s noted talmid, Rav Nochum Eisenstein.

[16] Shemitta Kehilchasa (Prozbol Erev Shnas HaSheviis s.v. ula”d).

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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