Shemitat Kesafim, Prozbul and Nedivei Eretz 5782
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A short explanation what can we do today to fulfill the mitzvah of shemitat kesafim in the best way
Click here to download the Prozbul of Torah VeHa'aretz Institute for the end of Shemitah 5782 - without Nedivei Eretz.
Click here to download our Hebrew Prozbul.
Click here for the digital Hebrew Prozbul.
Sefer Hachinuch lists three mitzvot (475, 477, 480) related to shemitat kesafim, loan remission: (1) the obligation to cancel all loans due at the end of the shemitah year, (2) after the shemitah year, not to demand a debt due the previous year, and (3) not to avoid lending to the poor in light of shemitah.
There is a dispute whether the mitzvah of shemitat kesafim today is Biblical, rabbinic, or only a zecher, a custom in remembrance of the original mitzvah. Most hold that shemitat kesafim is currently rabbinic.
Hillel the Elder instituted the famous prozbul, under which individuals can transfer loans owed to them to a beit din, thus they are not canceled at the end of shemitah. This halachic loophole completely circumvents shemitat kesafim. Modern posekim maintain that today anyone with a bank account should write a prozbul since it is possible that one's checking and deposit accounts, as well as sums deposited in savings accounts and pension funds, could have the halachic status of a loan. Thus, if one fails to write a prozbul, the bank halachically would not be obligated to return the loan after shemitah. Of course the Torah's intent is not to cancel individuals' loans to banks, thus it is recommended to write a prozbul at the end of shemitah. Husbands can include their wives in their personal prozbul.
At the time of Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschütz (1690 – 1764 Europe), many were not meticulous about the laws of shemitat kesafim. Rabbi Eybeschütz writes (Tumim, CM 67:1) that it is proper to be stringent and commemorate this mitzvah, "cleaving to the mitzvah with the utmost devotion and joy."
How is it possible to perform the mitzvah of shemitat kesafim today? Most of us do not loan directly to poor people, so we cannot forgive loans at the end of shemitah. Moreover, we write out a prozbul, so even if we do lend money, it will not be subject to shemitat kesafim.
Consider, though: what about the soul and moral underpinnings of shemitat kesafim, which allows the poor to start afresh every seven years? What about the Torah's utopian vision of closing the gaps between social strata and the value of social responsibility for our weaker brethren?
Ben Ish Chai
So, everyone should sign a prozbul. Yet we asked how can we nevertheless perform the mitzvah of shemitat kesafim today.
The Ben Ish Chai (Ki Tavo) instructed his community in Bagdad that after writing a prozbul, everyone should lend someone else a small amount. After the shemitah year, when the borrower comes to repay the loan, the lender should say "Meshamet ani," "I remit it," and not accept repayment. This facilitates observing the mitzvah of shemitat kesafim even today. The Ben Ish Chai recommended that women lend a loaf of bread to a neighbor before the end of the shemitah year, and afterwards remit her loan.
Another option brought by later rabbis is giving a loan before writing the prozbul, but note in the prozbul that all loans are transferred to the beit din with the exception of a specific loan one wishes to cancel.
Torah Veha'aretz Institute sought a way to revive the mitzvah of shemitat kesafim in alignment with the Torah's original intention, based on the Ben Ish Chai's institution. Three shemitot ago (5761-2001), we launched the Nedivei Eretz project: people give a loan to the poor through Nedivei Eretz, working in cooperation with the organization Mekimi (today through the Givechack platform). Lenders sign a special prozbul noting that the loan to Nedivei Eretz is not transferred to the beit din. After the conclusion of the shemitah year, the loan is cancelled and becomes a donation (at that point donors receive a tax-deductible receipt).
Mekimi guides families straddled with heavy debt, teaching them how to wisely manage their finances. The only thing separating these families from full financial independence is the dozens or even hundreds of thousands of shekels of past debt looming over their heads.
The money raised by Nedivei Eretz does not go to a regular charity for the needy. Since we are dealing with huge sums, Nedivei Eretz arrives at debt settlements with the bank creditors, whereas for every shekel donated, the bank is willing to forgive a similar amount. In this way, these families' debts are completely erased, allowing them to begin a life of financial independence.
Through Nedivei Eretz we can achieve the Torah's goal of shemitat kesafim: to extricate the needy from the cycle of poverty and help them get on their feet, unfettered by heavy debt.
Interested in participating in the project? Google Nedivei Eretz.