Font Size


Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.

In this week’s parasha we read about a mitzvah that we can only fulfill once every seven years:

“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)

The following is a summary of the relevant aspects of this mitzvah:

  • The Torah is telling us that there is a positive mitzvah to cancel all debts during shmitah and a negative mitzvah against demanding payment of a debt once shmitah has passed.
  • However, these mitzvot apply as a Divine directive only when Yovel (the 50 year Jubilee cycle) is in effect, which is not currently the case. Therefore, according to most opinions, present day shmitat kesafim (“monetary shmitah”) is d’rabanan (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, bank accounts, and purchases which were made on credit, wages, or checks 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 does not cancel a loan which was given with a security or a loan which was issued on condition that the debt is not erased. Furthermore, shmitat kesafim does not cancel a debt to tzedakah.    
  • When Hillel HaZakein (the Elder - circa 5 B.C.E.) realized that these circumstances might make individuals loath to issue loans, he established a prozbul. This is a declaration that the lender is transferring the debt to a beit din, which authorizes him to collect the debts after shmitah. Proz means enactment, and bul means wealthy. In other words, a prozbul serves as an enactment that encourages the wealthy to loan to the poor.
  • 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.
  • 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 issue a prozbul using the following procedure:
    1. The lender comes before a beit din and proclaims his desire to make a prozbul.
    2. One of the dayanim (judges) extends a handkerchief to the lender in order to make a kinyan sudar (literally, an “acquisition”).
    3. The dayanim sign the prozbul and give it to the lender.    
  • The lender must keep the prozbul document as evidence. However, if the document is misplaced, 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. 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.

Shortly before Rosh Hashana, I will be setting up a beit din in order to enable people to make a prozbul. The date and location will be publicized in the N&S.