Yisrael Silver sat with his father in shul, listening to the leining of Parshat Re’eh. In the sixth aliyah he heard the reader mention “shemittah” a number of times.
“When is shemittah?” Yisrael asked his father.
“Very soon!” replied Mr. Silver. “This coming year, in just one month, shemittah 5775 begins in Israel.”
“It’s a shame that outside of Israel we don’t have a chance to perform this mitzvah,” said Yisrael. “Anyway, I thought that shemittah was already addressed at the end of Sefer Vayikra, in Parshat Behar. What’s it doing here?”
“We’re leining now, and shouldn’t be talking,” Mr. Silver gently quieted his son. “At the Shabbos table we can discuss it at length.”
When they returned home, the Silver family sat down to eat the Shabbos meal. Mr. Silver made Kiddush and Hamotzi. They had an entrée of fish, and sang a Shabbos song.
“Could you please tell me about shemittah now?” Yisrael asked his father.
“I was just getting to it,” replied Mr. Silver. “The mitzvah of shemittah has two aspects. One is to rest the land and refrain from agricultural work, which applies only in Israel and was discussed in Parshat Behar. The other is to relinquish outstanding loans that are past due, which applies throughout the world and we read about this morning.” (C.M. 67:1)
“You mean that if I lent someone money and he hasn’t paid me back, he won’t have to repay after shemittah?” asked Yisrael. “I never heard of loans being cancelled!”
“That is because Hillel instituted filing a form called ‘pruzbul,’ whereby you give authority of the loan to beis din,” explained Mr. Silver. “Then the loan is not cancelled and you are allowed to collect it even after shemittah. Pruzbul is usually done nowadays just before Rosh Hashanah.”
“Can I come with you this year when you do it?” asked Yisrael.
“Sure,” replied Mr. Silver. “I don’t remember, though, whether the pruzbul is done this year – before the beginning of shemittah – or next year before the end of shemittah.”
“Oh,” said Yisrael. “How can we find out?”
“We can ask Rabbi Dayan when we go to Minchah,” said Mr. Silver. “Then at Seudah Shlishis we can share the answer with the family.”
After Minchah Mr. Silver and Yisrael approached Rabbi Dayan. “We were discussing shemittah of loans and pruzbul at the Shabbos table,” Mr. Silver said. “When should the pruzbul be written – before Rosh Hashanah this year or next?”
“Shemittah cancels loans only at the end of the shemittah year, sunset of 29 Elul 5775,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The accepted practice is to file the pruzbul then, but some are meticulous to arrange a pruzbul also the end of this year, 5774.”
“What is this based on?” asked Yisrael.
“The Torah, in Parshat Re’eh, states as follows,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “ ‘At the end of seven years you shall institute a remission. This is the matter of the remission: Every creditor shall remit his authority over what he has lent his fellow.’ ”
“Since the verse states ‘at the end of seven years,’ the loan is cancelled only at the end of the shemittah year,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, it seems that there is no need to draft a pruzbul until the end of next year. This is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, based on the Rambam.” (C.M. 67:30-31)
“Then why do I remember something about a pruzbul before shemittah?” asked Mr. Silver.
“The Rosh [Gittin 4:18,20] cites a Tosefta that the pruzbul should be written ‘the eve of Rosh Hashanah of shevi’is,’ i.e., before the shemittah year begins,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “He explains the verses to mean that shemittah cancels the loan at the end of the seven years, so that the borrower is required to repay it during the shemittah year but the creditor should not express his authority throughout the shemittah year. Therefore, the Rosh maintains that the pruzbul should be made before the shemittah.” (SM”A 67:53)