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Beit Midrash Family and Society Shmitta

The Prozbul Contract

Hillel Nesi'a introduced the prozbul contract. The prozbul contract is a declaration by a creditor that he hands over all of his claims to the religious court and that he will collect these debts via the court’s authority after the Shmittah year.
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1. The Sabbatical (seventh) year ("Shmittah") cancels all debts that are due before Rosh Hashanah of the Shmittah year. However, it does not cancel debts due after the Shmittah year (from Rosh Hashanah onwards).

2. Types of debts cancelled in our day include monetary loans, or loans of anything of value, purchases on credit (recorded), bank accounts, checks, and workers' wages. Company and bank managers must also obtain a prozbul contract.

3. Hillel Nesi'a (Leader of Sanhedrin) introduced the concept of the prozbul contract. A prozbul contract is a declaration on the part of the creditor that he hands over all of his claims to the religious court and that he will collect these debts via the court’s authority after the Shmittah year. This loophole was introduced in order to overcome a general reluctance to lend money, a violation of the commandment, "Beware that there be not a thought in your wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and your eye be evil against your poor brother, and you give him nothing; and he cry to the Lord against you, and it be sin to you" (Deuteronomy 15:9).

4. A prozbul contract may be written up until the end of the seventh year. Some people follow the stringent practice of writing up the prozbul contract even before the onset of the seventh year (in keeping with the opinions of the Rosh and the Tur who hold that the prohibition against exacting debts begins with the onset of the seventh year, and that a prozbul contract must remain in one's possession until the end of the seventh year, because the principle release of debts takes place at the end of the year).
A prozbul document written in the sixth year should be worded, "The seventh year is approaching" instead of "This is the seventh year."

5. Some meticulous people make a practice of listing the names of all their debtors in the their prozbul contract.

6. If a loan due before Rosh Hashanah is given after the composition of a prozbul contract, it is cancelled. This is because a prozbul contract written before a loan is ineffective. Some people follow the scrupulous practice of lending money after the prozbul contract has been written up and setting the due date before Rosh Hashanah. They due this in order that the loan be cancelled, and in this manner they fulfill the commandment to release debts in the seventh year ("shmitat kesafim"). Another way of doing this is to specify one debt to which the prozbul contract will not apply.

7. In our day there is no need to go before an "important court of law" ("beit din chashuv"); a prozbul contract may be written up and signed by any court of three Torah scholars ("Sefer HaShmittah").

The following prozbul contract is a translation of the version brought in "Sefer HaTerumot":

Text of prozbul written in the sixth year:
The three of us were in session together, and so-and-so (name of creditor) came before us and said to us: "The shmittah year is approaching and I have outstanding debts - in writing and verbal - that are due me from some people. I am presenting you with a prozbul contract and I am giving it to you as a gift through the possession of four cubits of soil from the land I own, and upon which I give you the right to collect any outstanding debts that are due me. And from now on you shall be my judges, and collect them and receive for me. And if you do not collect them, from here forward, because I have presented you with this prozbul, I shall collect any debt that is due me until this day, from any person and at any time I like."

And we the court of law have heard his words, and have duly authorized him, that [his debts] not be nullified, that he collect all of his debts via this prozbul in accordance with the ordinance introduced by Hillel and the sages. Signed on the (_____) day of the month of (_____), in the year (_____), here in the holy city of (_____).
Judge ________
Judge ________
Judge ________

Text of prozbul written in the seventh year:
The three of us were in session together, and so-and-so (name of creditor) came before us and said to us: "This is the shmittah year and I have outstanding debts - in writing and verbal - that are due me from some people. I am presenting you with a prozbul contract and I am giving it to you as a gift through the possession of four cubits of soil from the land I own, and upon which I give you the right to collect any outstanding debts that are due me. And from now on you shall be my judges, and collect them and receive for me. And if you do not collect them, from here forward, because I have presented you with this prozbul, I shall collect any debt that is due me until this day, from any person and at any time I like."

And we the court of law have heard his words, and have duly authorized him, that [his debts] not be nullified, that he collect all of his debts via this prozbul in accordance with the ordinance introduced by Hillel and the sages. Signed on the (_____) day of the month of (_____), in the year (_____), here in the holy city of (_____).
Judge ________
Judge ________
Judge ________
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