8/20/202341 min read

Shemittah - The Sabbatical Year


1. Introduction

2. Sources

3. Reasons for Shemittah

4. The Status of Shemittah Today

5. The Opinions of the Rishonim

6. Calculating the Shemittah year

7. Forbidden Labor on Shemittah

8. Sefihim – Aftergrowth

9. What is Considered Shemittah Produce?

10. Heter Mekhirah - The Leniency of Selling the Land

11. Otzar Bet Din, The storehouse of the Bet Din

12. Yivul Chul – Produce Imported from Outside Israel

13. Biur – Dispossessing Oneself of Shemittah Produce

14. Practical Guidelines to the Use of Shemittah Produce

15. Annulment of Loans

1. Introduction

One of the greatest challenges in Jewish law is the fulfillment of shemittah, the Sabbatical year of rest for the land of Israel. The laws of shemittah can be divided into four major categories:

a. Laws regarding working the land.

b. Laws of which produce is permitted to be eaten; and what is halakhically preferable.

c. Laws pertaining to the produce of the land.

d. Laws pertaining to shemittat kesafim the lapse of outstanding monetary loans.

Produce grown on land in Israel owned by Jewish farmers may not be sold or consumed in a normal way, fruits and vegetables sold in a Shemittah year may be derived from five sources:

a. Produce grown during the sixth year, to which the laws of the seventh year do not apply.

b. Produce grown on land owned by gentiles in Israel.

c. Produce grown on land outside the halakhic boundaries of Israel (chul).

d. Produce distributed through otsar beit din.

e. Produce grown hydroponically, or in above ground pots that have no holes.

2. Sources

The laws of shemittah are mentioned several times in the Torah:

a. Exodus 23:10-11: ‘You may plant your land for six years and gather its crops. But during the seventh year, you must leave it alone and withdraw from it. The needy among you will then be able to eat just as you do, and whatever is left over can be eaten by wild animals. This also applies to your vineyard and your olive grove.’

b. Leviticus 25:1-7; 20-22: ‘God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a shabbat to God. For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a shabbat of shabbats for the land. It is God’s shabbat during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. Do not harvest crops that grow on their own and do not gather the grapes on your vines, since it is a year of rest for the land. [What grows while] the land is resting may be eaten by you1... and by the employees and residents who live with you. All the crops shall be eaten by the domestic and wild animals that are in your land. And if you will say: What shall we eat the seventh year we may not plant, or gather in our increase? I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years.2 And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat of the stored produce, until the ninth year, until her produce come in.’

c. Deuteronomy 15:1-6: “At the end of every seven years, you shall celebrate the shemittah year. Every creditor shall relinquish any debt owed by his neighbor when God’s shemittah year comes around. You may collect from the alien, but if you have any claim against your brother for a debt, you must relinquish it....”

3. Reasons for Shemittah

A. Ramban and Abarbanel3 stated that shemittah mirrors the existence of this world. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 97a states that: Six thousand years shall the world exist, and one [thousand, the seventh], it shall be desolate till the great jubilee4. Shemittah corresponds to the cycle of seven thousand years. Seven shemittah year cycles are followed by the Jubilee year corresponding to the fifty thousandth year.

B. Sefer Hahinukh provided four reasons for Shemittah:

a) To increase bitahon - trust in God.

b) To increase vatranut - to learn to be easy going and forgive and forget by allowing access to one’s field on shemittah for people to take whatever they need to eat.

c) To increase generosity to each other.

d) Shemittah shows that God is the master of the world. He has the power to start or stop creation.

C. Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim - The Guide to the Perplexed gave three reasons:

a) To increase one’s feeling of mercy for others.

b) To increase empathy with the poor by knowing what it feels like to be landless.

c) To rejuvenate the ground and increase the quality of its fruits.

D. Akeidat Yitzhak does not like this last explanation. He questioned why there are such big penalties for lack of observance if this is the only reason. He stated:

a) Shemittah is to open us up to spiritual awareness from the blindness caused by our physical existence and the materialism around us.

b) Shemittah removes a person from their daily routine to teach us that perfection of our character and not work is the purpose of the world. What is the purpose of all the struggles when in the end everything becomes hefker ownerless? A person should make do with little.

E. Rabenu Behaye explained the reason for shemittah is to remind us that we are not the masters of our property, God is. The land is on loan to us as is everything else.

F. Rabbi Yehudah Halevy explained that the land of Israel is a special, holy land. In this mitzvah it appears as a living entity – ‘The land will rest a Shabbat to God.’ Abarbanel said that this is why the punishment for not keeping shemittah is galut-exile

G. Rabbi Yonatan Eyebeshutz explained that Shemittah comes to atone for the produce which grew by itself on Shabbat during the prior six years. Since produce also grows by itself on Shemittah, Yovel comes to atone for this.

H. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the first chief rabbis of the State of Israel, taught that “what Shabbat achieves regarding the individual, the shmita achieves with regard to the nation as a whole.” In other words, shmita is a time of rest and rejuvenation.

I. Nineteenth-century rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer suggested that the release from toiling in the field for a year gave everyone the opportunity to study Torah or focus on artistic endeavors that would benefit the world. He believed that an important component of shmita was to equalize the status of the rich and poor. This avoids revolutions and social turmoil between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. In an almost totally agrarian society landowners were at an unfair advantage so God ordained six years of ‘capitalism’ followed by one year of ‘communism’.

J. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 39a implied that the purpose of the biblical commandment of shemittah is in order for us to realize that the Land of Israel belongs to God. This idea is further expounded on in Torat Kohanim.5 I have told you to plant for six years then let the land rest for one year, in order that you know that the land belongs to me. However, you did not do so. Therefore, you will be exiled so that the land will rest for the amount of years that are owed to me, as it is written, ‘Then the land will be appeased for its Sabbaths, all the years of desolation it will rest.’

4. The Status of Shemittah Today

The Talmud in Gittin 36a registered its amazement that Hillel would abrogate the Torah law of the release of all debts6 every seventh year by instituting a legal device called a pruzbul by which a person assigns his loans to a Bet Din. A Bet Din’s loans are not abrogated by shemittah. The Talmud explained that according to Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi (Rebbi) the Jubilee year is commanded by the Torah only when most Jews are in the land of Israel. Since at the time of Hillel most Jews did not live in Israel yovel and shemittah did not apply from the Torah. The Sanhedrin enacted a rabbinical law that the remaining Jews in Israel must continue to observe shemittah so that its observance will not be forgotten (prior to the entire Jewish people’s eventual return to the land of Israel). Thus Hillel and his Bet Din enacted a rabbinic exception to a rabbinic law.

Likewise, the Talmud Yerushalmi7 stated:

Even the opinions that tithes are biblically required nowadays; agree that shemittah is only required from the Rabbis…At the time that yovel applied, shemittah also applied from the Torah. But when yovel ceased to apply, the obligation of shemittah was only from the Rabbis. When did yovel cease to apply? ...When the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe were exiled.

From both these sources it appears that shemittah nowadays is only rabbinically mandated since yovel does not apply. There is, however, a third source which seems to differ.

Torat Cohanim:8

From where do we know that one should keep shemittah even though yovel does not apply? The verse says ‘it will be for you the seven years of Shabbat.’ And from where do we know that yovel applies even when shemittah does not? Therefore the verse says, ‘forty nine years,’ these are the words of Rabbi Yehudah. Hakhamim say, shemittah applies even when yovel does not; yovel however, only applies when there is shemittah.

Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud Gittin mentioned above, notes this difference between the Talmud Yerushalmi and Torat Kohanim, and explains that there is a Tannaic debate as to whether shemittah nowadays applies from the Torah or only from the Rabbis.

5. The Opinions of the Rishonim

There are three different opinions among the Rishonim regarding this topic:

a) Ritzba9 and Riva10 were of the opinion that: The obligation of Shemittah today is still from the Torah. The Talmud in Gittin brought the opinion of Rebbi that it is only from the rabbis, we can infer that the Hakhamim argue with him and hold it is from the Torah. This is also clear in Moed Katan 2b where Rebbi's opinion is mentioned and then the opinion of the Hakhamim who argue. According to the rule that the halakhah is like Rebbi against a single colleague but not against a majority11 opinion, the halakhah is like the Hakhamim.12

b) The second, and main opinion, is that of Tosafot,13 Rosh,14 Rashba,15 Sefer Hahinukh16 and other Rishonim that shemittah today is in force by rabbinical edict. Even though Hakhamim are of the opinion that shemittah is from the Torah, nevertheless, Rebbi is not a lone opinion, we find other Tannaim who agree with his view. Some examples are: Rabbi Yossi quoted in the Talmud Yerushalmi,17 and Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon mentioned in Masechet Kiddushin18.

Rambam’s opinion is subject to discussion. On one hand he writes in Hilkhot Shemittah (Chapter 4, Halakhah 25): Shemittah only applies in the land of Israel, the Torah states: ‘When you enter the land which I give you’. This applies whether there is a Bet Hamikdash or whether there is no Bet Hamikdash. Kessef Mishneh19 on this halakhah20 understood that according to Rambam shemittah today is from the Torah. He explained that Rambam either follows the opinion of the Hakhamim who argue with Rebbi; or he understood that Rebbi was only saying that shemittah of money applies from the rabbinical law however, shemittah of land applies from the Torah even today.

However, Kessef Mishneh later on writes21 that according to Rambam shemittah today is a rabbinical edict. He repeats this view in responsa Avkat Rochel22 and in Bet Yosef.23 Since these works were written later it seems that he changed his view. A proof for this opinion is Rambam in Hilkhot Melachim:24

‘The king Messiah will return the kingdom of the house of David to its original state. He will rebuild the Bet Hamikdash, bring all the Jews back to Israel, the laws will return to what they were originally, sacrifices will be offered, and shemittah and yovel will be kept as mentioned in the Torah.’

From here we see that one of the main changes at the time of Messiah is that shemittah will be kept from the Torah. If it was true that today shemittah is from the Torah, then there would be no change at the time of Messiah and it is unnecessary for Rambam to mention it.25

c) Rabbi Zerachya Halevy26 explained that shemittah in our days is no longer an obligation from the rabbis rather it is preferred conduct for the righteous. Even though the halakhah is like Rebbi that shemittah is a rabbinical law since yovel no longer applies, this was said in the days of the Talmud when they still had Batei Din – Halakhic courts of law in Israel who would sanctify the months and years. Since they would sanctify the years as a remembrance of when yovel applied, they would also keep shemittah as a remembrance of when yovel applied. But today, we no longer sanctify months in Bet Din, rather we have fixed calendars, we no longer make any remembrance for yovel. Once we have no remembrance for yovel, then the obligation of shemittah (which was from the Rabbis at that time) became annulled entirely. In the responsa of the Rashbash27 siman 258 four other Rishonim are listed to be of this opinion including Bahag, Meiri (Gittin 36b) also agrees.


All leading rabbinical authorities28 are in agreement that shemittah today is in force by rabbinical edict. This is the opinion of most Rishonim including Rambam and Rav Yosef Karo the author of Shulhan Arukh.

6. Calculating the Shemittah Year

There is a dispute in Arachin 12b between R’ Yehuda and Rabbanan. According to R’ Yehuda, the yovel year - the 50th year of the 50 year Jubilee cycle - counts as the first year of the next 50 year cycle. Therefore, the cycle is really 49 years with the 50th/1st year being a yovel. Rabbanan hold that the cycle is actually 50 years and only after the yovel year does the cycle begin again. The consensus is that, after the destruction of the Temple, the halakhah is like R’ Yehuda that the cycles are 49 years.

Tosafot (Avodah Zara 9b sv hai) quote Rashi that the Temple was destroyed in its 420th year but disagree and are of the opinion that it was destroyed in its 421st year. This dispute is very significant because the Talmud in Arachin says that the year before the Temple was destroyed was shemittah. Therefore, according to Rashi the 419th year of the Temple was shemittah and according to Tosafot the 420th year was shemittah.29

Rambam in Hilkhot shemittah chapter 10 has a slightly more complicated view because he rules like Rabbanan above that the yovel cycle is 50 years. However, in halakhah 5 of that chapter the Rambam says that his view, which is based on his understanding of the texts, is overruled by the Gaonic tradition. The Geonim had a tradition of how this count was actually practiced. The Rambam, in a very important act of intellectual humility, said that even though he did not understand the Geonim's tradition we must follow it. His lack of understanding should not change halakhah. According to the Geonim, the year 5775 (2014-2015) is shemittah.


We observe shemittah according to the calculations of the Geonim and Tosafot, and assume that the Talmud counted from ‘the year of Adam’ and we count from ‘the year of chaos’.30 The difference of one year between our standard count and the Talmud’s is based on from where we begin counting.31

It has been suggested that since shemittah is only a rabbinic obligation today and there are different opinions about which year is shemittah, we should rule safek derabbanan lehakel - when there is a doubt about a rabbinic law we are lenient. Therefore, we should not observe shemittah in any year because there is a doubt whether it is truly a shemittah year.

The simple answer is that there is no doubt. This is a halakhic matter since Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 67:1 ruled like the Geonim, once a ruling is issued and accepted there ceases to be a doubt on the issue.32 We follow the normal methods of determining halakhah and observe shemittah on the year determined by the Geonim, agreed to by the Rambam, and confirmed using Tosafot’s method of counting.

7. Forbidden Labor on Shemittah

Shemittah is a time of rest from doing any work on the land. In the verses mentioned earlier four actions are prohibited by the Torah on shemittah: Sowing, Pruning, Reaping, and Picking. The following labors are a matter of debate:

a) Planting and Plowing

b) Watering

c) Exterminating Pests

a) Planting and Plowing

The Rishonim33 debated whether planting trees and plowing are prohibited by the Torah, or by rabbinical law, even when shemittah was from the Torah. Since shemittah today applies only by rabbinical edict all these labors are prohibited by the rabbis. All other types of labor are also prohibited from the rabbis according to all opinions. Some examples are: hoeing, weeding, clearing stones, fertilizing, and watering.

b) Watering

Labors which were originally prohibited by the Torah are prohibited in all circumstances; whereas those originally rabbinically proscribed are prohibited only when done to enhance the growth of the plants or produce, but when done to prevent damage are permitted. The source of this leniency is the Mishnah in Masechet Moed Katan 2a which states:

It is permitted to water a field which is in constant need of irrigation on hol hamoed and shemittah.

The Talmud 2b gave two explanations as to why this is permitted on shemittah:34

a. The Mishnah is in accordance with the opinion of Rebbi who said that Shemittah today is from the rabbis; therefore, the rabbis were lenient in situations of loss of money (bemakom peseda lo gazru hakhamim).

b. The Mishnah may even be according to Hakhamim, who said that shemittah today is from the Torah; yet it is permitted to water fields since the action of watering on shemittah is only a rabbinical prohibition and in place of loss the rabbis permitted it.

From the words of Rambam35 and other Rishonim36 we see that just as watering is permitted in place of loss, so too any rabbinically proscribed labor is permitted in place of loss. From this the Poskim37 learn that it is permitted to water, fertilize or weed ones garden if the plants will deteriorate without it.38 However, there is a difference of opinion as to how much water is permitted to be used.

Hazon Ish39 stated that only the amount of water needed to keep the plant alive is permitted. Based on this Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu wrote40 that one should consult with a professional as to how much water is really needed for the survival of the plants.

Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul41 was of the opinion that there is no need to minimize the amount of water being used since when the rabbis allowed labor to avoid loss they permitted the labor entirely not just a minimum.

c) Exterminating Pests

The Mishnah in Shemittah 2:2 states:

Smoking the trees is permitted until Rosh Hashanah (of shemittah).

Rash and Rambam in their commentaries on this Mishnah explain that they would place smoke under the trees to kill all the pests that were eating the fruits.

Mishnah Shemittah 2:4 states,

It is permitted to smear the trees with oil until Rosh Hashanah (of shemittah).

Rambam explained that they used to spread bad smelling oil on the trees in order to keep the insects away.

Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul42 learned from these sources that even though some forms of work are permitted on shemittah to protect the plants from deteriorating, nevertheless exterminating bugs is prohibited. Hazon Ish43 explained that although the rabbis allowed different labors to prevent loss, they only permitted labors needed for general problems, not those needed for a particular individual’s problems44.

Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch writes45 that when there is a real fear that the insects will destroy the tree or field it is permitted to exterminate as necessary. He adds that the custom is to permit extermination in case of loss. Today exterminating is considered necessary to keep the plants from deteriorating, just like watering.46

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef Shlita47 concludes that since shemittah today is rabbinical, it is permitted to exterminate insects in order to prevent deterioration only if one is sure that there will be damage if no pesticides are used. One should not apply pesticide as a precaution like is done on all other years.

8. Sefihim – Aftergrowth


a) What are sefihim?

b) Why are sefihim prohibited?

c) Exceptions to the rule

a) What are Sefihim?

The Torah commands us in Vayikra 25:5-6, ‘The sefiah of your harvest you shall not reap.’ This is a prohibition against reaping all produce for storage or sale. However, it is permitted to pick or harvest what is needed for immediate personal use48 as the Torah continues: ‘The Shabbat produce of the land shall be yours to eat’. Nevertheless, the Rabbis made a decree on sefihim and forbade them to be eaten on shemittah.

The word sefiah is an expression of ‘attachment’. In reference to our discussion it means, ‘that which is attached to the previous harvest’ i.e. seeds which fell from growing produce during harvesting and took root by themselves. It is also referred to as ‘all spontaneous growth’ and refers to produce which grew from roots left in the ground after the last harvest. Even though the original roots grew from seeds that were sown intentionally, nevertheless, the second time the growth was spontaneous. Wild herbs or vegetables are examples of sefihim, since they grow by themselves.49

Fruit of trees are also considered sefihim, since they grow on their own. Even though the tree was planted intentionally, the fruit that grows year after year is considered a spontaneous growth. However, not all sefihim are prohibited as will be explained.

b) Why are Sefihim prohibited?

Rambam wrote:50

Anything which grows on the seventh year; whether from seeds which fell in the field before shemittah or from the roots which were cut earlier and then grew back are called sefiah... By rabbinical edict all sefihim are prohibited to be eaten…so that people who do not adhere to the laws of Shemittah will not be able to go and plant grain or vegetation privately and claim that they are sefihim.

Since the reason of the Rabbis was to stop people from planting on shemittah year in order to eat, the decree was only on plants that need to be planted anew every year - annuals. However sefihim from perennials - plants that produce fruit every year, are allowed. Even though these new fruits are sefihim, we do not suspect that a new tree will be planted for its fruits since it takes more than a year to bear fruits. Therefore there is no reason to prohibit the sefihim of all fruits including bananas. 51

It is important to note that since Torah Law allows all produce on shemittah, everything that grows - even sefihim that are prohibited to be eaten have kedushat Shevi’it and need to be treated accordingly.

c) Exceptions to the Rule

There are different situations where the Rabbis did not prohibit sefihim, we will list a few:

a. Sefihim from lands owned by gentiles. – The rabbis did not prohibit sefihim that grew on land of a gentile. Since the owner is not commanded to keep the laws of shemittah52 he will not transgress the laws of shemittah even if he planted intentionally.

b. Sefihim from land in Israel which was not occupied by Jews returning from Babylonian exile. Rambam wrote53 that any lands that were conquered by the returnees from the Babylonian exile54 are prohibited to be worked and all sefihim which grow on them are prohibited to be eaten. However, lands that were conquered by returnees from Egypt, even though they are prohibited to be worked on shemittah, their sefihim are permitted.55

c. Sefihim grown on the sixth and harvested on the seventh. Even though vegetables gain shemittah status only when harvested during shemittah there are different opinions amongst the Rishonim as to when sefihim begin to be prohibited: Rashi and Rambam56 are of the opinion that the law of sefihim depends on the time of harvesting. If sefihim were harvested on shemittah they are prohibited even if their main growth was on the sixth.

Tosafot stated that we go by the main growth. Even though the sefihim have shemittah status, if their major growth was on the sixth they are not prohibited, however if their major growth was on Shemittah then they are prohibited.

The view of the Rash57 is similar to that of Tosafot but he holds that the deciding factor is the beginning of growth.58 Sefihim which began their growth on the sixth are permitted even though they have shemittah status, only those which began their growth on shemittah are prohibited.

The authorities of our time have different opinions as to the halakhah:

a. Hazon Ish wrote59 that since shemittah today is rabbinical, we are lenient60 to allow all sefihim which began their growth on the sixth year even though they have shemittah status.

b. Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul61 and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu62 wrote that for Sepharadim the halakhah is like the Rambam. Since the Shulhan Arukh did not reveal his opinion we follow Rambam as he is considered the main authority in eastern countries. Only in desperate situations can one eat sefihim which were grown on the sixth year.

c. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef writes that Shulhan Arukh did not follow the opinion of the Rambam blindly; he had rules of how to come to a halakhic conclusion as he wrote in his introduction to Bet Yosef. Since shemittah today is by rabbinical edict and there are many Rishonim who agree with Rash, including Rosh, the halakhah is that one may be lenient to eat sefihim that grew partially on the sixth.

9. Heter Mechirah, The Leniency of Selling the Land


a) Shemittah observance on land of a gentile in halakhic Eretz Yisrael – yivul nochri

b) Lo Tehonem, the prohibition of selling land in Israel to a gentile

c) Relying on heter mechirah today

a) Shemittah Observance on Land of a Gentile in Halakhic Eretz Yisrael –Yivul Nochri

The Talmud in Gittin 47a relates an argument as to whether the acquisition of a gentile of land has the power to remove the obligation of tithes from the fruits grown on his land:

Rabbah said: Although an idolater can have no ownership of land in Israel with respect to exempting it from the obligation of ma’aser, for it is stated: ‘For the land is mine’63 which means that the sanctity of the land is mine; But an idolater can have ownership of land in Israel with respect to digging in it pits, ditches or caves, for it is stated: ‘As for the heavens – the heavens are God’s, but the land He has given to mankind.’64

Rabbi Elazar said: An idolater can have ownership of land in Israel with respect to exempting it from the obligation of ma’aser, for it is stated: ‘Your grain’65 (is subject to ma’aser), but not the grain of an idolater. An idolater can have no ownership in Israel with respect to digging pits, ditches or caves, beacause: ‘The land is God’s.’66 On what issue do they disagree? Rabbi Elazar holds, ‘Deganecha – Your grain’ and not the grain of an idolater. (Therefore, grain that grows on an idolater’s property is exempt from ma’aser.) But Rabbah holds that the phrase is interpreted as ‘Digunecha – Your completing of the grain in your possession’ and not the idolaters completing of the grain in his possession.67 (Therefore, grain that is completed while under ownership of an idolater is exempt from ma’aser, but grain that grows in an idolater’s property but the final harvesting and separating was done by a Jew is subject to ma’aser.)

Rambam in Hilkhot Terumot (Chapter 1, Halakhah 10) wrote:

Land in Israel acquired by a gentile remains holy and all mitzvot apply to it. Therefore, if a Jew were to re-acquire it, all tithes: terumot, ma’asrot, bikkurim apply as if the land was never sold to a gentile.

Rambam stated that as long as the land is still in the possession of a gentile it is exempt from all obligations: terumah, ma’aser, bikkurim and Shemittah. Rabbi Yosef Karo, in his response Avkat Rochel68 and in Kesef Mishneh69, quoted a Talmud Yerushalmi (Shemittah end of chapter 9) in support of this which relates:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would command his student: “Only buy vegetables from the land of Sisera for me.”70 Eliyahu Hanavi came to the student and told to him: “Tell your master, this field of Sisera, belonged to a Jew, and Sisera stole the land from him. If you want to be strict on yourself do like your friends.”

Kesef Mishneh explained that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi wanted to buy produce from land that was never owned by a Jew so that he would definitely not have a problem of eating produce of Shemittah. Eliyahu Hanavi came to him and said that the land of Sisera was originally taken from Jews, but nevertheless its fruits are permitted since now it is owned and worked by gentiles. Therefore, even if he wants to be strict he should do like his friends and buy from any land that is presently owned by a gentile. We see that as long as the land is presently owned by a gentile it is exempt from all obligations even though it belonged to a Jew prior.

In Avkat Rochel, Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote that the custom in Israel from earlier times was to consider the fruits of gentiles of non-shemittah status. However, if the grain was harvested and stored by a Jew, even if he does not actually own the land, it would be obligated to separate ma’aser even in the Shemittah year, as Rambam stated in Hilkhot Terumot.71 He concluded that the Rabbis of Sefat decreed excommunication on anyone who does not tithe terumot and ma’asrot from produce of a gentile which was completed by a Jew on the Shemittah year. Conversely in Kesef Mishneh72 he wrote that the Rabbis of Sefat decreed that anyone who would tithe terumah and ma’aser from fruits of a gentile (during the other years of the Shemittah cycle) that were completed by the gentile, would be excommunicated.

Mabit73 was of the opinion that when Rabbah in the Talmud said, that a gentile can have no ownership of land in Israel with respect to exempting it from the obligation of ma’aser, he was also referring to the time that the gentile owns the land. According to this, fruits from gentile owned land in Israel have Shemittah status and are obligated in terumah and ma’aser on the rest of the years of the Shemittah cycle.

This argument directly affects the heter mechirah. According to Mabit, even if the land is sold to a gentile it still has shemittah status and business cannot be done with its produce. However, according to Rabbi Yosef Karo land owned by a gentile, does not have shemittah status hence it is permitted to conduct regular business with its produce.

Hazon Ish74 ruled to be strict like both opinions: to treat produce grown on gentile owned lands with the sanctity of shemittah as well as separating terumah and ma’aser when the final harvesting process is done by a Jew. This ruling was adopted first by the religious families of Bnei Brak and is popularly called Minhag Hazon Ish.

The rabbis of Jerusalem, on the other hand, embraced the opinion of the Bet Yosef that produce farmed on land owned by gentiles has no sanctity. This opinion is now called Minhag Yerushalayim (the custom of Jerusalem), and was adopted by many Haredi families, and by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

These respective opinions are reflected in the way the various kashrut certifying organizations publicize their Shemittah and non-Shemittah produce. The Edah HaCharedit, which follows Minhag Yerushalayim, buys produce from gentile farms in Israel and sells it as ‘non-Shemittah produce.’ The Shearit Yisrael certifying organization, which subscribes to Minhag Hazon Ish, also buys from gentile farmers in Israel, but labels the produce so that customers who keep Minhag Chazon Ish will treat these fruits and vegetables with appropriate sanctity.

b) Lo Tehonem, the prohibition of selling land in Israel to a gentile

Is there a prohibition of selling land to an idolater in Israel?

The source is a Mishnah in Masechet Avodah Zara75:

We do not sell plants that are attached to the ground to idolaters, but one may sell them plants once they have been harvested. Rabbi Yehudah says: One may sell them plants on condition that they will be harvested.

The Talmud then goes on to give us the source of this conduct:

From where do we know this (that it is prohibited to sell land)? Rabbi Yose bar Hanina said: For it is stated ‘Lo Tehonem’ – You shall not give them a holding in the land’ (from the word hanaya – a holding).

But this verse of Lo Tehonem is needed; this is what the Merciful One is saying: You shall not give them favor (from the word hen - favor)76? If so, let the verse say: Lo Tehunem, why say Lo Tehonem? We may learn from this that both teachings may be derived from this verse. This verse is needed, the Merciful One is saying: You shall not give them a free gift (from the word hinam – free)? If so let the verse say: Lo Tehinem, what does the verse say Lo Tehonem? We may learn from this that all three teachings are derived from this verse.

From this Talmud we learn that there are three prohibitions to pagans extracted from the verse Lo Tehonem. a. Not to sell them land in Israel, b. Not to show them favor, c. Not to give them free gifts. These halakhot are quoted by Rambam77 and Shulhan Arukh.78 This being so, it would seem that it is prohibited to sell the fields to a gentile in order to remove the obligations of Shemittah.

However, there are four reasons given by Poskim as to why it is allowed to sell land in Israel to a gentile:

a. The Rishon Lesiyon, Rabbi Meyuhas son of Rabbi Shemuel, in his work Mizbah Adama79 wrote that it is only prohibited to sell land to an idolater. However, gentiles who do not worship idols, such as the Ishmaelites80, are not included in this prohibition. It is therefore permitted to sell the fields to an Ishmaelite for the shemitta year. This is also mentioned by Rashba81 and Meiri82. Bet Yosef,83 however, wrote that when the Tur mentioned the prohibition of giving gifts to an idolater, it was not to exclude an Ishmaelite, rather to exclude gentiles who do not keep the seven Noahide laws. This is also his opinion in Shulhan Arukh84 that it is prohibited to give a gift to any gentile who does not keep the seven Noahide laws. The Mizbah Adama made mention of this difficulty and suggests that there is a difference between giving gifts for no reason, which is prohibited to all gentiles unless they keep the seven Noahide laws; and the prohibition of selling land in Israel which only applies to idolaters. The explanation of this difference stems from the reasons given for these prohibitions. Rambam85 wrote that the prohibition of allowing an idolater to dwell in our land is in order for us not to learn their false philosophies, as it states: ‘they shall not dwell in your land lest they make you sin to Me if you worship their gods.’86 The reason for not giving gifts, on the other hand, is simply not to associate too much with them. This applies whether they are idolaters or not.87

b. Responsa Yeshuot Malko88 stated89 that even though it is prohibited to sell land in Israel to a gentile, when it is done for the benefit of Jewish settlement there is no prohibition. This idea is already found in the Rishonim. Tosafot wrote90 that it is permitted to give a gift to a gentile who is an acquaintance, since the Jew who is giving the gift will eventually benefit from it.

In Hilkhot Shabbat91 we find that one who lended or rented his animal to a gentile on condition that he returned it before Shabbat, and in the end the gentile kept it by him for Shabbat, should render the animal ownerless or say that his animal is given to the gentile so that he will not transgress the commandment of having one’s animal rest on Shabbat. Mor Uksia asked, how could he give the animal to the gentile, is it not included in the prohibition of giving gifts to a gentile? Petah Hadevir answered: since he is giving it for his own sake in order not to sin, it is not considered a free gift.

c. Hazon Ish92 argued that there is no proof from the Rishonim since they were talking about giving gifts and not about selling land. The prohibition of giving gifts is only when there is no reason for it, as the Talmud calls it matanat hinam – free gift’, therefore when there is a purpose and a gain from it, the Torah permits it. However, the prohibition of selling land to a gentile is so that he will not have a hold in the land. This does not depend on whether the Jew benefits from it or not. The biggest proof to this is that whenever a person sells his land it is usually for benefit, because he is in need of the money, nevertheless it is prohibited.

d. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef wrote93 that this would be true if the sale of the land would be a sale forever; in our situation the gentile knows he will be selling back the land after shemittah and the sale is to temporarily waive the laws of shemittah from the land, thus it is permitted. This reason is also brought by Shabbat Haaretz94 who points out that by doing this we are actually strengthening Jewish hold on the land since without the sale people will refrain from buying fields.

e. Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, in his Shabbat Haaretz95 stated that there is no prohibition in selling land to a gentile who already owns land in Israel since he already has a hold in the land.

Today, the Chief Rabbinate makes sure to carry out this sale to a gentile who already owns land in Israel, therefore meeting all of these conditions.

c) Relying on Heter Mechirah Today

We find a wide spectrum of opinions as to the validity of the heter mechirah.96

a. Hazon Ish wrote97 that the heter mechirah is completely invalid since it is prohibited to sell land to a gentile. He did not rely on any of the reasons given above, since none of them are fully proven to be true and it is a biblical prohibition. Even if the landowners appoint the Chief Rabbinate to be their messenger to sell the land on their behalf, we have a rule that a person cannot appoint a messenger to do a sin.98 Accordingly, all fruits and vegetables that grow on gentile lands remain Shemittah produce and any agricultural work done on the land is prohibited99. Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch writes100 that according to Hazon Ish it is prohibited to purchase these fruits101 as it is prohibited to do business with produce of shemittah.102 It is interesting to note, that according to Hazon Ish, if the owner of the field himself would sell the land to a gentile the sale would be valid, even though he sinned, and it is permitted to purchase his fruits.103

b. Rav Bension Abba Shaul104 agreed that it is not a valid sale. One of his reasons is that unlike the customary sale of hametz to a gentile before Pesach, which if the gentile would want to buy the hametz and not return it, people would agree to sell it to him; here it is obvious that the seller has no intention to sell. Even if the buyer offered an exorbitant amount of money, no one would agree to sell their land under any normal circumstances. Therefore, it is obvious that this transaction is not done with the intention of sale; it is merely a gimmick to waive the laws of Shemittah from the land.105 Therefore it is better not to buy the fruits of heter mechirah for a few reasons: 1) Since one is supporting a person who sins to continue sinning; 2) One is giving the money, which is going to have shemittah status, to someone who is not careful of the kedushah of shemittah; 3) Not to do business with shemittah produce. However, in times of need one is permitted to buy these fruits but should be careful not to weigh them. In a situation where one is invited to an acquaintance that has fruits from heter mechirah, it is permissible to eat them as long as they are treated with proper Shemittah holiness and ma’aser is separated from them before eating.106

c. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach wrote107 that even one who is strict and does not rely on heter mechirah is permitted to buy the fruits and eat them with Shemittah status.108 His source is the Mabit,109 who was of the opinion that fruits of a gentile have shemittah status, and nevertheless wrote that it is permitted to buy these fruits from those who do not treat them with shemittah status. His reason is that since they rely on their Rabbis, it is not considered as though we are causing them to sin even though we are of the opinion that it is prohibited. This also seems also to be the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein110 who allowed one who did not rely on heter mechirah to buy etrogim from shemittah which were grown on lands sold through heter mechirah.

d. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu wrote111 that if not for the heter mechirah we would have to suspect that all the money in Israel could have Shemittah status according to the Talmud in Succah112:

If a person takes fruits of shemittah, and exchanges them for meat, both have shemittah status; if he went ahead and changed the meat for fish, the shemittah holiness leaves the meat and goes onto the fish, and so on. This is the rule: the last item has shemittah status and the produce always remains shemittah produce.

Since most people in Israel buy shemittah fruits in the market, the money that was used to pay for the shenittah produce gets shemittah status. If the owner goes ahead and deposits that money in the bank, the next person that receives it will have to treat it with shemittah status and whatever they buy with it will be considered to have shemittah status, this cycle is never ending113. Without the heter mekhirah we would not be allowed to use cash on Shemittah for this reason. Therefore, he concluded, even though one should preferably not rely on heter mechirah to consider the produce not to have any shemittah status at all, however, we do rely on it in different situations where we have no choice. Due to this, he writes, a person should be careful not to say that he does not rely on heter mechirah, since this may be considered a vow by the Shulchan Arukh.114

e. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef115 was of the opinion that landowners are permitted to rely on heter mechirah for in case of financial hardship. They are allowed to work the land, sell their fruits and export them to other countries as usual.116 However, it is very praiseworthy if one is able to keep the Shemittah laws with no leniency. Regarding purchasing the produce of heter mechirah one may rely on lenient opinions but it is better not to, especially since it is easy to find other produce that are fully permitted.

10. Otzar Bet Din, The Storehouse of the Bet Din

Topics to be discussed:

a) Sources

b) Otzar Bet Din today

a) Sources

The source of this concept is found in the Tosefta117:

In former days the agents of bet din would sit at the entrance of each city. When anyone brought produce into the city, they would take the produce to be stored in the city storehouse. However, they would leave the person with enough produce for three meals.

The Tosefta continues118:

When figs ripen, agents of bet din hire workers to harvest them and make fig cakes out of them and then store them in the city storehouse. When grapes ripen, agents of bet din hire workers to harvest them, tread them in the wine vat, and pour the wine into barrels. Then they store the barrels in the city storehouse. When olives ripen, agents of bet din hire workers to harvest them, press them in the olive press, and poor the oil into barrels. Then they store the barrels in the city storehouse. Every Shabbat these products are distributed according to the need of each household.

This Tosefta is quoted by Ramban119, in his commentary on the Torah. He explained that at the beginning when the fruits were starting to grow Bet Din would sit at the entrance of the city and confiscate the incomers’ fruits.120 Later, when the time of harvesting arrived they would send messengers to pick all the fruits and would store them in their wharehouses. The reason this was done was so that the people would not transgress the prohibition of doing business with Shemittah fruits or storing them until after the time of biur.

Ramban points out that the fruits of otzar bet din are exempt from the law of biur, the reason for this is since the whole idea of biur (according to Ramban) is to make the fruits ownerless, when they are in the hands of bet din they are ownerless and therefore are permitted to everyone even after the time of biur121.

Rambam, on the other hand, did not make mention of this Tosefta at all. Radbaz122 suggested that this may be either because he did not agree that this idea is permitted according to the Talmud or because it only applied at a time that bet din had storage houses and in his time it did not really pertain. However, Or Lesion123 pointed out that even if this idea is permitted according to Rambam, it will not allow the produce after the time of biur, since Rambam was of the opinion that biur is done by destroying the fruits.

b) Otzar Bet Din Today

Today instead of bet din sending their messengers to the fields, they simply appoint the owner of the field, together with the wholesaler and retailer, as their proxies to give out the fruits to the people according to their needs. The payment that is collected is not for the produce, but for the labor of the workers who harvested and transported the fruits from the field to the people.

Questions are raised regarding the validity of this institution:

a. As mentioned earlier, the opinion of the Rambam is unclear and maybe he does not permit Otsar Bet Din.

b. Who permitted the owner of the field to be appointed to do all the regular forms of work? It will not seem that he has left his field ownerless?

c. From the Tosefta it seems that they would give out the fruits free of charge, today it is like business for money?

d. The Tosefta says that they would only give each person enough for three meals. Today it is possible to buy as much as a person wants?

For these reasons, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu stated124 that he does not like to rely on otzar bet din the way it is presently run. However, he continued, that if heter mechirah was also done on these lands then by combining both these ideas together it is permitted to buy fruits as usual.125

Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul is against the use of otzar bet din for the reason that Rambam does not seem to agree with it. However, this restriction is only for the owner of the field since according to Rambam it is not considered that he made his field ownerless, however others are allowed to purchase the fruits since the owner was following a legitimate opinion.

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef writes126 that since it has been the custom in the past few generations to rely on otzar bet din, and according to the second answer of the Radbaz even according to Rambam this institution is valid, there is no reason to question it. Furthermore, it is not absolutely clear from the Tosefta that it was done with no charge; it could be that the bet din would charge expenses. Therefore, even if the payment reaches almost the same price as the fruits would normally cost, since the payment is only for the work that went into bringing the fruits and not for the fruits themselves it is allowed. Nevertheless, it needs to be noticeable that these are ownerless fruits; they therefore need to be cheaper than usual.

In cases where Otzar Bet Din prices are the same or higher, there is a real concern that business is being done with fruits of shemittah. Then, someone who is usually strict not to eat from fruits of heter mechirah, is advised in such circumstances to annul their vow127 and consume heter mechirah produce.

11. Yivul Chul – Produce Imported from Outside Israel

In many supermarkets in Israel imported produce is sold in order to avoid any problems of Shemittah produce. This seems to be the best solution, however, it has drawbacks.

The Mishnah in shemittah128 states:

It is prohibited to sell fruits of Shemittah by measure, weight or number.

The Rash129 in his commentary on this Mishnah quoted the Talmud Yerushalmi130 which says that this prohibition applies also to fruits from outside of Israel. This is also quoted by Rambam131:

Imported fruits from outside Israel may not be sold by measure, weight or number; rather have to be sold like the fruits of Israel. However if it is obvious they are fruits from outside Israel it is permitted to sell them in a normal manner.

Due to this, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu132 and Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch133 both question what has become the custom to allow this produce to be sold regularly in Israel. This is especially extraordinary since it is usually the stricter kashrut organizations who utilize this option.

We find a few answers given by the poskim:

a. Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch suggests134 since they are sold in specific stores which only sell fruits which do not have Shemittah status; it is noticeable that they are from out of Israel and are permitted to be sold normally. However, he questions this, since the simple understanding in the words of the Rambam is that it is noticeable from the fruits themselves and not because there is a sign which makes it known. This difficulty is also mentioned by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.135

b. The Eretz HaHaim wrote136 that what the Rambam forbade was only for the time that Shemittah applied from the Torah; however now that Shemittah is from the Rabbis it does not apply.

c. Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook wrote137 that the law of the Rambam applied only when most of the fruits in Israel were produced by Jews thereby giving them Shemittah status, only then was it prohibited to sell fruits from outside Israel in the regular way since people will confuse them with Shemittah fruits and will cause them to think that even Shemittah fruits are permitted to be sold in the regular way. Nowadays, however, since most of the produce is grown on lands owned by gentiles138 that do not have Shemittah status, people will no longer think that these are Shemittah fruits. This logic is also quoted in the name of Rabbi Tikutzinsky.139

12. Biur – Dispossessing Oneself of Shemittah Produce

Topics to be discussed:

a) Sources

b) How is biur performed?

c) The custom today

a) Sources

The Talmud in Masechet Taanit140 states:

Rabbi Nahman bar Yitzhak states…We learned in the Mishnah; until when can one benefit from hay and straw of Shemittah, until the second quarter [of rain] falls. What is the reason? It is written ‘And for your animal and for the wild animal that is in your land’, as long as the wild animal is eating in the fields [any specific produce], you may feed domesticated animals in your property [that specific produce]; but when there is no more for the wild animal in the fields [of that produce], then there should be no more in your house as well.

Since the time for biur depends on the time that each fruit ceases to be found in the fields, each fruit has its own time of biur. For example, Rambam writes that the time of biur for grapes (which includes all wines) is Pesach of the following year. Due to this, there are lists put out by the different hechsherim with the times of biur for all the different types of fruits and vegetables. The otsar bet din system is structured in such a way that biur remains the responsibility of members of individual households and hence warehoused produce does not have to be moved to a public place or reclaimed at biur time. Households only have to perform biur on produce they receive before the biur time, not on produce they receive after it.

b) How is Biur Performed?

Among the Rishonim we find different views as to how the obligation of biur is carried out:141

a. Ramban wrote142 that the idea of biur is to remove the fruits of Shemittah from one’s possession and to render them hefker - ownerless. Once this is done, it is permitted to retake these fruits into ones possession and eat them. This is also the opinion of Rash and Rosh.143

b. Rambam understood that the obligation of biur is to give away and then destroy the Shemittah fruits which remain. He wrote144 that after the time of biur the fruits are prohibited to be eaten by rich and poor alike, therefore, during the time of biur one should give out all the fruits for immediate consumption. Any leftovers should be destroyed. This also seems to be the opinion of Rashi.145

If one saved fruits, in order to eat them after the time of biur passed without rendering them ownerless all agree that the fruits are prohibited to be eaten.

c) The Custom Today

Hazon Ish wrote146 that since shemittah today is rabbinical we may be lenient like the opinion of Ramban and Rash. Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook147 notes that one who is strict to destroy the shemittah fruits, like the opinion of Rambam, could transgress Bal Tashhit as well as the prohibition of destroying fruits of shemittah.148

Among Ashkenazim: The custom is to be lenient and fulfill biur by rendering the fruits ownerless and then reacquiring them.149

Among Sepharadim we find a difference of opinions:

Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul wrote150 that Sepharadim are required to follow the opinion of the Rambam since the Shulhan Arukh did not reveal his opinion on the matter.151 Therefore, when the time of biur arrives one may distribute the leftover fruits to different people giving each one at most a portion enough for three meals. Any leftovers have to be destroyed. Only in a case of a great monetary loss may one be lenient.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef152 and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu153 held that the custom in Israel was and is to be lenient like the Ramban and Rash.

This halakhah mostly applies to wines from Shemittah year that are from Otzar Bet Din. Rambam wrote that the time of biur for grapes and wine is Pesach. Therefore, one who has wine with Shemittah status, according to Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul can save three portions for himself for Pesach and either give out the rest or destroy it. However Yalkut Yosef writes154 according to the majority of Poskim and the custom today, on Erev Pesach one should render the wine ownerless in front of three people and then reacquire it. If one forgot to do so, it can still be done until the seventh day of Pesach.155

Practical Guidelines to the Use of Shemittah Produce

a. Produce of Shemittah must be used in their usual manner. This means that fruits usually eaten raw may not be cooked, and fruits usually eaten cooked may not be eaten raw. Fruits not usually squeezed may not be squeezed. Fruits usually eaten by people may not be given to animals156.

b. One may give a child fruit of shemittah even though it is most likely that he will spoil part of it, making it unedible157. Likewise, it is permitted to mash fruit for young children or for the elderly since for them it is the normal way of consumption158.

c. Produce of Shemittah should be treated as hefker, ownerless, and should not be withheld from the public. Ideally, gates to fields and orchards should be left open and permission given for anyone to harvest. However, since most people don’t know how to pick fruit without destroying the trees, tree owners can insist on picking fruit themselves for those who request it. Fruit under the auspices of an Otzar Bet Din should not be taken without its permission. There are some authorities who prohibit consumption of any produce that is guarded during Shemittah159 however, the custom is to be lenient160.

d. Produce of Shemittah is not permitted to be sold in its usual commercial manner. This means that it should not be sold in regular stores, where it is weighed and/or sold for profit in its usual manner. Furthermore, the money used to buy produce of Shemittah becomes sanctified, and whatever is bought with that money must be treated in the same sanctified manner as produce of Shemittah.

e. Likewise, one may not use produce of Shemittah to repay any loans. Due to this many authorities write that one should not fulfill his obligation of Mishloah Manot on Purim with Shemittah produce. However, once one has already sent one Mishloah Manot then for the second one he is permitted to use Shemittah produce since he no longer has an obligation161.

f. All authorities agree that it is not permissible to destroy produce of shemittah, as long as it is fit for consumption.162 However, it is permitted to wash dishes that still have bits of shemittah food on it as long as that is the usual practice.163 Leftover food should be put into a bag and discarded only after it spoils164. If this is impossible, it should be double wrapped and then discarded165. Cooked food may be disposed of if it was left unrefrigerated for an entire night and has spoiled. Similarly, an etrog grown during shemittah may be discarded in this fashion after being used during Succot.

g. There is a requirement that shemittah produce be consumed for personal use and not be sold or put in the trash. For this reason, there are a variety of special rules regarding the religious use of products that are normally made from agricultural produce. Some authorities hold that Hannukah candles may not be made from shemittah oils because the light of Hannukah candles is not supposed to be used for personal use, while Shabbat candles can be because their light can be used for personal use.166 However, there are also many authorities who permit the use of shemittah oil for Hannukah candles especially when no other oil is found167. For similar reasons, some authorities hold that if the Havdalah ceremony is performed using wine made from shemittah grapes, the cup should be drunk completely and the candle should not be dipped into the wine to extinguish the flame as is normally done168 there are others who permit overfilling the cup and using the wine to extinguish the flame169.

h. Halakhic authorities prohibit removing produce with Sabbatical sanctity (shemittah produce) from the Land of Israel or purchasing such produce outside the land of Israel170. In addition, some authorities hold that tourists should be careful not to carry such produce on an airplane leaving Israel even for consumption mid-air.

i. Under normal circumstances, produce of Shemittah should not be exported. It is for this reason that exported Israeli fresh produce and Israeli manufactured goods must clearly state that they are shemittah-free. For this reason most authorities prohibit the export of etrogim for Succot unless they are from lands under the Heter Mechira or under gentile ownership171. When products come to foreign markets from the land of Israel, one should look for a reliable kosher certification.

j. At the end of the season (for each type of fruit or vegetable the time differs), one is required to remove from his possession all produce of Shemittah. This requirement is called biur172. The custom is to take all produce at the end of the season into the street, in front of three people, and declare it ownerless. The same person may take it back into his own possession. (See above).

13. Annulment of Loans

Outstanding loans between individual Jews are cancelled on the last day of the shemittah year (Devarim 15). Any loan outstanding before the last day of shemittah can be collected up to this date only. Hillel the Elder, in the first century BCE, was concerned that wealthy people would stop lending to the poor prior to shemittah year as the loans would not be collectible173 after shemittah thereby transgressing a Torah command, “…lend money to My people, to the poor among you…” (Shemot 22:24). The entire world depends on doing acts of kindness Tehillim 89:3 says, “The world is built on loving kindness.” The Mitzvah of shemittah in Hillel’s time was only a Rabbinic Mitzvah because the majority of the Jewish People did not live in the Land of Israel in his time.174 He therefore developed a device known as Pruzbul175 in which the debt is transferred to a Bet Din (religious court). When owed to the court rather than to an individual, the debt survives the Sabbatical year.176

a) At the end of the seventh year of the shemittah cycle, all loans are nullified including credit agreements and wage agreements that have been converted to loan agreements. (As the guidelines regarding rental agreements that have been converted to loan agreements are complex, it is best to make a Pruzbul in such cases.)

b) One who wishes to collect his loans after the shemittah year must make a Pruzbul before the time that the loans are nullified (i.e. the end of the shemittah year). Typically, this is done during the month of Elul.

c) The lender asks three men to sit as judges on a Bet Din. (The individuals must be Torah observant men who are not related to one another, to the lender or to the borrower.) The lender declares before them: “I submit to you judges in this place all of the loans that I have outstanding, and I therefore may collect these loans at any time that I desire.” The lender then fills in the Pruzbul form as evidence that he made a Pruzbul. Or the lender asks two men to serve as witnesses. (The individuals must be Torah observant men who are not related to one another, to the lender or to the borrower.) The lender declares before them: “You are my witnesses that I am submitting all of the loans that I have outstanding to the ________ Beth Din and I therefore may collect these loans at any time that I desire.” The lender then fills in the Pruzbul form attached as evidence that he made a Pruzbul, and sends the form to the Beth Din.

d) One may make one Pruzbul for all of the loans past due that he has extended. Therefore, the name(s) of the borrower(s) is/are omitted from the Pruzbul forms.

e) The borrower must have (even through “sechirut” a rental agreement) a lien on some amount of land on which the Pruzbul can attach a lien, even a small amount of land. If one suspects that the borrower has no land, the lender may “gift” land to the borrower from his own land. This is accomplished by one of the judges (or witnesses) handing a handkerchief to the lender by which all of the borrowers acquire a small amount of land from the lender.

f) The date that the Pruzbul is written must be recorded. The Pruzbul is effective for all loans made before that date. If one makes a loan after the date of the Pruzbul, a new Pruzbul must be written for that loan. If the lender suspects that he will not find suitable judges for a new Pruzbul, he should lend the money and stipulate that he cannot collect the money until the Third of Tishrei which is after the completion of the seventh year.

g) Both men and women are obligated to perform a Pruzbul. A married woman only needs to perform a Pruzbul if she has made loans with her separate assets.

h) If one writes a Pruzbul and it gets lost, he does not have to write a new Pruzbul to replace the lost one.177