Shmita Sourcebook Section III: Codifying The Sabbatical — An Overview of Rabbinic Laws and Clarifications (Part 2)

If you haven't yet, check out section 3 part 1 of Hazon's Shmita Sourcebook.


The Shmita Year was directly linked to economic systems, as much as it was to agricultural systems. Similar to agriculture, our economic systems are a clear reflection on society’s wider values and priorities, especially in terms of how we determine wealth and its measurements. At its core, an economy is a collection of societal agreements based upon on how people come together to produce, consume, and exchange products, commodities, and services. So in this section, we explore Sabbatical economics and its systems of exchange. How was the marketplace affected during this Shmita Year? How did business transactions and monetary use change during this time period? What was the nature of the debt release? How were relationships between rich and poor affected? And perhaps most important, what were the interpersonal dynamics between giver and receiver, between producer and consumer, on this year, and during the other six years, in anticipation of the Shmita Year?

1. Sale of Produce

(א) אֵין עוֹשִׂין סְחוֹרָה בְּפֵרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית. וְאִם רָצָה לִמְכֹּר מְעַט מִפֵּרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית מוֹכֵר. וְאוֹתָן הַדָּמִים הֲרֵי הֵן כְּפֵרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית וְיִלָּקַח בָּהֶן מַאֲכָל וְיֵאָכֵל בִּקְדֻשַּׁת שְׁבִיעִית. וְאוֹתוֹ הַפְּרִי הַנִּמְכָּר הֲרֵי הוּא בִּקְדֻשָּׁתוֹ כְּשֶׁהָיָה:

(ב) לֹא יִהְיֶה לוֹקֵחַ יַרְקוֹת שָׂדֶה וּמוֹכֵר. וְלֹא יִצְבַּע מִקְּלִפֵּי שְׁבִיעִית בְּשָׂכָר. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁזֶּה עוֹשֶׂה סְחוֹרָה בְּפֵרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית. לָקַח יְרָקוֹת לֶאֱכל וְהוֹתִיר מֻתָּר לִמְכֹּר הַמּוֹתָר וְהַדָּמִים שְׁבִיעִית. וְכֵן אִם לִקֵּט יְרָקוֹת לְעַצְמוֹ וְלָקַח מֵהֶן בְּנוֹ אוֹ בֶּן בִּתּוֹ וּמָכַר הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר וְהַדָּמִים דְּמֵי שְׁבִיעִית:

(1)We may not use the produce of the Sabbatical year for commercial activity. If one desires to sell a small amount of the produce of the Sabbatical year, he may. However, the money he receives [in return] has the same holy status as the produce of the Sabbatical year. He should use it only to purchase food and eat that food according to the restrictions of the holiness of the Sabbatical year. The produce that was sold retains the holiness it possessed previously.

(2)[In the Sabbatical year,] one should not reap vegetables from a field and sell them…because this is using the produce of the Sabbatical year for commercial activity. If one reaped vegetables to partake of them and some were left over, he may sell the remainder (since the harvest was clearly for personal use).

Questions for discussion:

What are the distinctions between selling food in a Shmita Year and the traditional market sale of produce during all other years?

The opening line of this source states that we cannot use the produce of Shmita for ‘commercial activity.’ Beyond the further references in the source, what other actions or intentions would you consider to fall under the category of ‘commercial activity’?

Once food is no longer marked with a price tag, and is no longer bought in a marketplace, how might your perspective of food change? How much of your relationship to food is determined by its price?

If you would not be able to purchase your produce at the market, what are other ways you might consider to ensure you can access produce?

2. The Value of Money

וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁמְּבַעֲרִין אֶת הַפֵּרוֹת כָּךְ מְבַעֲרִין אֶת הַדָּמִים. כֵּיצַד. הֲרֵי שֶׁמָּכַר רִמּוֹנִים שֶׁל שְׁבִיעִית וַהֲרֵי הוּא אוֹכֵל בִּדְמֵיהֶן. וְכָלוּ הָרִמּוֹנִים מִן הָאִילָנוֹת שֶׁבַּשָּׂדֶה וְנִשְׁאַר אֶצְלוֹ מִן הַדָּמִים שֶׁמָּכַר בָּהֶן חַיָּב לְבַעֲרָן:

Just as one must remove the produce of the Sabbatical year, so too, one must remove the money [that was received in exchange for it]. What is implied? One sold pomegranates of the Sabbatical year and used the money received in return for them [to purchase] food. When there are no longer any pomegranates on the trees in the field, but he remains in possession of the money he received for selling them, he is obligated to remove it from his possession.

Questions for discussion:

How is this passage’s treatment of seasonality similar to the text about Biur (section 3.1, source #5)?

How does the use of money shift during the Shmita Year, specifically in regards to selling or buying foods? What does it mean for money to have a ‘holy status,’ as stated in the previous source?

What happens to money when its value is not determined by banks or governments, but is instead directly connected to the sanctity and availability of food?

3. The Casual Marketplace

כְּשֶׁמּוֹכְרִין פֵּרוֹת שְׁבִיעִית אֵין מוֹכְרִין אוֹתָן לֹא בְּמִדָּה וְלֹא בְּמִשְׁקָל וְלֹא בְּמִנְיָן. כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה כְּסוֹחֵר פֵּרוֹת בַּשְּׁבִיעִית. אֶלָּא מוֹכֵר הַמְעַט שֶׁמּוֹכֵר אַכְסָרָה לְהוֹדִיעַ שֶׁהוּא הֶפְקֵר וְלוֹקֵחַ הַדָּמִים לִקְנוֹת בָּהֶן אֹכֶל אַחֵר:

When the produce of the Sabbatical year is sold, it should not be sold by measure, nor by weight, nor by number, so that it will not appear that one is selling produce in the Sabbatical year. Instead, one should sell a small amount by estimation to make it known that [the produce] is ownerless. And the proceeds of the sale should only be used to purchase other food.

Questions for discussion:

Elsewhere the Torah does indeed stress the importance of adding weights and measures: “Do not falsify measurements of length, weight or volume. You must have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest dry measure, and an honest liquid measure” (Leviticus 19:35-36). How does such a radical departure from this practice affect the overall marketplace? How might you feel selling or buying food in this manner?

Why would ‘estimation’ be preferred? Where else might you trade or sell casually? How might this shift your perspective of an economic transaction?

How can something that is ‘ownerless’ be sold? How might this shift your perspective on economic transactions and property?

4. Regulated Sales

וְאֵלּוּ כֵּלִים שֶׁאֵין הָאֻמָּן רַשַּׁאי לְמָכְרָן בַּשְּׁבִיעִית לְמִי שֶׁחָשׁוּד עַל הַשְּׁבִיעִית. מַחְרֵשָׁה וְכָל כֵּלֶיהָ הָעל וְהַמַּזְּרֶה וְהַדֶּקֶר. זֶה הַכְּלָל כָּל שֶׁמְּלַאכְתּוֹ מְיֻחֶדֶת לִמְלָאכָה שֶׁאֲסוּרָה בַּשְּׁבִיעִית אָסוּר לְמָכְרוֹ לְחָשׁוּד. וְלִמְלָאכָה שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר שֶׁתִּהְיֶה אֲסוּרָה וְתִהְיֶה מֻתֶּרֶת מֻתָּר לְמָכְרוֹ לְחָשׁוּד:

These are the utensils which a craftsman is not permitted to sell in the Sabbatical year to someone who is suspected of violating the Sabbatical laws: a plow and all of its accessories, a yoke for a team of oxen, a winnowing fork, and a mattock (hand-tool similar to pick-axe). This is the general principle: Any [utensil] that is exclusively used for a type of work that is forbidden in the Sabbatical year is forbidden to be sold to a person suspect [to violate the laws of] the Sabbatical year.

Questions for discussion:

Do you agree with the rabbis’ implication that it should be our personal responsibility to not support those who are not observing the Shmita Year?

What else would you consider taking off the market during the Shmita Year? What wider implications would Shmita have beyond agricultural production?

5. Debt Release

(א) מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה לְהַשְׁמִיט הַמַּלְוֶה בַּשְּׁבִיעִית שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ב) "שָׁמוֹט כָּל בַּעַל מַשֵּׁה יָדוֹ". וְהַתּוֹבֵעַ חוֹב שֶׁעָבְרָה עָלָיו שְׁבִיעִית עָבַר עַל לֹא תַּעֲשֶׂה שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ב) "לֹא יִגּשֹׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וְאֶת אָחִיו":

(ד) אֵין שְׁבִיעִית מְשַׁמֶּטֶת כְּסָפִים אֶלָּא בְּסוֹפָהּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו א) "מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה" שְׁמִטָּה וְזֶה דְּבַר הַשְּׁמִטָּה וְשָׁם הוּא אוֹמֵר (דברים לא י) "מִקֵּץ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים בְּמֹעֵד שְׁנַת הַשְּׁמִטָּה בְּחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת". מָה שָׁם אַחַר שֶׁבַע אַף הַשְׁמָטַת כְּסָפִים אַחַר שֶׁבַע. לְפִיכָךְ הִלְוָה אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ בַּשְּׁבִיעִית עַצְמָהּ גּוֹבֶה חוֹבוֹ כָּל הַשָּׁנָה. וּכְשֶׁתִּשְׁקַע חַמָּה בְּלֵילֵי רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה שֶׁל מוֹצָאֵי שְׁבִיעִית אָבַד הַחוֹב:

(1) It is a positive commandment to nullify a loan in the Sabbatical year, as (Deuteronomy 15:2) states: “All of those who bear debt must release their hold."

(4) The Sabbatical year does not nullify debts until its conclusion. [This is derived as follows: Deuteronomy 15:1-2] states: “At the end of seven years, you shall effect a remission.” Therefore if one lent money to a colleague in the Sabbatical year itself, he may demand payment of his debt for the entire year. When the sun sets on the night of Rosh HaShanah of the eighth year, the debt is nullified.

Questions for discussion:

In Jewish economic law, interest is not allowed to be charged on a loan, as stated in Exodus 22.25: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not act toward him as a demanding creditor. Do not charge any interest upon him.” Do you think a debt release is more feasible if the debts did not come with the added expenses of interest?

(For more on Jewish lending, see section 4, source #7 and Appendix B.)

What is significant about the debt being canceled at the end of the Shmita Year as opposed to its beginning?

6. Returning Debt

(כח) כָּל הַמַּחֲזִיר חוֹב שֶׁעָבְרָה עָלָיו שְׁבִיעִית רוּחַ חֲכָמִים נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ. וְצָרִיךְ הַמַּלְוֶה לוֹמַר לַמַּחֲזִיר מַשְׁמִיט אֲנִי וּכְבָר נִפְטַרְתָּ מִמֶּנִּי. אָמַר לוֹ אַף עַל פִּי כֵן רְצוֹנִי שֶׁתְּקַבֵּל יְקַבֵּל מִמֶּנּוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים טו ב) "לֹא יִגּשֹׁ" וַהֲרֵי לֹא נָגַשׂ. וְאַל יֹאמַר לוֹ בְּחוֹבִי אֲנִי נוֹתֵן לְךָ אֶלָּא יֹאמַר לוֹ שֶׁלִּי הֵם וּבְמַתָּנָה אֲנִי נוֹתֵן לְךָ:

(כט) הֶחֱזִיר לוֹ חוֹבוֹ וְלֹא אָמַר לוֹ כֵּן. מְסַבֵּב עִמּוֹ בִּדְבָרִים עַד שֶׁיֹּאמַר לוֹ שֶׁלִּי הֵם וּבְמַתָּנָה נְתַתִּים לְךָ. וְאִם לֹא אָמַר לֹא יְקַבֵּל מִמֶּנּוּ אֶלָּא יִטּל מְעוֹתָיו וְיֵלֵךְ לוֹ:

(28) Whenever anyone returns a debt, despite the fact that the Sabbatical year has passed, the spirits of our Sages are gratified because of him…When returning a loan, the debtor should not tell the creditor: “I am giving this to you as payment of my debt.” Instead, he should tell him: “This money is mine, and I am giving it to you as a present.”
(29) If a debtor returned a debt, but did not make the above statement, the lender should turn the conversation to the point where the debtor says: “This money is mine, and I am giving it to you as a present.” If the debtor does not make such statements, the creditor should not accept it from him.

Questions for discussion:

Although debts were in fact released on the Shmita Year, the hope would be that those who borrowed would eventually find a way to return the loan, when enough funds were available. Do you think this intention of returning payment was critical in supporting a successful debt release every seven years?

Why do you think the verbal statement clarifying the payment as a gift was such an important part of this interaction? What changes when a re-payment of a debt is offered as a gift? For the lender? For the borrower? How might gift giving/receiving fit into your own economic exchanges?

What are some ways we might facilitate and support such interpersonal relationships between lender and borrower today, especially in such a fast-paced, global economy?

7. Pruzbol

A Pruzbol simply means a ‘legal amendment.’ The debt cancellation during the Shmita Year was specific to peer-to-peer loans. However, loans that were issued by the courts would not be canceled. So a Pruzbol allows a lender to transfer his or her ‘loan’ to the courts for the Shmita Year and reclaim it after the Shmita Year has passed. In this way, the debt is not canceled.

(טז) כְּשֶׁרָאָה הִלֵּל הַזָּקֵן שֶׁנִּמְנְעוּ מִלְּהַלְווֹת זֶה אֶת זֶה וְעוֹבְרִין עַל הַכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה (דברים טו ט) "הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן יִהְיֶה דָבָר" וְגוֹ' הִתְקִין פְּרוֹזְבּוּל כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִשָּׁמֵט הַחוֹב עַד שֶׁיַּלְווּ זֶה אֶת זֶה. וְאֵין הַפְּרוֹזְבּוּל מוֹעִיל אֶלָּא בִּשְׁמִטַּת כְּסָפִים בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה שֶׁהִיא מִדִּבְרֵי סוֹפְרִים. אֲבָל שְׁמִטָּה שֶׁל תּוֹרָה אֵין הַפְּרוֹזְבּוֹל מוֹעִיל בָּהּ:

(יח) זֶהוּ גּוּפוֹ שֶׁל פְּרוֹזְבּוּל. מוֹסְרַנִי לָכֶם פְּלוֹנִי וּפְלוֹנִי הַדַּיָּנִין שֶׁבְּמָקוֹם פְּלוֹנִי שֶׁכָּל חוֹב שֶׁיֵּשׁ לִי שֶׁאֶגְבֶּנּוּ כָּל זְמַן שֶׁאֶרְצֶה. וְהַדַּיָּנִין אוֹ הָעֵדִים חוֹתְמִין מִלְּמַטָּה:

(יט) אֵין כּוֹתְבִין פְּרוֹזְבּוּל אֶלָּא עַל הַקַּרְקַע. אִם אֵין קַרְקַע לַלּוֹוֶה מוֹכֵר לוֹ הַמַּלְוֶה כָּל שֶׁהוּא בְּתוֹךְ שָׂדֵהוּ אֲפִלּוּ קֶלַח שֶׁל כְּרוּב. הִשְׁאִילוֹ מָקוֹם לְתַנּוּר אוֹ לְכִירָה כּוֹתְבִין עָלָיו פְּרוֹזְבּוּל. הָיְתָה לוֹ שָׂדֶה מְמֻשְׁכֶּנֶת כּוֹתְבִין עָלֶיהָ פְּרוֹזְבּוּל:

(16) When Hillel the Elder saw that the people would refrain from lending to each other and thus violated the words of the Torah (Deuteronomy 15:9): “Lest there be a wicked thought in your heart,” [to cease from lending because of fear that the debts would be released], he ordained a pruzbol [literally, a legal amendment] so that debts would not be nullified and people would still lend to each other.

(18) This represents the body of a pruzbol: “I am notifying you, so-and-so and so-and-so, (the two judges of the court), that I reserve the right to collect all the debts [owed] to me at any time I desire.” The judges or the witnesses should sign below.

(19) A pruzbol may be composed only when [the borrower possesses] land. If the borrower does not possess land, the lender should grant the borrower even the slightest amount of land—even enough to grow a cabbage stalk—in his field. [Even if] he lent him place for an oven or a range, a pruzbol may be composed.

Questions for discussion:

How do you feel about this rabbinic decree? Do you think Hillel was justified in his decision?

Hillel is famous for the story of standing on one foot and teaching that the ‘entire’ Torah can be distilled into the command to ‘that which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.’ How do you think the Pruzbol fits in with this teaching?

Why do you think it was so important in Hillel’s time to clarify that a Pruzbol could only be composed if the person in debt had access to a piece of land?

(See section 1, source #9 for a glimpse into biblical land markets.)

Pruzbol & Generous Giving
As you consider the Pruzbol, also think of the forewarning we received through the Torah (Deuteronomy 15.9/section 1, source #4): “Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing…[rather] give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart.”
If someone approached you for a loan, would you offer it knowing that when the Shmita year arrived, it might be canceled?
To learn more about different types of economic lending aligned with Shmita values, see appendix B: Shmita Economics.

Closing questions for discussion:

What is true wealth in a Shmita Year? How is this measured?

Do you think the release of debts commanded for the Shmita Year is realistic? Why or why not? What systems would need to be in place to make it possible?

What is your own relationship to money and the marketplace? What do you think would need to change in today’s economy to support the values and ideals of the Shmita tradition? Are these changes ones you would want to support?

The discussion continues in section 4!