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Q&A: Prozbol

September 20, 2015

I was surprised that this year I signed so many prozbol documents for my neighbors. I did not sign any what so ever last time sh’mitta came to an end.

The following questions were addressed at our minyan as the Rosh Hashana holiday started and have been translated from the Hebrew.

Question: Why would someone need to write a prozbol?

Answer: If he was planning to collect an outstanding loan from a fellow Jew after Rosh Hashana, he would need a prozbol. If he was not planning to collect, but instead wanted the end of the sh’mitta year to cancel the debt, or if no one owed him money, he would not need a prozbol.

Question: Can I still write a prozbol?

Answer: Yes, as long as the sun has not set and you and the relevant parties have not accepted the holiday. That is why we are discussing this at the last minute in case someone needs to write one. 

Question: Why did some rabbanim encourage everybody to write a prozbol this year?

Answer: Most people have bank accounts, and many people have pension funds and savings and investment programs. At least a portion of those funds are considered a loan granted to the bank or the firm that does the investing, and the worry is that right after Rosh Hashana, the “borrowers” could walk away with the money on the claim that the debt has been forgiven.

Question: I have a bank account and I did not write a prozbul! Can I still write one?

Answer: No. Now it is too late.

Question: So what do I do now?

Answer: Don’t worry, that’s for sure. It is just a humra. The majority of decisors do not see a need for the prozbol, and the advocators of writing one were just trying to play it safe.

Question: Why do you say I don’t need a prozbol?

Answer: The first claim is that the remission of debts is not even in force today. This is an old opinion of the ashkenazic rishonim that has become less popular lately, and is not so common here in Israel. Assuming the remission is in force, you still would not need a prozbol because, among other reasons:

  1. many of us, myself included, do not have bank accounts because we were seeking to enter a “half loan, half business partnership” as described in the hetter isqa signed upon opening the account, but because the government requires it of us, to have an address for our various incomes and standing orders for our bills. Here in Israel, I never really see any of my money. Whoever needs to pay me has it sent to my account, and the bills etc., get deducted automatically. I would rather have an American style account, which I could control. The account is not a loan, it’s a governmentally mandated monetary accounting system, and the only reason we called it a loan (in the hetter isqa) was to give the bank a completely-within-the-letter-of-the-law-but-totally-not-within-the-spirit-of-the-law loophole for charging us, the ostensible lenders, interest.
  2. only loans that became due before Rosh Hashana get cancelled. Your “loans” are not due until some indefinite time later.
  3. only loans between two Jews are canceled, while the banks etc., although maybe even mostly owned by Jews, are not people, but non-human corporations. The latter day authorities have noted that halacha recognizes certain corporate laws. For example, the whole mechanism of prozbol works on the assumption that debts owed to the court, despite the court being composed by Jewish men, are not cancelled, because the court is recognized as its own corporation. So too debts owed to the Temple estate (hekdesh) or the state/government/crown. All are legal corporations recognized by the halacha for which the laws of remission do not apply.
  4. The banks will  not be attempting to run away with your money. On the contrary, they will readily declare that they still owe you the money the day after the holiday.

Therefore, the whole issue has been turned on its head Hillel wanted Jews to help each other out and lend to each other without fear that they would never see their money back, and instead we are using his enactment to benefit a banking system, one that turns the vast majority of those who can at least afford to own their own property into indentured servants, he would have done all who he could to replace. That is, the banks, etc. do not need the prozbol because they have no need to fear that without it the masses would cease handing over the vast majority of their funds to them. On the contrary: they hold the people and their money hostage. 

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From → halacha, logic

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