What exactly is a “Pruzbul” and how does it work?

On the Rosh Hashono that concludes a Shemitta year, all outstandings debts are cancelled. Hillel Hazoken (1st Century BCE) noted that people were hesitant to lend money as they knew that if the borrower managed to delay paying until the end of the Shemitta year, their loan would be cancelled and their money would be lost. This led them to transgress the Torah law prohibiting us from refraining lending money to those who need it, for fear that the debt would be wiped out by Shmitta.

Hillel therefore enacted the “Pruzbul” which is a halachic apparatus whereby an individual’s loans are transferred to a Beis Din who hold the loan. Loans held by Beis Din are not subject to being cancelled by Shemitta. After Rosh Hashono, the lender may therefore reclaim his money from the borrower. Once signed, the Pruzbul allows one to reclaim all outstanding debts even after Rosh Hashono.


Isn’t Shemitta only relevant in Israel?

This is true regarding the agricultural produce of Eretz Yisroel. “Shemittas Kesofim” (the cancelling of debts at the end of Shemitta), however, applies universally and is not limited to Eretz Yisroel or to the times of the Beis Hamikdash.


Which debts are cancelled by Shemitta?

Most debts, whether they are made with or without a contract, are cancelled by Shemitta. Even if one stipulated that Shemitta should not cancel debts, the condition is not valid and the debt is cancelled. Borrowed items which are exchanged rather than returned are subject to Shemittah. E.g. if one borrowed eggs or a bag of flour from a neighbour before Rosh Hashono, this “debt” is cancelled by Shemitta. According to some opinions, even a cheque or money held in an Israeli bank may be considered a debt that is cancelled by Shemita.

The following debts, amongst others are not cancelled: wages/salaries owed to workers (unless invoiced); money due for products or services taken on credit; fees due to school, yeshiva or shul; payments due in the fulfilment of a Beis Din Award, a Kesuba and, in certain circumstances, loans for which a collateral was entrusted.


I’m not aware that I lent any money or that anyone owes me a debt. Is it necessary for me to write a Pruzbul?

Yes. As explained above, there are many kinds of debts that are cancelled by Shemitta, not only loans. It is highly likely that most people hold some form of debt which may not be reclaimed after Rosh Hashono. In order to avoid a situation where you will be prohibited from reclaiming money or items or unwittingly transgressing a prohibition by asking for their return, it is highly recommended for everyone to arrange a Pruzbul.


Should a woman also arrange a Pruzbul?

Yes, women who lend are also subject to the cancellation of debts. If a married woman holds a debt independently of her husband (for example, money due to an account which is in her name alone), she should write her own Pruzbul. She may, however, appoint her husband as her agent (Shliach) to arrange a Pruzbul on her behalf. A Power of Attorney form for appointing someone as a shliach to arrange a Pruzbul can be found here.


Should children arrange a Pruzbul?

If they are aware of a debt they wish to reclaim that their parents have no jurisdiction over, they should do so. 


After I arrange a Pruzbul, can I claim all debts?

A Pruzbul does not allow you to claim any debt created after the time of its signing. If you sign a Pruzbul and then before Rosh Hashono you make another loan, that loan will be cancelled by Rosh Hashono. You must not write a post-dated Pruzbul to attempt to avoid this problem as a post-dated Pruzbul is invalid. Rather, a second Pruzbul should be written.


I wrote a Pruzbul last year, before Shemitta. Must I do it again?


Some people write a Pruzbul before the onset of the Shemitta year in accordance with a minority view which holds that it is upon the onset of Shemitta that debts are cancelled. However, the consensus of the Poskim is that it is the conclusion of the Shemitta year that cancels the debts, therefore another Pruzbul must be written or else all debts due after the onset of the Shemitta year are cancelled. 


I borrowed money from a Jew and I know they will not write a Pruzbul, should I still return the money?

If the lender has not arranged a Pruzbul, then according to the halacha, as the borrower, you are under no obligation to return the loan in this situation, although it is proper to do so. The lender, however, may not request the repayment of his debt after the Rosh Hashono which concludes a Shemitta year. 

If you do choose to pay back a loan after Rosh Hashono, the lender and borrower should verbalise acknowledge the fact that they know that there is no obligation to repay the debt and lender should emphasise that he is not requesting the money. Then the borrower should respond, “Even so, I wish to repay my loan,” and then return the money.


Do I have to write a Pruzbul?

The Pruzbul was enacted for the benefit of both lenders (so that they could reclaim their debt) and borrowers (so that they would find creditors to borrow money from). 

If, however, you do not wish to reclaim a debt you can fulfil the Mitzvah of having your debt cancelled by Shemitta by renouncing your debt and announcing, “משמט אני – I release the lender from my debt”. 

Even if you write a Pruzbul, it is still possible to fulfil the Mitzvah of renouncing your debt. The Ben Ish Chai writes that one may lend a person money right before the end of Shemitta after writing a Pruzbul (ideally a poor person) and then relinquish the debt after Rosh Hashono, thereby fulfilling two Mitzvos: the Mitzvah of relinquishing a debt after Shemitta and the Mitzvah of Tzedoko.

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