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C3. Cancelling & Refusing Loans In & Near the Sabbatical Year.    [Make a Comment]

We are to cancel all loans (that were made to brothers) in the Sabbatical Year, and we are not to refuse giving a loan to a poor brother due] to the Sabbatical Year being near.1

1. See MitzvahD18 for a discussion of cancelling loans during the Sabbatical Year from the aspect of days ∓ seasons.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Deuteronomy 15:1-4 (Maimonides RP141-142, RN230; Meir MN57, MP64; Chinuch C475-477))
At the end of every seven years you are to have a sh'mittah. Here is how the sh'mittah is to be done: every creditor is to give up what he has loaned to his fellow member of the community - he is not to force his neighbor or relative to repay it, because ADONAI's time of remission has been proclaimed. You may demand that a foreigner repay his debt, but you are to release your claim on whatever your brother owes you. In spite of this, there will be no one needy among you; because ADONAI will certainly bless you in the land which ADONAI your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess

Deuteronomy 15:7-8
If someone among you is needy, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which ADONAI your God is giving you, you are not to harden your heart or shut your hand from giving to your needy brother. No, you must open your hand to him and lend him enough to meet his need and enable him to obtain what he wants.

Deuteronomy 15:9 (Maimonides RN231; Meir MN56, MP62; Chinuch C480)
Guard yourself against allowing your heart to entertain the mean-spirited thought that because the seventh year, the year of sh'mittah is at hand, you would be stingy toward your needy brother and not give him anything; for then he may cry out to ADONAI against you, and it will be your sin.

Luke 6:34-36
What credit is it to you if you lend only to those who you expect will pay you back? Even sinners lend to each other, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing back! Your reward will be great, and you will be children of Ha'Elyon; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Show compassion, just as your Father shows compassion.

Supportive Scriptures

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in ADONAI with all your heart; do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him; then he will level your paths.

Proverbs 11:24-25
Some give freely and still get richer, while others are stingy but grow still poorer. The person who blesses others will prosper; he who satisfies others will be satisfied himself.

Matthew 6:25-31
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (See also Luke 12:22-30)

2 Corinthians 9:10-12
He who provides both seed for the planter and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your tzedakah. You will be enriched in every way, so that you can be generous in everything. And through us your generosity will cause people to thank God, because rendering this holy service not only provides for the needs of God's people, but it also overflows in the many thanks people will be giving to God.


The Sabbatical Year is known as the "Year of Release" (Sh'mittah) because loans made to Israelites, by Israelites, are cancelled every seventh year. Also, Israelites are prohibited from denying loans to needy brothers when the Sabbatical Year approaches, despite the possibility that the loan will be discharged and not repaid voluntarily. The release of such loans does not (according to Deuteronomy 15:3) apply to - foreigners. I believe that one of the reasons God gave Israel the Sabbatical Year was to test well-to-do Israelites' faith and reliance on Him.

A question that naturally comes to mind is how releasing loans in the Sabbatical Year applies today in the New Covenant. I am of the opinion that it continues to apply where the circumstances are similar to those of ancient Israel, and that it applies not only to Jews but also to K'rov Yisrael Gentiles; how similar the circumstances need to be will be revealed by the Ruach HaKodesh as we pray for guidance. As for other non-Jewish followers of Yeshua, I am inclined to the position that as New Covenant brothers, literal compliance is a blessing for them but not a requirement; I partially draw this conclusion from Isaiah 56:1-7, which promises blessing to the foreigner who keeps Gods Sabbaths, but does not require it of them (although admittedly most Sabbaths do not involve the release of debts). One thing that is certain, however, is that God continues to expect all of us to look to Him for provision rather than to think that we can cause provision to come to us by our own efforts.

This Mitzvah has some interesting ramifications in modern times. One of these is that the enforced collection of debts today is generally accomplished through civil courts - not by batei din. Therefore, as a practical matter, there is no way to enforce the Mitzvah against suing a brother in a secular court if a creditor decides to violate it and sue on the debt. Also, because this Mitzvah is so closely connected to Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, it is arguable as to whether it applies among brothers (brother Jews and brothers in Yeshua) in the Diaspora. The weight of rabbinical opinion is that it is valid for Jews everywhere, and it is my opinion that it also applies to Jewish and K'rov Yisrael members of Messianic Jewish communities in the Diaspora if the loans are given with the understanding that observing the Sh'mittah is part of the community's halachah.

It should not be surprising that this Mitzvah is unpopular among creditors and that it has encountered much resistance. During the latter years of the Second Temple, the sage Hillel became concerned by the growing number of Jews whose weak faith was such that they were declining to loan money to poor Jewish brothers when the Sabbatical Year was near. To urge them to do so, he invented a legal procedure that, in effect, circumvented God's intent in giving the Mitzvah. The procedure, still used today, is known as a Pruzbul, and works this way: Some time before Sh'mittah, a lender gives ownership of his uncollected debt to a bet din which, in turn, appoints the lender to collect the debt for the bet din. The debt is not discharged by Sh'mittah because the bet din is a corporate entity, not a Jewish brother, so Deuteronomy 15:2 does not apply. When the lender collects the debt and attempts to give the proceeds to the bet din, he is told that the bet din does not want the money and he is instructed to keep it.

I do not agree with using such casuistic ploys to collect debts or, for that matter, to avoid complying with God's commandments in any other circumstance; I believe it is this kind of thinking that Yeshua was referring to when He said to the Pharisees:

Thus, with your tradition which you had handed down to you, you nullify the Word of God! And you do other things like this. (Mark 7:13)

Nevertheless, I do not believe there is anything wrong with a lender accepting return of his money after Sh'mittah if it is offered voluntarily.

The application of this commandment in modern credit societies requires some adjustment that is legitimate. First of all, commercial loans which are used to increase a person's wealth, purchase mortgages, make investments, etc., are not the intended application of this Mitzvah, although some of these loans are discharged as well. This Mitzvah is meant to apply to loans given by individuals, to individuals, because the borrower (who is a Jewish brother to the lender) is in some kind of personal need. Need-based loans must be given with generosity, and with willingness that the loan will be cancelled on the Sabbatical Year. Modern societies often have something like this in built into their civil laws that is called bankruptcy, where a person who becomes financially insolvent can receive a judicial discharge of his debts; in the United States, this is possible every six years. Bankruptcy laws are the modern alternative to indentured servanthood and Debtor's Prison, and they reflect something of the same spirit as this mitzvah and the Year of Jubilee.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides states that a purpose of the Sh'mittah commandment is to teach kindness to the poor, and he also puts forth the case that it trains us against coveting what our neighbor owns. The logic is that, by not being allowed to recover money he has lent, how much more must the lender keep from coveting what belongs to the borrower. HaChinuch agrees with this kal va-chomer logic.

HaChinuch connects complying with Deuteronomy 15:9 (the requirement to lend even with Sh'mittah approaching) with trusting God by citing Proverbs 11:24-25 as God's promise of blessing to those who are generous. The other commentators make no such connection and, in fact, Maimonides exhibits severity toward foreigners by interpreting the permissive language in Deuteronomy 15:3 ("you may demand that a foreigner pay his debt") into his Mitzvah RP142 which states that we are required to collect debts from heathen with the same zeal as we forgive the debts of Israelites. Meir does not deal with the issue at all, but HaChinuch, in his Mitzvah C476, agrees with Maimonides, and says that it is so that an idolater will not profit from an Israelite's generosity and possibly entice the sympathetic Israelite to follow after idolatrous practices.

Meir is of the opinion that if a borrower offers return of a loan voluntarily after Sh'mittah, the lender should not accept it. However, if it is offered a second time, then he may.


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