Credit, Shemittah and Rosh Hashanah

Sheviit (10:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 years ago

The final perek of Sheviit deals with shemitat kesefim. This refers to the law that at the end of the shemittah year, loans are cancelled and the lender may not attempt to recover his money.

The Mishnah (1:2) discussed the cases regarding one that slaughtered an animal on Rosh Hashanah and handed out parts of the meat to others with the understanding that they would pay him back. A Jewish month is either twenty-nine or thirty days. In the times of the Mishnah, Rosh Chodesh was determined by witness testimony having sighted the new moon. The first day Rosh Hashanah was observed on the thirtieth day of Elul since it was possible that the witnesses would arrive on that day meaning that it would indeed be the first day of Tishrei - Rosh Hashanah. If they did not come, then the next day, the “second” day of Rosh Hashanah, would be the first of Tishrei. The Mishnah teaches that if the person distributed meat on the first day of Rosh Hashanah then whether or not the money owed to him would be cancelled depends on whether Elul was a twenty-nine or thirty-day month. Since the debts are cancelled at the end of the Shemittah year, if Elul was a thirty-day month, this would mean the “debt” occurred within the Shemittah year and the debt would be absolved. If however the witnesses arrived making the first day of Rosh Hashanah the first of Tishrei then the debt would belong to the next Shemittah cycle.

The difficulty raised is that the previous Misnah records a debate regarding credit granted by a shopkeeper. The Chachamim understand that unless the shopkeeper tallies up the money due and turns it into a formal loan, then it would not be effected by shemitat kesafim. R’ Yehuda however argues that only the money owed on the most recent transaction would not be cancelled. All previous money owed however, would be cancelled. This is because any future credit turns all past credits into a loan. It first glance, it is difficult to resolve our Mishnah with either opinion.

The Tosfot Yom Tov however cites the Beit Yosef that explains that there is a difference between our case and store credit. In the latter case, the credit generally runs for an extended period, one or two years and not claimed prior to that time. This then would be equivalent to the case where one lent money for a period extending beyond the shemittah year. According to most opinions in such a case, the debt would not be absolved. If one however sells an item to another without a payment period (as in our case), then at the time of sale, it is considered a loan and shemittah would cancel the debt.

The Tosfot Anshei Shem however asks, since in our case the purchasers cannot pay on yom tov, it should be considered like a loan that needs to be paid after shemittah! He answers that this case must be where the witnesses arrived after mincha thus still leaving time for the debt to claimed within the Shemittah year.

The Mishnah Rishona however questions the novelty of the Mishnah. If it were simply to differentiate between shop credit and a sale, then involving Rosh Hashanah in the case would be unnecessary. Furthermore, whether or not Shemittah absolves a debt whose due date extends past the end of Shemittah is a subject of debate and this Mishnah is not cited when analysing it. Consequently, he understands that there is no difference between giving out part of the meat and store credit. The difference between the two cases is that our case is occurring on Yom Tov.

He cites the Yerushalmi to explain. The Yerushalmi understood that our Mishnah is according to the opinion of R’ Yehuda. At the suggestion, the Yerushalmi ask that the money owed cannot be claimed on Yom Tov. In other words, the reason why R’ Yehuda considers the past credit as a debt is because it could have been claimed at the time of the future transactions. In this case however, on Yom Tov, it cannot be claimed. The Yerushalmi’s answer: he can trust him. In other words, we find that on Yom Tov if the butcher does not trust the purchaser, he can take is tallit as a collateral. The Yerushalmi considers this equivalent to claiming the debt. Accordingly, since the butcher did not take a guarantee, at the second purchase, R’ Yehuda considers the previous money owed as a load, even on Yom Tov.

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