Hashmatat Kesafim and Shvu'ot

Sheviit (10:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 17 years ago

The tenth perek discusses the way shmittah cancels debts (Hashmatat Kesafim). This law is derived from the following positive and negative commandments (Devarim ):

The idea of the shmittah year is that every creditor shall remit any debit owed by his neighbour, and one shall not claim from his neighbour or brother…

The Rambam (Shmittah Ve’yovel 9:6) extends the discussion into the area of shvu’ot (vows):

Shmittah absolves shvu’ot… [This is true when] considering shvu’ot dayanim since if the person admits [to owning the money] Shmittah absolves [the debt]. However, shvu’ot taken by guards or partners and the like, since if one admits he is required to pay, the shvuah would also not be absolved.

This ruling is based on a Tosefta that explains that in case where the underlying monetary obligation would be absolved by shmittah the associated shvuah is also cancelled by shmittah. The Ra’avad explain that latter part of the ruling is based on the Mishnah (10:2) that explains that fines due to a violator, seducer and slanderer (who are required to pay their victims) and other judicial rulings directed by beit din are not absolved. The Gra”ch poses the question: Is the Ra’avad merely producing a source for the Rambam’s ruling or does his commentary have more significance?

In order to first develop a better understanding of the Rambam’s position it is important to see what he writes in the following halacha (9:8):

If throughout Shmittah one denies having borrowed money and then admits to borrowing the money after Shmittah… the debt is not absolved.

The Rava’ad argues however this is only true if Beit Din has already exempted the person from paying the debt based on a (false) shvu’ah. If this was not the case, we have seen that Shmittah absolves the required shvuah; shmittah would absolve the debt. Why does the Rambam not make this distinction explicit?

The Gra”ch explains the Ra’avad maintains that even though the source for absolving shvu’ot is biblical (see Shvu’ot 49a) it is clear that this only applies to shvu’ot that are of monotary significance. Consequently, the passuk teaches that both the shvuah and debt are connected and shmittah cancels both.

The Rambam however must understand that one can separate the debt and the associated shvu’ah. While the need for the shvuah is indeed absolved, the debt remains. The Gra”ch explains that in this case, as the person has denied borrowing any money the positive commandment of “remit any debt” cannot be applied. Nevertheless the prohibition of “you shall not claim” can be activated on those elements that the lender can claim, i.e. the shvuah, even though the loan remains unaffected.

Returning to the original question, the Gemarah (Gittin 18a) explains our Mishnah (10:2) in further detail that once the voilater or seducer has been obligated to pay, Shmittah can absolve the amount due. The reason being that once the person becomes obligated to pay the fine or damages, the money due is considered like a loan. This could perhaps pose a problem for the Rambam since as a soon beit din obligates someone to take an oath it should be treated like the case of the voilater in that the underlying monetary obligation be viewed as a loan, and the shvuah would consequently be absolved. The Gra”ch explains the obigation to make a shvuah should only be viewed in this manner when the person has been obligated to pay or has admitted to owing a portion of the claimed loan. If however the person is only obligated to make a shvu’ah then the underlying monetary obligation would not be considered a loan.

This therefore explains our original question. The Ra’avad, who maintains that shvuah and underlying monetary obligation are inextricably linked, views vows required by shomrim like the fines placed on voilater and seducer. In other words once beit din obligates one to make a shvu’ah then the underlying monetary obligation becomes a loan. Consequently once the shvuah is obsolved so is the obligation. The Rambam however, sees the case of shvuat shomrim as different to fines placed on the violater and slanderer. In other words, even after beit din obligates the shomer to make a shvuah, the underlying monetary obligation is not accessible and consequently not considered a loan - the shvu’ah is therefore not cancelled.

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