JEWISH BELIEF AND PRACTICE

by Manfred Davidmann

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Summary

Here Manfred Davidmann provides the required background knowledge of the essential core of Jewish belief and practice and for drawing the only possible conclusion: The procedure called 'Prosbul' is invalid. So he annuls it in part 7. This decision will have far-reaching effects on what Jewish people believe and practice.


In part 1, Rab Judah's story is used to illustrate Maimonides' ruling that most of what is taught at present as valid 'oral law' is in fact invalid. The term 'oral law' here refers to Talmudic laws supposedly given at Sinai to Moses but not written down.

Part 2 describes the conflict at the time of Solomon between the Jewish establishment and the social laws of the Torah.

In part 3, Manfred Davidmann explains the social Cause-and-Effect relationship. The Torah states the social Cause-and-Effect relationship, clearly defining this as a fundamental scientific law which applies to all people everywhere at all times. The consequences of not following the social laws and the social system of the Torah are disastrous and unavoidable until behaviour changes.

Parts 4 and 5 clearly state the relative importance and authority of the Torah, the Talmud ('oral' law) and the Halachah (rabbinical decisions). You will find here short concise statements in plain and meaningful language, describing what Talmud and Halachah are, and what you would want to know about them and about their relative authority and significance.

In part 6 the Torah's essential social laws and its social system are outlined. These protect people against oppression and exploitation and they are stated in the Torah as human rights. They are outlined with respect to (a) wealth and (b) social security.

In Part 7, Manfred Davidmann proves that the Prosbul is contrary to the laws and the intent of the Torah, and that Hillel had no authority for making such a ruling. Manfred Davidmann then annuls the Prosbul.


At the core of the Torah are its social laws and its social system. The Cause-and-Effect relationship clearly shows that they have to be followed to ensure a good life of high quality for individuals and to ensure the survival of humankind on this planet under present conditions.

The events of history confirm the operation of the Cause-and-Effect relationship and people need to be made aware of the Torah's social laws and social system and of the need to follow them.


For more information see:
http://www.solhaam.org/
1.The Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship
2.History Speaks: Monarchy, Exile and Maccabees
3.Style of Management and Leadership
4.Social Responsibility, Profits and Social Accountability



Contents

  1. Rab Judah's Story
  2. King Solomon
  3. Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship in the Torah
  4. The Talmud
  5. Halachah (Jewish Law)
  6. The Social Laws and The Social System of the Torah
    6.1 Wealth
    6.2 Social Security
  7. Hillel's Prosbul: Annulled
    Whichever way we look at it, Hillel's Prosbul is now null and void

Relevant Subject Index Pages and Site Overview



1. Rab Judah's Story

Rabbi Akiva is considered to have been tortured to death by the Romans, is generally represented as a Jewish sage and martyr. The Talmud, however, tells a different story.

The gemara (Menahoth 29b) tells us that when Moses ascends (to receive the Torah) he finds God engaged in affixing coronets to the letters. Asking God, in effect, why he spends his time doing this he is told that after many generations there will arise a man, Akiva b. Joseph by name, 'who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws'.

Moses says he would like to see Akiva b. Joseph and his wish is granted. So he sits down behind eight rows of disciples in Rabbi Akiva's academy. Moses, that mind which wrote the Torah some of whose social laws about behaviour and equality and freedom are only now beginning to be paralleled by social science, is ill at ease because he is unable to follow their arguments. In other words some of their arguments do not make sense.

However, when they came to a certain subject and the disciples asked the master 'Whence do you know it?' they were told by Akiva b. Joseph that 'It is a law given to Moses at Sinai (but not written down)'.

So Moses returns to God and says: You have such a man and you are going to give the law by me! To which God replies that without any possibility of argument his law will be the Torah of Moses.

This is very cutting comment on R. Akiva's 'heaps and heaps of laws' and on those who followed R. Akiva.

Moses then has one further request. He now asks that having been shown Akiva's law, he would like to be shown Akiva's reward. This request is granted also and he sees 'them weighing out his (Akiva's) flesh at the market stalls'.

'Lord of the Universe', cried Moses, 'such law and such a reward!'. God tells him that beyond any argument such is his decision.

The story clearly makes the point that it is because Akiva distorted the Torah, because he replaced God's law with Akiva's, that he was punished by being tortured to death.


Added, after comments:

Rab Judah's story does not record actual events taking place at that time in the life of R. Akiva.

Rab Judah's story (Menahoth 29b) is a forceful argument against those scholars in the Talmud who tried to give their own personal opinions a semblance of validity and authority by claiming that what they were putting forward was a law given to Moses at Sinai but not written down.

Regarding this matter, Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon, Rambam) recorded that whenever there is an argument about a particular law said to be a 'halachah handed down to Moses at Sinai' then it clearly cannot have been given to Moses. In other words, only those laws handed down orally and about which there is no argument are laws given by God to Moses.

To illustrate with greater clarity the point being made by Rab Judah, I am repeating below what I said before. This time, however, I have deleted references to 'R. Akiva' and substituted 'Jones', thus attempting to focus attention on Rab Judah's central point.

The gemara (Menahoth 29b) tells us that when Moses ascends (to receive the Torah) he finds God engaged in affixing coronets to the letters. Asking God, in effect, why he spends his time doing this he is told that after many generations there will arise a man, Jones by name, 'who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws'.

Moses says he would like to see Jones and his wish is granted. So he sits down behind eight rows of disciples in Jones's academy. Moses, that mind which wrote the Torah some of whose social laws about behaviour and equality and freedom are only now beginning to be paralleled by social science, is ill at ease because he is unable to follow their arguments. In other words some of their arguments do not make sense.

However, when they came to a certain subject and the disciples asked the master 'Whence do you know it?' they were told by Jones that 'It is a law given to Moses at Sinai (but not written down)'.

So Moses returns to God and says: You have such a man and you are going to give the law by me! To which God replies that without any possibility of argument his law will be the Torah of Moses.

This is very cutting comment on Jones' 'heaps and heaps of laws'.

Moses then has one further request. He now asks that having been shown Jones' law, he would like to be shown Jones' reward. This request is granted also and he sees 'them weighing out his (Jones') flesh at the market stalls'.

'Lord of the Universe', cried Moses, 'such law and such a reward!'. God tells him that beyond any argument such is his decision.


For more information on 'halachah handed down to Moses at Sinai' see
One Law for All
http://www.solhaam.org/



2. King Solomon

King Solomon, greatly praised, of such wonderful wisdom, of great power, wealth and horses, having many wives. But his reign was immediately followed by the kingdom splitting into two kingdoms which fought each other, which largely disregarded Jewish law until both kingdoms were destroyed and the people exiled to Babylon.

On the surface it seems unlikely that the reign of one so great should have contained within itself the causes of subsequent weakness and destruction. But it did and we need to understand what happened to avoid history repeating itself, to avoid making the same mistakes again, to avoid weakness and destruction.

What then was it that caused the decline and destruction?


He had 40,000 'stalls of horses' and 12,000 horsemen and he also had 1,400 chariots, located in 'chariot cities' as well as with the king in Jerusalem.

'Raising a levy' seems to mean getting together people to labour for the king, this being compulsory (forced) labour. So Solomon conscripted 30,000 men which worked for him in Lebanon. They spent one month out of every three in Lebanon, 10,000 each month, in turn. In addition Solomon had 70,000 who 'bore burdens' and had 80,000 who were 'hewers in the mountains' besides 3,300 chief officers who ruled over the people that did the work.

Solomon had '700 wives, princesses and 300 concubines'. This is unlikely. I have seen it stated that his marriages were politically motivated but then how many countries and tribes surrounded Israel or were known? Only a few.

The king had a very great annual income in addition to that from merchants, traders, the kings of the mingled people, the governors of the country. Some of this additional income, if not all of it, must have come from the people of the country either directly or indirectly.

We are told that every man brought his present, 'a rate year by year' and the given figures confirm the thought. We are being told that he obtained his wealth by taxing the people, that this was paid as an annual tax and that this was a heavy burden on the people. And so the king 'made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones'.

His wealth is described as having been very great indeed. 'All king Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of Solomon's palace were of pure gold.'


The Torah (Deut 17:14-20) leaves little doubt about what a ruler in Israel must not do:

He must not 'multiply horses to himself'.

He must not 'cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses'. This means that he must not exploit, or oppress so as to exploit, the people for personal gain or for increasing his power over them.

He must not 'multiply wives to himself' so that his heart is not turned away.

He must not 'greatly multiply to himself silver and gold'.

He must read this law 'all the days of his life' ... 'to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, ... .'

The laws quoted here protect people and safeguard their strength and freedom.

What rulers and their establishment may do is clearly limited by these laws. They may not grasp power, may not oppress or exploit the people, may not behave promiscuously, may not enrich themselves.


Compare the kingship (i.e. government) laws with what we are told about Solomon. What we are being told is not that he had 1,000 wives, etc., but that he broke the laws of government which protect the people, that he oppressed and exploited the people.

The whole record of Solomon's reign shows a ruler who is more concerned with personal wealth and power than with leading the people towards a better life.


Solomon died but before his son Rehoboam could be installed, the people spoke to Rehoboam saying 'Your father made our yoke grievous; now therefore make you the grievous service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter and we will serve you'.

Rehoboam's answer was 'My father made your yoke heavy, I will add to your yoke; my father punished you with whips, but I will punish you with scorpions'.

Israel then rebelled against the descendants of David. and Solomon's kingdom split up into two separate kingdoms.


Scripture tells us that Solomon had a choice, namely to follow the law or not. He was warned about the inevitable consequences.

Just as Solomon was given a choice and judged according to the way in which he behaved, so here Solomon's son is given a choice by the people of Israel.

The information about Solomon comes from 'First Kings'. There is much else which confirms what has been said here. Just how 'wise' is a ruler who betrays his people and thus the foundation on which his home is built?


For more information see
History Speaks: Monarchy, Exile and Maccabees
http://www.solhaam.org/



3. The Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship in the Torah

We saw (in Part 1) a statement from the Talmud which argued forcefully against an aspect of oral law, when compared with the laws of the Torah.

The scholars are arguing about whether some laws take precedence or which laws should be kept in preference. It is the social laws and social system of the Torah which are at the centre of confrontation and strife.

We then saw (Part 2) that Scripture tells us that king Solomon and later his son, were each given a choice, to follow the laws of the Torah or not. They decided not to follow them and Israel was in the end lost as a result.

So what does the Torah say about the consequences of keeping or rejecting the social laws and social system of the Torah?

If we want freedom, independence, good life of high quality, then we have to follow these laws. If we do not, then we lose freedom, independence, good life and the country in which we live. This Cause- and-Effect Relationship is stated as a scientific law. The consequences of our behaviour cannot be avoided but we can change the course of events by behaving differently.

Here are some relevant passages from the Torah in plain English as well as in the Torah's religious language. It will be seen that they clearly describe the relationship and the range over which it applies.



CAUSE-AND-EFFECT RELATIONSHIP IN THE TORAH


Extent to Which It Applies
     
The relationship applies:
     
Plain English   Religious Language
     
(1) to all without exception   ... your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water; (Deut 29: 9-10)
     
(2) at all times, to the present as well as to the future   ... with him that stands here with us this day ... and also with him that is not here with us this day (Deut 29: 14)
     
(3) here and now, wherever you may happen to be   ... it is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. ... It is not in heaven ... neither is it beyond the sea ... (Deut 30: 11-14)
     
(4) to your mind (thoughts) and to your emotions (feelings)   (It) is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. (Deut 30: 11-14)
     
     
Introduction to Relationship
     
Plain English   Religious Language
     
You are unable (at your present stage of knowledge and development) to understand the Cause-and-Effect Relationship. However, the information given here enables you to see what will happen as a result of your behaviour.   The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut 29: 28)
     
Even if you do not see how that which happens results from your behaviour, the consequences of your behaviour are certain to occur and will be as stated.   I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day ... (Deut 30: 19)
     
     
Outline of Relationship
     
Plain English   Religious Language
     
The quality of your life can range from freedom and a good secure life at one end of the scale to oppression and enslavement at the other end.   See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil, ... (Deut 30: 15)
... I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; ... (Deut 30: 19)
     
Where you will be on this scale depends on the way you behave towards each other, that is on the extent to which you follow the law.    
     
Allow yourself to be persuaded into contrary behaviour and you will be oppressed and enslaved. Follow the law and you will be free and have a good life.   But if your heart turn away, and you will not hear, ... you shall surely perish; ... choose life, that you may live, ... (Deut 30: 17-19)



THE RELATIONSHIP

The actual results of behaviour both ways are listed and described, clearly and powerfully illustrating intermediate stages between the two ends of the scale. The results of observing the Law are described (Deut 28: 3-13), and so are those of disregarding the Law (Deut 28: 16-44).

The process is reversible. Increasingly disregarding the Law results in greater suffering and oppression (Deut 28: 49-66), increasingly behaving according to the Law results in greater freedom and a better life (Deut 30: 1-10).



The relationship is stated in a way which enables people to benefit from the effects of their behaviour, even if they do not understand the underlying interrelation.

History clearly and convincingly illustrates the working of the relationship through successive periods of exile and return to Erez Israel. The events speak for themselves. There is no need to keep repeating the same mistakes. We must do better this time.


We have seen here that it is up to us whether or not we follow the Law, and we know what the inevitable consequences will be, either way.


But which laws under what circumstances?

The Talmudic scholars argued about whether some laws took precedence, about which laws should be kept in preference, about Oral laws and Torah laws. Some scholars were motivated by love of God and people, others were politically motivated. However, some were so horrified by the destruction of the Second Temple and by the suffering of the people that they recorded what went wrong and how to correct matters.


For more information see
The Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship
http://www.solhaam.org/



4. TALMUD

The Talmud consists of 'Mishnah' and 'Gemara', recorded together.

The Mishnah records legal decisions and traditions handed down previously by word of mouth. They were committed to writing when disputes arose between scholars about judgements which had been made in the past, about their meaning and their application. These disputes increased and became more intense as time passed and this is reflected in the Talmud.

It took about two hundred years (roughly 1 - 200 CE) for the Mishnah to be compiled, written down and edited. It was finally edited by Judah haNasi who selected some decisions but rejected others and is known to have excluded many legal decisions (Tosefta; Beraitot).

The compiling of the Mishnah was followed by the compiling of the Gemara which is a record of later discussions, arguments and stories relating to the Mishnah, written down many years afterwards.

The Gemara was compiled and added to the Mishnah to form the Talmud, both in Jerusalem and in Babylon. This took about two hundred years in Jerusalem and about three hundred years in Babylon. So to compile the whole Talmud took about four hundred years in Jerusalem and about five hundred years in Babylon.

There are some basic rules of controversy in the Talmud:
  1. The earlier scholars (tanna, tannaim) whose views and decisions are recorded in the Mishnah may not express a view which runs counter to a passage in the Torah.
  2. Later scholars (amora, amoraim) cannot contradict a mishnah, tanna, tannaim, or an accepted baraita unless he cites another tannaic source in support of his contention.

In other words, the Talmud is subordinate legislation when compared with the Torah.

The Mishnah is closer to the Torah, is closer to being a body of legal decisions and a legal framework than the Gemara. The Mishnah carries greater authority than the mass of the Gemara.

On the other hand the Gemara is far-ranging, containing allegorical stories of often uncertain significance and containing much discussion. Scholars are quoted who lived hundreds of years earlier whose sayings and decisions had up till then been handed down only by the spoken word, had not previously been written down.

The Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) is considerably longer than the Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi). The Babylonian Talmud is also considered to have a higher level of learning and greater authority when compared with the Jerusalem Talmud.


For more information see
Hillel and His Times
http://www.solhaam.org/



5. HALACHAH (Jewish Law)


Torah Law

What we understand in depth of Torah law is important and relevant. That which appears less relevant is often so because we do not as yet understand its impact and intent. Changing the application of laws under such circumstances can lead to the making of misleading and destructive changes. The Torah is very clear on this point:
'You shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you'. (Deut 4: 2)

When I mention the Torah and Torah law, then I am referring to the Pentateuch, that is to the five books of Moses.

The Torah is the basic constitution which safeguards the rights of the people and points the way ahead. On this as a foundation has been built the vast body of Jewish common and case law which has grown up and applies the law under present conditions.

The authority for such changes comes from the Torah (Deut 17: 8- 11). In matters of dispute or doubt which cannot be resolved with reference to existing law, then the priests the Levites and the judge of the day are to decide the matter. The law they will teach and the judgement which is made are binding and have to be followed.

They are thus authorised to modify the application of a Torah law so as to keep it effective in achieving its intent in the light of changing conditions. They may not change the basic constitution, they may not change Torah law.

They may modify the application of a law and do so by issuing directives. The resulting body of common and case law is called 'Halachah'.


Halachah (Jewish Law)

Some ancient directives protect and strengthen the laws of the Torah. There are those which prohibit the doing of something and these are called Gezerot. Then there are directives called Minhagim which generally approve but without adding to, or subtracting from, Torah law. Further there are Takonnot which are amendments to the halachic systems and which generally call for the doing of something.

Halachic directives thus aim to resolve new problems (social, economic and moral) which find no answer in the Torah or in existing Halachah. They do so by amending the existing Halachah or by new halachic legislation in the spirit and intent of the Torah.


Emergency Legislation

The saving of life being all-important, our scholars have in the past decided in times of danger and need that certain regulations and laws need not be kept. Or they found ways of bypassing the effect of a law without abrogating it, adapting the use of a law to conditions existing in their days. The land was worked during a Shemittah year, for example, to protect the people from persecution at a time of occupation when the Romans insisted on collecting taxes. Another example is that people may defend themselves on the Sabbath.

In an emergency, directives may be issued to be in force for a limited period. Emergency directives leave the law in existence so that it can be applied again at some future date when the emergency is over.

Halachic modification to the application of a Torah law would seem to be permitted in an emergency as long as it is clearly stated that the Torah says one thing while the deciding halachic authority decides otherwise, it being made clear that the directive is subordinate legislation.

Legislation aimed at overcoming an emergency may either strengthen or weaken the observance of the law. We need to overcome emergencies by finding ways which strengthen the application of Torah law.

Emergency legislation leaves the basic law in existence to be applied again at some future date when the emergency is over. Hence emergency legislation has to be accompanied by a clear statement of what it is attempting to achieve, and of the limited period of time during which the emergency legislation is to remain in existence.

This would enable one to judge such subordinate legislation in relation to Torah law, by comparing what it achieves with what it is intended to achieve, and to judge the time when it is to be annulled, amended or superseded when the emergency, the need to save life, is over.


Relative Strength

We have seen that the Torah is the basic constitution which safeguards the people and points the way ahead. It may not be changed in any way either by adding or by taking away.

We have also seen that the Torah authorises halachic legislation modifying the application of a Torah law so as to keep the law effective in achieving its intent in the light of changing conditions.

Halachic legislation is subordinate legislation and as such may be abrogated or amended by other halachic legislation.


For more information see
Hillel and His Times
http://www.solhaam.org/



6. THE SOCIAL LAWS AND THE SOCIAL SYSTEM OF THE TORAH

6.1 Wealth

God promised the Hebrews the land of Canaan (Erez Israel), the Torah clearly laying down its borders. All the land was to be allocated to Hebrews and the land was divided among them, each family receiving land in proportion to its size.

Except for Levites, every family had its own plot of land, the land having been shared out fairly. Each family had its own independent source of income. Each family independently controlled its own share.

Each family has the right to work the land and to its produce. This right is hereditary and passes to one's heirs, but laws prevent the division of land from becoming unfair, prevent the accumulation of land in the hands of a few, prevent land passing from tribe to tribe.


The laws about ownership of land deal with the means for generating income and wealth. They are important because it is through accumulated wealth that power accumulates to exploit others, to oppress, and to oppress so as to exploit.

As time passes some people gain wealth and power, others fall into poverty and need, and the equal, fair and appropriate distribution of land has to be restored. This is done in several different ways.

In every fiftieth year (Year of Freedom; Yovel; Jubilee) those in service are released from their labours. They then return to their hereditary plot of land as free men, returning to their land and means of livelihood as free people free of all debt.

Ownership of land reverts to its original owners and in this way land is not allowed to accumulate in the hands of a few who could use it to exploit and oppress others.

The owner cannot sell the land to another Hebrew or to a non-Hebrew. He can only transfer the use of the land for a limited period, which cannot be longer than to the next Year of Freedom (Yovel year), since the original owner or his heirs return to their allocated plot of land in that year (Lev 25: 13-16).

Selling the use of the land in this way amounts to leasing it to a tenant, the lease terminating at the Year of Freedom. The land itself cannot be transferred permanently, cannot be sold.

That only the use of the land is transferred and not ownership is underlined by the owner's right of 'redemption'. He and his relatives for him have the duty and right at any time to terminate the lease by paying back to the tenant an amount corresponding to the unexpired part of the lease (Lev 25: 23-28).

This section of the Torah then clearly states that land cannot be sold and defines leasehold giving the maximum length of the lease. It also defines the owner's right of terminating the lease to regain possession while protecting the tenant from financial loss.


The Torah states that the land belongs to God, that the Hebrew who uses land is God's tenant (Lev 25: 23). Hence he may continue to use the land as long as he keeps the conditions of the agreement. So the Torah clearly states that the Hebrews who dwell in the country may use the land only as long as the law is followed, as long as they observe God's laws. This corresponds precisely to how ownership is defined in other countries: A tenant may continue to work the land but only as long as he keeps the terms of the lease.


Land provides independent income and security. Jewish law lays down that the land is to be shared out fairly among the population. It states how ownership is to be controlled so that land cannot accumulate in the hands of a few at the expense of the many.

Jewish laws of leasehold maintain a fair distribution of wealth so that wealth cannot be used to exploit or to oppress. The grim consequences of not keeping such Torah laws cannot be avoided (See 3. Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship in the Torah).


For more information see
The Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship
http://www.solhaam.org/



6.2 Social Security

We saw that the whole of the land of Israel was divided, fairly and equally, among the Hebrews living in Israel (Part 6.1: Wealth), and that this fair and equal division of the land was to be re-established at regular intervals at the Year of Freedom (Yovel Year).

Now we are looking at the Torah's system of social security. This supports and backs Hebrews who are falling on bad times. The laws of the Torah help Hebrews to maintain their freedom and independence as owners farming their own land, supporting their families in this way. The laws provide an essential safeguard against domination and exploitation by others. A person's need must not be used to exploit him.


Protection against Eviction

If a Hebrew sinks into poverty and his means fail, then he has to be supported. He is to be helped to keep and regain his independence.

A tenant (ger toshav: 'stranger who is a settler') cannot own land. He is a tenant whose lease expires at the next Year of Freedom.

And the Hebrew whose means have failed is to be treated like a tenant whose lease expires at the next Year of Freedom and who is working independently on his own account. He may be sharecropping or paying an annual rent for the use of the land, to his creditors.

As long as he works the land and farms it as a tenant he may in this way regain his financial strength and redeem his own property in due course.


Providing and 'Lending' Money

In addition to being protected against eviction, a Hebrew in need of finance, in need of money, has to be helped. To assist him is not optional but obligatory. One is merely doing one's duty in providing funds, in giving loans.

But he must not be charged interest nor may one profit from supplying him.

When lending money to those who need it one may not press for repayment, particularly so when one knows that the borrower is unable to pay.

So interest-free loans are to be provided to those who need them. Hebrews must not charge each other interest nor pay interest to each other.

However, one may charge interest when lending to a foreigner and foreigners have to repay their debts. Presumably because they are not Hebrews and thus do not adhere to benevolent Jewish law.


Release from Debt every Seventh Year

Unpaid debts are cancelled at the end of the Year of Release (Shemittah Year). This does not apply to unpaid wages or credit for day by day purchases but means that a lender is legally prevented from collecting all debts which have not been repaid by the end of the Year of Release.

In any case one may not press for payment and no creditor would seem to have the right to press for payment of a debt during the seventh year.

Only money lent to Hebrews is released (cancelled) during the Year of Release. Rashi considers that it is a positive command to ensure repayment of debts by non-Hebrews, presumably because they themselves do not release debts and do not adhere to other benevolent Jewish laws such as those which forbid charging interest on loans.

One needs to release all debts without quibble or precondition, without trying to avoid or modify the release of those whom one has in one's power because of their indebtedness.


Conditions of Employment

If a Hebrew continues to sink into poverty in spite of assistance and aid, becoming unable to support himself and his family, then he is forced by need to serve others.

His need must not be used to exploit him. He is to be employed as a hired servant and must not be treated harshly.


Re-establishing the Fair and Equal Division of the Land

Hebrews are to be freed from working for others, and from having to work for others, in each Year of Freedom.

In that year all those who had fallen on bad times and had had to lease their hereditary land to others, were freed from any service commitments and returned to their own land.

In this way they regained possession of their own land, regained freedom and independence.


What we have in the Torah is a comprehensive and fair social system. So why are the social laws and the social system of the Torah not being applied under present-day conditions?


For more information see
The Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship
http://www.solhaam.org/



7. HILLEL'S PROSBUL

Whichever way we look at it, Hillel's 'Prosbul' is now null and void


We saw earlier {1} that

Jewish laws of leasehold maintain a fair distribution of wealth so that wealth cannot be used to oppress or to exploit.

The Torah's system of social security supports and backs Jews who are falling on bad times. Interest-free loans are to be provided to those who need them. Jews must not charge each other interest nor pay interest to each other. Unpaid debts are cancelled after a period of time which cannot exceed seven years.

In the Torah is a comprehensive and fair social system. The laws safeguard against domination and exploitation by others.

The grim consequences of not keeping such Torah laws cannot be avoided.


However, the social laws and the social system of the Torah are not being applied under present-day conditions. The reason is that about two thousand years ago an individual called Hillel decided that wealthy Jews did not have to keep the laws of the Torah, that they could ignore the social laws which protected the working population from oppression and exploitation.

The Torah states that loans which have not been repaid have to be cancelled. Hillel decided that loans do not have to be cancelled, that wealthy Jews could legally enforce the repayment of loans at any time. In this way Hillel annulled a central and essential law which safeguarded and protected the working population.

The wealthy and the establishment of the day liked this idea and Hillel's viewpoint was taught, managed to establish itself, and has been taught since then.


Hillel's procedure 'Prosbul' for avoiding the release of debts in the Release year is recorded in the Mishnah. This also records his reasons, thus:
(A loan secured by) a Prosbul is not cancelled. This was ... instituted by Hillel ...; for when he observed people refraining from lending to one another, and thus transgressing ... the law, ... he instituted the Prosbul.

There were wealthy Jews who refused to lend funds because the Release year, in which debts would be cancelled, was approaching. So Hillel decides that they can collect their debts any time they like as long as they state this in writing.

He sees wealthy people breaking the law. So he decides that they do not have to keep the law, that they can bypass the application of the law, is in effect annulling the law.

Suppose that stealing is a problem. If one were to follow Hillel's example, then one could rule that people can legally help themselves to other peoples' possessions as long as they deposit a written statement of their intentions in a local Registry.

Hillel sees there is a problem. The rich are breaking the law. Hillel abolishes the law!

Tannaim may not express a view which runs counter to a passage in the Torah. Hillel ruled against Torah and people and in favour of the rich.


We are also told that Hillel instituted the Prosbul 'for the better ordering of society'. The questions which immediately come to mind are
'Better' from whose point of view?
'Better ordering' by whom of whom?
'Better ordering' by whom of what?
Who benefits, who loses?

What stands out is that in instituting the Prosbul, Hillel bypassed a Torah law which provides essential protection for the people. He favoured the rich at the expense of the poor. He exposed the people to exploitation through need.


The questions which now arise are what reason Hillel may have had for doing this and whether he had the authority to institute the Prosbul in the first place.

If the Prosbul had been intended to overcome an emergency then it would have only temporary validity and should have been annulled when the emergency was over.

If Hillel had intended to change the application of the law so as to keep it effective in achieving its intent in the light of changing conditions, strengthening the law instead of weakening it, he would have instituted ways of making the money available to those who needed it.

One may also consider that the authority to modify the application of a law in the light of changing conditions is limited to modifications aimed at achieving the intent of the law.

So Hillel erred when he instituted the Prosbul, having no authority to do so.


Take the key area of making money available to those in need, of making it available in a way which protects the borrower from being exploited by the lender.

The law is very definite. Debts have to be cancelled after a period of time which cannot exceed seven years. And immediately following the laws about the release from debt (in the Release year) we find the following:
If there be among you a needy man, ... you shall ... surely lend him sufficient for his need ... . Beware that there be not a base thought in your heart, saying: 'the seventh year, the year of release, is at hand'; ... and you give him not ... . You shall surely give him, ... . I command you ... 'you shall open your hand to your poor and needy brother ...'

The Torah thus clearly lays down that debts must be cancelled and warns against refusing aid, against refusing to lend because the Release year approaches and we are commanded to satisfy the needs of the poor.


* It follows that whichever way we look at it, Hillel's procedure
* 'Prosbul' is now null and void, that it has been annulled by
* this decision.


REFERENCES FOR PART 7

{1} See
Part 3 (above): Social Cause-and-Effect Relationship in the Torah. Also
Part 6 (above): Social Laws and Social System of the Torah (Wealth; Social Security)



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