Loan amnesty shmita fund set up

Generous People of the Land Fund established to bail out thousands of Jews who have sunk deep into debt.

lots of money 88 (photo credit: )
lots of money 88
(photo credit: )
The biblical shmita (sabbatical) year's strong message of social justice and egalitarianism often gets lost amid bickering over the best way to circumvent the year's numerous halachic prohibitions. More emphasis seems to be put on what sorts of vegetables one can or cannot eat during the year than on the socially progressive ideals put forward in the Bible, such as the command to relinquish ownership of farm land so the poor and needy can harvest its produce, or the command to give the land and its workers a one-year break. But now a group of rabbis, inspired by the Bible's simple message of caring for others, have announced the creation of a loan amnesty fund called Keren Nediveh Aretz (The Generous People of the Land Fund). These rabbis hope to bail out thousands of Jews who have sunk deep into debt to banks, credit card companies, cellular phone companies or other creditors. Chapter 15 of the book of Deuteronomy calls on the Jewish people to cancel all debts left unpaid at the end of the last day of the shmita year. Even if a borrower wishes to repay his debt, the lender may not collect unless he or she first reminds the borrower that the debt has been cancelled. If the borrower still insists on giving the money back as a gift to the lender, he or she may do so. The fund will operate in a similar way. Debt-strapped Jews will be given "loans" before the end of September 29, the last day of the shmita year. At the conclusion of the year, the fund's lien on the borrower will become null and void, in accordance with the biblical command. In parallel, financially able Jews will provide "loans" to support the fund's charitable activities. The fund also hopes to receive the support of banks and other financial institutions. A public committee will decide the eligibility of the potential "lenders." One of the conditions for receiving the "loan" is the lender's obligation to receive financial advice on how to maintain a balanced household budget. The two organizations behind the initiative are Otzar Ha'aretz, a kashrut supervision body that distributes Jewish-grown fruits and vegetables during shmita, and Pa'amonim, a charity that provides financial counseling to families that have trouble making ends meet. Uriel Laderberg, chairman of Pa'amonim, said that the fund would provide the opportunity to do more than just give charity. "We are giving people a rare chance to help a family get back on its feet and make a new start," said Laderberg. "There are people caught up in the vicious cycle of chronic debt who are willing to work hard to get out. We have set up a public council that will make sure the funds are used properly."