Shalom from Tiveryah!
US President Biden announced a Student Loan forgiveness plan which has stirred up quite a storm in America.
There are passionate supporters for the program, and passionate opinions against. Economic repercussions as well as moral and ethical issues are being argued.
As an Israeli, I don’t have a horse in this race, until people start using the Hebrew Torah to justify their position by taking the words and intent of the Torah out of context!!
I saw a number of posts on FB that claimed that it was right and even Godly to forgive student loans based on the following verses in Deuteronomy…
On the surface, this sounds like forgiving loans is always a good thing. But that is not what these verses are discussing nor teaching…
Shmittah – The Sabbatical Year in Israel
When the Bnei Yisrael – Children of Israel entered the Land of Israel with Joshua, they were instructed to count the years and every seventh year would be a Shmittah – Sabbatical year, and all Landlords would let their fields go fallow. (Exodus 23:10-11)
The fruits and vegetables that grow naturally in that year are considered public domain, and everyone is equally allowed to enjoy those fruits and vegetables. The Landlord must declare them “ownerless.”
Many people are aware that Shmittah relates to agricultural laws, but they aren’t as familiar with the concept of Shmittah related to money (ie. personal loans). In the Shmittah year, the lender is not allowed to Lord over the borrower and press him to pay back the loan. The lender must declare that the loan is not required to be repaid.
We are Family
The Jewish People (i.e. The Nation of Israel) are not just a religion. We are not a political entity and we are not a race. At our core, we are a Family. That’s why we are called B’nei Yisrael – The Children of Israel/Jacob.
Although we have different roles within the family (each Tribe has different functions), the Almighty structured His instructions to us in the Torah to ensure we treated each other within the Nation of Israel as brothers and sisters.
For example, if we have some savings in the bank that we are not using and our brother or sister asked us to borrow $1000, it would be unseemly to charge them interest. That would be treating them like a business opportunity rather than family. It would also be demeaning to the borrower as it says in Proverbs 22:7
Shabbat and Shmittah
After spending six days of the workweek playing “god” in our own little corner of the world, God wants the Nation of Israel to ‘rest’ (i.e. cease) from those activities, and let God run things for a day, and remind ourselves there is only One God in the Universe.
The same lesson is learned in the Shmittah year… we cease pretending to be the Lord over “our” land, and the Lord over “our” money – and our fellow Jews. We are reminded that we are all equal members of the Nation of Israel no matter how wealthy and powerful we seem to be compared to others.
Commercial Activity and Strangers
Without commercial activity, society would cease to exist. The only way to have a working economy is to allow for commercial credit, and for business owners to know that they will be able to collect commercial debt. The Shmittah of forgiveness of debt does not apply in these situations even within the Jewish People.
The Torah default situation is that you may charge interest and collect on loans by suing in court.
The exception is not charging interest to family members, or forcing them to pay (Lording over them) during the Shmittah year when it arrives.
Even though the Lender to a family member must release the borrower from paying back the loan in the Shmittah year, that does not mean that the borrower should not pay back the “loan amount” as a gift to the Lender.
In fact the Sages tell us this is the praiseworthy thing to do. Otherwise if everyone always defaulted in the Shmittah year, people would stop lending money to their family knowing they would never get it back!
When borrowers “gift” back the money when they are not legally obligated to do so, it helps make them feel as equals with their wealthy brethren.
Student Loans in America – Slaves to the State
As you can see, the Laws of Shmittah do not apply to the Nations of the world. It also seems to me that the Student Loan was a commercial decision made by the student who borrowed from a commercial entity (bank) to invest in themselves (their future income potential) and is totally different than the situation described in the Shmittah laws.
As we saw in Proverbs above, when the Student took out the loan, they became a Slave to the Bank. When they take a handout from the government, now they become a Slave (beholden) to the State.
Perhaps that was the intent of the program all along. Perhaps it’s just an unintended consequence of people trying to help. You can decide.