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The Shemitah and Jubilee Years

Updated: May 9, 2023


Torah Portion: Parashat Behar-Bechukotai..

Shabbat: May 13, 2023 / Iyyar 22, 5783

Torah: Behar - Lev. 25:1-26:2 Bechukotai - Lev. 26:3-27:34


The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5


This week we have another "double portion" of Torah, friends. Our first Torah portion is called parashat Behar (פרשׁת בהר) which begins with the commandment that an Israelite farmer must let his land rest by remaining fallow every seventh year. This is called the "Sabbatical year" (i.e., shemittah:שְׁמִטָּה, "release") and the inhabitants of the land were permitted to glean whatever the farmland produced naturally.

In addition, the people were told to count seven cycles of seven years – a total of 49 years – to mark the arrival of the fiftieth year with blasts of the shofar on the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur). This fiftieth year would be a time of "Jubilee" (i.e., yovel:יוֹבֵל) – a year of "praise" for the land and all its inhabitants. All slaves would be set free, all debts would be canceled, and the stewardship of the land would revert to its original titleholders.

In this connection, you can determine whether a given year is a Sabbatical year (i.e., shemittah) by simply taking the current Jewish year and dividing by seven; if there is no remainder, it is a shemittah year; otherwise it is not. For example 5783 is not a Sabbatical year because divided by 7 leaves a remainder, whereas year 5789 is a Sabbatical year (note that the Jewish year begins on Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1, in the fall). The Jubilee year (i.e, yovel:יובל) of course follows the seventh of the seven year cycles (i.e., 7 x 7 + 1), though there are some questions about which iteration (1st, 2nd, ... 7th) is currently active. According to some authorities, the last Jubilee year was on Yom Kippur 5776, that is, Tues. Oct. 11th, 2016, so the next would be 50 years later (i.e., in the year 5826).

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