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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Sabbatical Year And Jubilee

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Biblical Injunctions.

The septennate or seventh year, during which the land is to lie fallow, and the celebration of the fiftieth year after seven Sabbatical cycles. As regards the latter, the Hebrew term "yobel" refers to the blast of the shofar on the Day of Atonement announcing the jubilee year (comp. = "trumpets of rams' horns" Joshua 6:4 ), though Ibn Ezra thinks it signifies the transfer of properties (comp. Isaiah 18:7 ). So important was the law regarding the jubilee that, like the Decalogue, it was ascribed to the legislation on Mount Sinai (Leviticus 25:1 ). It was to come into force after the Israelites should be in possession of Palestine: "When ye come into the land which I give you" (ib. ). The law provides that one may cultivate his field and vineyard six years, but "in the seventh year shall be . . . a Sabbath for the Lord," during which one shall neither sow nor reap as hitherto for his private gain, but all members of the community— the owner, his servants, and strangers— as well as domestic and wild animals, shall share in consuming the natural or spontaneous yield of the soil.

The fiftieth year, i.e. , that following the last year of seven Sabbatical cycles, is the jubilee during it the land regulations of the Sabbatical year are to be observed, as is also the commandment "ye shall return every man unto his possession" (ib. verse 10), indicating the compulsory restoration of hereditary properties (except houses of laymen located in walled cities) to the original owners or their legal heirs, and the emancipation of all Hebrew servants whose term of six years is unexpired or who refuse to leave their masters when such term of service has expired ( Genesis 18:6 ' Ar. 33b see Josephus, "Ant." 6:8, § 28).

The regulations of the Sabbatical year include also the annulment of all monetary obligations between Israelites, the creditor being legally barred from making any attempt to collect his debt (Deuteronomy 15:1 et seq. ). The law for the jubilee year has not this provision.

Technically the Talmud distinguishes the Sabbatical year for the release or quitclaim of loans as "shemiṭ ṭ ah," more distinctly "shemiṭ ṭ at kesafim" (money-release), in contradistinction to "shebi' it" (seventh) or "shemiṭ ṭ at ḳ arḳ a' ot" (land-release). There is this difference, however, that loans are not annulled before the expiration (= "the end") of every seven years, as the Mosaic law (ib. ) provides, whereas the land-release, the shemiṭ ṭ at ḳ arḳ a' ot, begins with the seventh year. The general term for the Sabbatical cycle is "shabua' " = "septennate" (Sanh. 5:1).

Reasons for Observance.
Several reasons are advanced for these laws:

  1. In the Cabala the number seven is a symbolic division of time, and is sacred to God. The week of Creation consisted of seven days, the last being the Sabbath. The Feast of Weeks is so called because it occurs seven weeks after Passover, the fiftieth day being Pentecost. These days are parallel to the years of shemiṭ ṭ ah and yobel. The duration of the world Isaiah 7,000 years, the seven thousandth year being the millennium, the Great Sabbath of the Lord (Sanh. 97a).

  2. The physico-economic and socialistic theories are that rest from labor is an absolute necessity both for animal and for vegetable life that continuous cultivation will eventually ruin the land. The law of the Sabbatical year acts also as a statute of limitation or a bankruptcy law for the poor debtor, in discharging his liability for debts contracted, and in enabling him to start life anew on an equal footing with his neighbor, without the fear that his future earnings will be seized by his former creditors. The jubilee year was the year of liberation of servants whose poverty had forced them into employment by others. Similarly all property alienated for a money consideration to relieve poverty, was to be returned to the original owners without restoration of the amount which had been advanced.

  3. The rabbinical view, however, is that these laws were made to promote the idea of theocracy: that one year in seven might be devoted "to the Lord," as the weekly Sabbath is devoted to rest from manual labor and to the study of the Law. The jubilee was instituted primarily to keep intact the original allotment of the Holy Land among the tribes, and to discountenance the idea of servitude to men. "For unto me the children of Israel are servants they are my servants" (Leviticus 25:55 ) and they shall not be servants to servants, as God's bond has the priority (Sifra, Behar Sinai, 7:1.). That the main object was to keep intact each tribe's inheritance is evident from the fact that shemiṭ ṭ ah and yobel were not inaugurated before the Holy Land had been conquered and apportioned among the tribes and their families. The first shemiṭ ṭ ah year is said to have occurred twenty-one years after the arrival of the Hebrews in Palestine, and the first yobel thirty-three years later (ib. 1:3.). The jubilee was proclaimed "throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" only when all the tribes were in possession of Palestine was the jubilee observed, but not after the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had been exiled ( ib. 2:3) nor was it observed during the existence of the Second Temple, when the tribes of Judah and Benjamin had been assimilated (Sheb. 10:2 ' Ar. 32b). After the conquest of Samaria by Shalmaneser the jubilee was observed nominally in the expectation of the return of the tribes— according to some authorities, Jeremiah brought them back ( ib. 33a)— and till the final exile by Nebuchadnezzar.

Fifty- and Forty-nine-Year Cycles.
There is a difference of opinion in the Talmud as to whether the jubilee year was included in or excluded from the forty-nine years of the seven cycles. The majority of rabbis hold that the jubilee year was an intercalation, and followed the seventh Sabbatical year, making two fallow years in succession. After both had passed, the next cycle began. They adduce this theory from the plain words of the Law to "hallow the fiftieth year," and also from the assurance of God's promise of a yield in the sixth year sufficient for maintenance during the following three years, "until the ninth year, until her fruits come in" (Leviticus 25:22 ), which, they say, refers to the jubilee year. Judah ha-Nasi, however, contends that the jubilee year was identical with the seventh Sabbatical year (R. H. 9a Giṭ . 36a comp. Rashi ad loc. ). The opinion of the Geonim and of later authorities generally prevails, that the jubilee, when in force during the period of the First Temple, was intercalated, but that in the time of the Second Temple, when the jubilee was observed only "nominally," it coincided with the seventh Sabbatical year. In post-exilic bṭ imes the jubilee was entirely ignored, though the strict observance of the shemiṭ ṭ ah was steadily insisted upon. This, however, is only according to a rabbinical enactment (Tos. to Giṭ . 36a, s.v. "Bizeman"), as by the Mosaic law, according to R. Judah, shemiṭ ṭ ah is dependent on the jubilee and ceases to exist when there is no jubilee (Giṭ . l.c. and Rashi ad loc. ).

That the Sabbatical year was observed during the existence of the Second Temple is evident from the history of the Maccabees (I Macc. 6:51,55). The Mishnah includes in the examination of witnesses questions as to dates, in giving which there must be specified the Sabbatical year, the year, month, week, day, and hour (Sanh. 5:1).

Palestinian Area of Shemiṭ ṭ ah.
The area of the Holy Land over which the shemiṭ ṭ ah was in force included in the time of the First Temple all the possessions of the Egyptian emigrants ("' Ole Miẓ rayim"), which territory extended south to Gaza, east to the Euphrates, and north to the Lebanon Mountains. Ammon and Moab in the southeast were excluded. In the period of the Second Temple the area of the Babylon emigrants ("' Ole Babel"), headed by Ezra, was restricted to the territory west of the Jordan and northward as far as Acre (Acco). The Rabbis extended the shemiṭ ṭ ah to Syria, in order not to tempt settlers of the Holy Land to emigrate thither (Yad. 4:3). The area of Palestine was divided into three parts, Judea, Galilee, and the transjordan districts, where shemiṭ ṭ ah existed in more or less rigorous observance (see Sheb. ix. and Yer. ad loc. ).

The duration of the shemiṭ ṭ ah year was from autumn to autumn, beginning with New-Year's Day but as a precaution against any infringement of the Law, the Rabbis extended the time and prohibited sowing and planting thirty days before Rosh ha-Shanah. Still later they prohibited the sowing of grain from Passover, and the planting of trees from Pentecost preceding the shemiṭ ṭ ah year, in order not to derive any benefit from the fruits bearing in that year (Sheb. 1:1, 2:1). The extension of the time is known as "' ereb shebi' it" (= "preceding the seventh"). The penalty for non-observance of the shemiṭ ṭ ah year is exile for eating the fruits of the seventh year (i.e. , of the sixth year's growth), pestilence (Abot 5:11,12).

Rabbinical Extensions Bankruptcy.
The rabbinical enactment extended the shemiṭ ṭ at kesafim or money-release to countries other than the Holy Land, but confined the shemiṭ ṭ at ḳ arḳ a' ot or land-release to Palestine within Ezra's boundarylines of occupation during the period of the Second Temple. The money-release was obviously independent of the Holy Land and was intended to free from his debts the poor in every land, and at a certain period of time. On the other hand, this bankruptcy law checked all business enterprises which the Jews were engaged in after they had largely abandoned agricultural pursuits. Hillel the Elder then amended the law by his institution of the Prosbul . In addition to this subterfuge, there are various exceptions which exclude the following debts from the operation of shemiṭ ṭ ah: wages, merchandise on credit, loans on pledges, a note guaranteed by mortgage, one turned over to the bet din for collection (according to the theory of the prosbul), and one which stipulates that the debtor waives the shemiṭ ṭ ah defense as regards this particular note (but he can not waive the law in general Sheb. xi. Yer. ad loc. Giṭ . 36a, b, 37a).

The shemiṭ ṭ at kesafim was undoubtedly intended for the poor debtor, though the rich man also might take advantage of the general law. The Mishnah, however, plainly expresses the Rabbis' satisfaction with the debtor who does not make use of the shemiṭ ṭ ah in order to be relieved of his obligations (Sheb. 10:4). The Rabbis nevertheless desired that "the law of the shemiṭ ṭ ah shall not be forgotten" (Giṭ . 36b).

Maimonides, in his responsa, rules that shemiṭ ṭ ah is not operative against orphans, but that all other debts are wiped out. Incidentally he says "the Sabbatical year occurred last year" (1507 of the Seleucidan era = 4956 of Creation = 1195 C.E. "Pe' er ha-Dor," No. 127, Amsterdam, 1765).

Apparently the Jews of Spain, in the thirteenth century, did not observe the shemiṭ ṭ at kesafim and in Germany the Jews made use of the prosbul. When Asher b. Jehiel (1250-1328) went to Spain he was surprised at the violation of the law of shemiṭ -ṭ ah, finding that collection was exacted of notes that had passed many shemiṭ ṭ ahs without a prosbul (Asheri, Responsa, rule 77, § § 2,4, 6). Neither Jacob Asheri in his Ṭ ur nor Joseph Caro in his Shulḥ an. ' Aruk, Yoreh De' ah, mentions the shemiṭ -ṭ at ḳ arḳ a' ot and yobel (evidently considering the law obsolete) but both of them refer to the shemiṭ -ṭ at kesafim and prosbul (Ḥ oshen Mishpaṭ , § 67), which they claim are operative both in and out of Palestine. Moses Isserles adds, however, that the majority of Jewish authorities in Germany are indifferent to or ignore the custom of the shemiṭ ṭ ah. He dates the latest shemiṭ ṭ ah in the year 5327 (1567 C.E. ), and says the next was to occur in 5334 (= 1573 C.E. ).

Relaxation in Observance.
Isserlein, in a responsum ("Terumat ha-Deshen," No. 304), explains the relaxation in the observance in European countries as due to the fact that the rabbinical extension was originally for the purpose "that the law of shemiṭ ṭ ah may not be forgotten," and that it was apparently intended to apply to Palestine proper and its neighboring countries, Babylon and Egypt, but not elsewhere. Joseph Colon (Responsa, No. 92) decides that the shemiṭ ṭ ah defense is a very weak one consequently a creditor is believed without an oath when he says that he has lost the prosbul. He rules, as regards the enforcement of the shemiṭ ṭ at kesafim, that the bet din should be guided by the prevailing Jewish custom in the particular country.

The shemiṭ ṭ at kesafim is equally relaxed in Palestine to-day. The principal reasons seem to have been that the fixed date of payment, the guaranty attached, and the terminology of the present-day notes abrogate the law of shemiṭ ṭ ah. The shemiṭ ṭ at ḳ arḳ a' ot, however, has been generally observed in Palestine and during the shemiṭ ṭ ah year the Jews of the Holy Land eat only of the products grown in the transjordanic districts (Schwartz, "Tebu' at ha-Areẓ ," ed. Lunez, p. 20, Jerusalem, 1900).

Shemiṭ ṭ ah and Palestinian Colonists.
Since the Zionist movement began to encourage agriculture in Palestine, the observance of shemiṭ ṭ ah has become a problem for solution. The leaders of the movement, who had the interest of the colonists at heart and feared that the shemiṭ ṭ ah might jeopardize their existence, claimed that the law is now obsolete. The Jewish periodicals, especially "Ha-Meliẓ ," strenuously objected to enforcing the law of shemiṭ ṭ ah upon the colonists. When the shemiṭ ṭ ah year 5649 (= 1888-89) approached, the question was submitted to the chief rabbis in Europe and Palestine. Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spector was inclined to be lenient, and advocated a nominal sale of the land to a non-Jew and the employment of non-Jewish laborers during shemiṭ ṭ ah. The Sephardic ḥ akam bashi, Jacob Saul Elyashar, concurred in this decision (see his "Simḥ ah la-Ish," p. 107). But the Ashkenazic rabbis in Jerusalem opposed any subterfuge, and issued the following declaration:("Ha-Ḥ abaẓ ẓ elet," Oct. 26,1888, No. 6 "Jew. World," Nov. 16,1888) "As the year of the shemiṭ ṭ ah, 5649, is drawing nigh, we inform our brethren the colonists that, according to our religion, they are not permitted to plow or sow or reap, or allow Gentiles to perform these agricultural operations on their fields (except such work as may be necessary to keep the trees in a healthy state, which is legally permitted). Inasmuch as the colonists have hitherto endeavored to obey God's law, they will, we trust, not violate this Biblical command. By order of the bet din of the Ashkenazim at Jerusalem. [Signed by the rabbis] J. L. Diskin and Samuel Salant".An appeal, signed by prominent Jews in Jerusalem, for funds to enable the colonists to observe the shemiṭ ṭ ah was directed to the Jews outside the Holy Land. Dr. Hildesheim as president of the society Lema' an Ẓ iyyon, in Frankfort-on-the-Main, collected donations for this purpose. Baron Edmond de Rothschild, being informed by Rabbi Diskin that the law of shemiṭ ṭ ah is valid, ordered the colonists under his protection in Palestine to cease work during the Sabbatical year.

Talmudic and Samaritan Calculation of Jubilees.
The exact year of the shemiṭ ṭ ah is in dispute, and different dates are given. According to Talmudic calculations the entrance of the Israelites into Palestine occurred in the year of Creation 2489, and 850 years, or seventeen jubilees, passed between that date and the destruction of the First Temple. The first cycle commenced after the conquest of the land and its distribution among the tribes, which, occupied fourteen years, and the last jubilee occurred on the "tenth day of the month [Tishri], in the fourteenth year after that the city was smitten" (Ezekiel 40:1 ), which was the New-Year's Day of the jubilee (' Ab. Zarah 9b ' Ar. 11b-12b). Joshua celebrated the first jubilee, and died just before the second (Seder ' Olam R., ed. Ratner, 11:24b-25b, 30:69b, Wilna, 1895).

The Samaritans in their "Book of Joshua" date the first month of the first Sabbatical cycle and of the first jubilee cycle as beginning with the crossing of the Jordan and the entrance of the Israelites into their possession and they insist that the date was 2794 of Creation, according to the chronology of the Torah "and the true reckoning known to the sages since the Flood" ("Karme Shomeron," ed. Raphael Kirchheim, § 15, p. 63, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1851).

The First and the Second Temple, the Talmud says, were destroyed "on the closing of the Sabbatical year" ("Moẓ a' e Shebi' it"). The sixteenth jubilee occurred in the eighteenth year of Josiah, who reigned thirty-one years the remaining thirteen years of his reign, together with the eleven years of those of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin and the eleven years of that of Zedekiah (IIKings xxv.), fix the first exilic year as the thirty-sixth year of the jubilee cycle, or the twenty-fifth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin, or fourteen years from the destruction of the Holy City (' Ar. and ' Ab. Zarah l.c. see Rashi ad loc. ).

The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years. Ezra sanctified Palestine in the seventh year of the second entrance, after the sixth year of Darius, when the Temple was dedicated (Ezra 6:15,16 7:7). The first cycle of shemiṭ ṭ ah began with the sanctification of Ezra. The Second Temple stood 420 years, and was destroyed, like the First, in the 421st year, on the closing of the shemiṭ ṭ ah (' Ar. 13a).

Various Dates.
The Talmud gives as a rule for finding the year of shemiṭ ṭ ah to add one year and divide by seven the number of years since the destruction of the Second Temple, or to add 2 for every 100 years and divide the sum by seven (' Ab. Zarah 9b). The difference among the Jewish authorities as to the correct shemiṭ ṭ ah year is due to the varied interpretation of the words "closing of shebi' it," as meaning either the last year of the cycle or the year after the cycle also as to the beginning of the exilic shemiṭ ṭ ah from the year when the destruction of the Temple occurred, or from the year after. There is another version of the Talmudic rule mentioned above, namely, to "add two years to or deduct five years from" the number of years since the destruction (' Ab. Zarah 9b).

Maimonides gives the date of a shemiṭ ṭ ah year occurring in his time as the year 1107 from the destruction of the Temple, 1487 of the Seleucidan era, 4936 of Creation (= 1175 C.E. "Yad," Shemiṭ ṭ ah we-Yobel, 10:4) i.e. , he begins the cycle with the year following that of the destruction. Rashi's interpretation is that the destruction occurred at the "closing of shebi' it" (= "after the cycle had been closed with the previous year"), and he makes the year in which the destruction occurred as the first year of the new cycle. Rabbenu Tam agrees with Rashi as to the date of the destruction, but differs from him in asserting that the shemiṭ ṭ ah fell in the year of the destruction, which was the "closing year of the cycle." He fixes the shemiṭ ṭ ah at the time of his writing as the year 5012 of Creation (= 1251 C.E. Tos. to ' Ab. Zarah 9b, s.v. , end) this result agrees with that of Maimonides, though it is reached by a different method of calculation. Rabbenu Hananeel claims that the closing of shebi' it— that is, shemiṭ ṭ ah— was the year after the destruction of the Temple.

The year of the shemiṭ ṭ ah was finally settled according to the view of Maimonides, which agreed with the most plausible interpretation of the correct Talmudic text and also with the practise of the oldest members of the Jewish communities in the Orient by whom the shemiṭ ṭ ah years were observed. Evidence to this effect was given at a conference of rabbis called in Jerusalem, who concurred in the opinion expressed by the rabbis from Safed, Damascus, Salonica, and Constantinople fixing the shemiṭ ṭ ah year of their time as 5313 = 1552 (Azkari, "Sefer Ḥ asidim," ed. Warsaw, 1879, p. 83).

Dates of Sabbatical and Jubilee Years, According to the Talmudical Calculation .
Period. Year of Creation. Year of Settlement in Palestine. B.C. or C.E. Number of Sabbatical Years. Number of Jubilee Years.
B.C. (50-year cycle)
Crossing of the Jordan 2489 .... 1271
Conquest and allotment of Palestine 2503 1257
First Sabbatical year 2510 7 1250 1.
First Jubilee year 2553 50 1207 7. 1.
Exile of the Ten Tribes 3187 684 573 95.6 13.34
Destruction of the First Temple 3338 835 422 117 16.35 (49-year cycle)
Second entrance to Palestine 3408 From destruction of the Temple. 352 127. 18.7
Seleucidan era commenced 3448 312 135.5 18.47
Destruction of the Second Temple 3828 C.E. 68-69 187. 26.35
Exilic Sabbatical cycle commenced 3829 1 69-70
Current Sabbatical year 5665 1836 1904-5 449.2 64.9
Last Sabbatical year will begin 5999 2238 497 71.
Cabalistic jubilee will commence 6000 2239
See also Era Jubilees, Book of .
Bibliography : Estori Farḥ i, Kaftor u-Feraḥ , § § 49,50, 51 Israel Shklow, Pe' at ha-Shulḥ an, Shemiṭ ṭ ah we-Yobel , Safed, 1837 Abraham b. Solomon Al-Azraki, Shelom Yerushalayim , ed. Isaac Badhab, Jerusalem, 1895 Jacob Urnstein, Ḳ onṭ res Dabarbe-' Itto , on the shemiṭ ṭ ah observance of 5649, Jerusalem, 1888 John Fenton, Early Hebrew Life , pp. 60-74, London, 1880 Saalschü tz, Mosaische Archä ologie , 2:224 Baer, Symbolik , 2:569,601 Ewald, Antiquities , pp. 369-380 Schü rer, Hist. I. 1:40. E. C. J. D. E.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Sabbatical Year And Jubilee'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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