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Posted on September 3, 2017 By Rabbi Dr. Azriel Rosenfeld | Series: | Level:

40. Sabbatical and Jubilee – Shemitah ve-Yovel

a) The Sabbatical Year

We are commanded to rest from working the land every seventh year and are forbidden to cultivate fields or trees during that year, as it says “And the land shall rest, a sabbath to Ha-Shem; [six years you shall sow your fields and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather its produce, and in the seventh year shall be a sabbath for the land, a sabbath to Ha-Shem]; you shall not sow your field and you shall not prune your vineyard”1; and it says “In plowing time and harvest time you shall rest”.2 Types of agricultural work not mentioned in these verses are forbidden at most rabbinically.a

Anything that grows during the seventh year can be eaten, as it says “And the sabbath of the land shall be for you to eat [for you and your slave and maidservant and your hired worker and the settler who lives with you and your animal and the wild beast in your land all its produce shall be to eat]”.3 It is rabbinically forbidden to eat plants that are normally sown for cultivation unless they grow in a place that is not normally cultivated; but the fruit of trees and plants not normally sown can be eaten in any case. It is forbidden to harvest in the normal manner, as it says “You shall not reap a harvest of what grows by itself and you shall not gather the grapes of your untended vine; [it shall be a sabbatical year for the land]”.4 All of these laws apply only in the land of Israel (and rabbinically in parts of Jordan and Syria; but everything that grows there is permitted, as is everything that grows on land owned by a non-Jew even in the land of Israel).b

We are commanded to abandon everything that the land produces in the seventh year so that all have equal rights in it, as it says “[Six years you shall sow your land and gather its produce;] and the seventh you shall release and abandon it and the poor of your people shall eat [and what they leave over the beast of the field shall eat; so too you shall do to your vineyard, to your olive]”.5 This produce can be used only for normal eating, drinking and anointing, as well as for fuel or dye; it must not be destroyed or used for commercial purposes, but can be sold in small quantities to buy other food and the like. It can be eaten only as long as food of the same species is still to be found in the fields, as it says “And for your animal and the wild beast in your land all its produce shall be to eat”3 — as long as a beast can eat it in the field one may eat it in one’s house, but when it is finished for the beasts in the field one is required to clean it out of one’s house.c

We are commanded to abandon all outstanding loans at the end of the seventh year and are forbidden to claim them, as it says “At the end of seven years you shall make a release… everyone shall release his claim that he has against his friend; he shall not oppress his friend and his brother”.6 This law applies in all lands; it applies rabbinically even when the Temple does not exist. It does not apply to loans on collateral or to loans registered in court, as it says “but abandon what you have with your brother”6 — and not what a court can demand from him. It is forbidden to refrain from lending money before the seventh year for fear that it will not be possible to collect it, as it says “Take care lest an unworthy [thought] be in your heart, [namely that] the seventh year, the year of release, is near, and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you do not give him [a loan]…; you shall give to him and your heart shall not be sad in giving to him…”.7,d

b) The Jubilee Year

We are commanded to count seven times seven years and to sanctify the fiftieth year, as it says “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years, seven years seven times… and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year… it shall be a Jubilee for you”.8 On the 10th of Tishrei of the Jubilee year we are commanded to blow a horn, as it says “And you shall pass a blowing horn in the seventh month on the tenth of the month; on the Day of Atonement you shall pass a horn throughout your land”.8 The Jubilee year is exactly like the sabbatical year as regards cultivation [as it says “A Jubilee the fiftieth year shall be for you; you shall not sow and not harvest what grows by itself and not gather what is untended; for it is a Jubilee, it shall be holy for you, you shall eat its produce from the field”]9; but it does not require release of loans. The commandments involving the Jubilee year, including the laws of Jewish slaves, houses in walled cities, and land consecrated to the Temple or “devoted” to the priests, apply only when all of Israel dwells in the land of Israel.e

Land in the land of Israel must not be sold in perpetuity, as it says “And the land shall not be sold permanently”.10 Land sold (or given away) for other than a fixed period of time can be bought back at any time after two years if the owner acquires the means, and in any case it reverts to the original owner at the beginning of the Jubilee year [as it says “In this Jubilee year you shall return each to his property…. by the number of years [to] the Jubilee you shall buy from your friend; by the number of years of crops he shall sell to you; if there are many years you shall increase the price; if there are few years, you shall diminish the price; for he is selling you [only] a number of crops”]11; and it says “And in all the land of your possession you shall allow the land to be redeemed”12; [and it says “If your brother becomes poor and sells his property… and he finds the means to redeem it he shall compute the years of the sale and return the excess to the man to whom he sold it and return to his property; and if he does not find means enough to repay him his purchase shall be in the hands of its buyer until the Jubilee year and it shall be released in the Jubilee and he shall return to his property”]13; [and it says “In the jubilee year the field shall return to the one from whom he bought it, to the one whose property the land is”].14 But if the buyer improved it he must be paid for the improvements.f

If one sells a house in a walled city he must redeem it within a year; if he does not, it does not revert to him at the Jubilee year [as it says “And if a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city its redemption shall be until a full year from its sale… but if it is not redeemed by the time a full year is completed the house in the walled city belongs to the buyer in perpetuity, to his generations; it does not go out at the Jubilee”].15 A house not in a walled city can be redeemed at any time, and if it is not redeemed it reverts to the original owner at the Jubilee [as it says “But houses in villages that have no wall around them shall be counted with the fields of the land; it can be redeemed and it goes out in the Jubilee”].16,g

The Levites were given 48 cities in the land of Israel [as it says “They shall give the Levites… cities to dwell in and pasture around the cities… the cities that you shall give to the Levites, 48 cities together with their pastures”].17 The pastures extend 3000 cubits outside the cities, as it says “[And the pastures of the cities that you shall give to the Levites] from the wall of the city and beyond a thousand cubits all around; and you shall measure from outside the city… two thousand cubits with the city in the middle…”18 — the first thousand for pasture; the two thousand that are measured beyond the pasture, for fields and vineyards. The pasture should not be used as a field nor the field as a pasture, as it says “And the field of the pasture of their cities shall not be sold”.19 If a Levite (or the heir of a Levite) sells or consecrates any of this property he can redeem it at any time, even after the Jubilee year, as it says “The Levites shall have perpetual redemption”.20 The Levites have no other share in the land of Israel or in the spoils of its conquest, as it says “The priests and Levites, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance in Israel…”21; and it says “And Ha-Shem said to Aaron: You shall have no inheritance in their land and you shall have no portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance”.22,h


1. Lev. 25:2-4 a. 1:1,10
2. Ex. 34:21 b. 4:1-4,22,25-29
3. Lev. 25:6-7 c. 4:24; 5:1,17; 6:1; 7:1
4. Lev. 25:5 d. 9:1-4,14-15
5. Ex. 23:10-11 e. 10:1,8-10,15-16
6. Deut. 15:1-3 f. 10:16; 11:1-2,4-5,8-9,17,19
7. Deut. 15:9-10 g. 12:1,4,10
8. Lev. 25:8-10 h. 13:1-2,4,7-8,10
9. Lev. 25:11-12
10. Lev. 25:23
11. Lev. 25:13,15-16
12. Lev. 25:24
13. Lev. 25:25-28
14. Lev. 27:24
15. Lev. 25:29-30
16. Lev. 25:31
17. Num. 35:2,7
18. Num. 35:4-5
19. Lev. 25:34
20. Lev. 25:32
21. Deut. 18:1
22. Num. 18:20