On Wednesday at the culmination of the Fast of Gedaliah that follows the holiday of Rosh Hashanna (new year), Rabbis from the Sanhedrin recited the blessing that counted the fifth year of the renewed Jubilee cycle.
The Shemitah is part of a larger framework of seven Shemitah (sabbatical) cycles, in which we count 49 years, and then the 50th year is the Jubilee year, as described in Leviticus.
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. Leviticus 25:10
In Judaism, it is a positive religious commandment “to sanctify the 50th year” (Leviticus 25:8). In actual practice, the Biblically-mandated requirement to observe the Jubilee year was disrupted when the 10 Tribes were exiled approximately 2,700 years ago. Prior to that time, the Jews were careful about counting the cycles leading to the Jubilee year. They observed all the Biblical requirements of the Jubilee year, including freeing slaves and returning property to its original owner.
The Jubilee year is observed only when all of the Nation of Israel is in the Land of Israel. Therefore, when the Jews returned from Babylonian Exile since many chose to remain in the Diaspora, the Jubilee was not observed. For the same reason, the Jubilee was not observed in modern Israel.
When Rosh Hashana ended, it was time for Jews to count the fifth year of the Jubilee cycle. The Jubilee can still be counted. The blessing and the count are as follows:
.ברוך אתה יי אלוהינו מלך העולם אשר קידשנו במיצותיו וצונו על ספירת שמיטים ויובלות
Baruch Atah Adonai Elohenu Melech Ha-olam, Asher Kidshanu B’Mitsvotav, V’Tsivanu Al Sfirat Shemittim v’Yovalot.
Blessed art thou, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctifies us in his commandments, and has commanded us to count the sabbaticals and the Jubilees.
.השנה הזאת היא השנה השניה ליובל הראשון והשנה החמישה לשמיטה ראשונה ביובל הראשון
Hashana HaZot Hee Hashanna Hachamisha La’Yovel Harishon v’Hashanna Hashnia LaShmitta Rishon Bayovel Harishon.
This year is the second year of the first Jubilee, and the second year for the first sabbatical in the first Jubilee.
Observance of the Jubilee is dependant upon most of Israel being in the land of Israel.
To begin counting the Jubilee last year, the Sanhedrin, as a bet din (rabbinic court), ruled that the Jews have returned to inherit the land as a nation, and not just as individuals. This requires at least 600,000 Jews, equal to the number of Israelites that returned to Israel from Egypt under Joshua.
Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the spokesman for the Sanhedrin, explained to Breaking Israel News, “The Sanhedrin ruled that we are now clearly in the prophesied third inheritance of the land, the first being by Joshua, the second after the Babylonian exile. Any Jews who are able to return to Israel but have chosen not to are similar to the Jews who stayed in Egypt and Babylonia and are not included in the counting of klal yisrael (the congregation of Israel).”
“The number of Jews outside of Israel is a statistic that cannot be easily established and it is too easily manipulated,” he added. “It involves defining who is a Jew, a point that is a source of fierce debate. There are untold millions of people in countries around the world who are just now discovering their Jewish roots and that will change the numbers as well.”
“Most of the Jews who do not deny their Jewish identity are living in Israel today, effectively creating the condition in which there is no Jewish nation outside of the Land of Israel,” he said. “The decision not to accept Israel, not to do mitzvoth, not to move towards establishing the Temple, these are conscious decisions to reject the clear reality that we have returned as a nation, which requires Israel to act in a different manner than they have for the last 2,000 years.”
The implication is that the majority of klal yisrael is now in Israel. Another yet-to-be-realized implication of this demographic shift and the Jubilee counting will be the dividing of the land of Israel into tribal territories.
“When most of the Jews live in Israel we will be required to divide the land into tribal territories,” Rabbi Weiss explained.
He cited Ezekiel to illustrate that this is a necessary part of the prophesied redemption.
And it shall come to pass that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you and to the strangers that sojourn among you Ezekiel 47:21-22
This may seem an impossible task since most Jews have lost the tradition of identifying them as part of a specific tribe. Rabbi Weiss explained that not only is this possible without divine help, but it will be a legal requirement incumbent upon the rabbis to assign tribal territories, as was done in the time of Joshua.
“We are required to have twelve tribes,” Rabbi Weiss said. “The land will be divided according to the Biblical territories. Every Jew living in that territory will receive an inheritance and be considered as if he is from that tribe.”
“There are 5 mitzvot connected to the Jubilee: counting the Jubilee, letting free slaves, returning land, blowing the shofar, and forgiving debts,” Rabbi Weiss explained. In the first year, the Sanhedrin chose not to accompany the counting of the Jubilee cycle with shofar blast but have reinstated that aspect as well.
It is interesting to note that despite the initiation of the Shemitah year being determined by the actions of the Jews, it worked out that the first Shemitah year was a multiple of seven since the creation of the world, according to the Jewish calendar. The year after the destruction of the Second Temple, 3829, was also known to be a Shemitah year, 547 seven-year cycles since the creation of the world. The current Hebrew year is 5780; precisely 825 Shemitah cycles plus five years.
According to Jewish tradition, the re-establishment of the Biblically-mandated Jubilee year is part of the messianic process.
“On that day, will I raise up the fallen booth (Sukkah) of David.” Amos 9:11
This verse comes in the context of a prophecy about God bringing the nation of Israel back from exile among the nations. Amidst descriptions of the days preceding the Messiah, the Babylonian Talmud in the Tractate of Sanhedrin, 97a, explains the verse from Amos and its implications.
“As it is written, in that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen. Our Rabbis taught: in the seven-year cycle at the end of which the son of David will come-in the first year, this verse will be fulfilled.”
The Talmud is saying explicitly that the Messiah will come in the first year after the Shemitah.
It has been exactly one complete Jubilee cycle since the Six-Day War and the unification of Jerusalem. Had the Jubilee cycle not been interrupted 2,000 years ago by the Diaspora, the first year of the ongoing Jubilee cycle would have been in 1967, the year Jerusalem was unified, and again last year, when the Sanhedrin reinstituted the Jubilee. The next Jubilee will be declared in 2065.