The Mystery of the Lost Jubilee: Part XI – The Sanhedrin

February 18, 2016

5 min read

In part 10 we went backwards from 1917 and looked 49 and 50 years into the past to see if there was evidence for past Jubilee years in history. Today we look at the Jubilee from the perspective of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin was an assembly or council in Jewish history that had from twenty-three to seventy-one men appointed in every city. Each Sanhedrin would hear cases and make decisions according to Jewish law. This system came from the commandments of the Torah, such as in Deuteronomy:

“So I took the heads of your tribes, wise and experienced men, and appointed them heads over you, leaders of thousands and of hundreds, of fifties and of tens, and officers for your tribes. Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the commandment is God’s.’” Deuteronomy 1:15-16. NASB.BIN-OpEd-Experts-300x250(1)

The Sanhedrin certainly existed in the Second Temple period, being led by such rabbis as Gamaliel in the time of Jesus, and was ultimately disbanded in the city of Tiberias around 358 AD. Over the centuries, much discussion was held about how a Sanhedrin would ever be re-established, once disbanded. A few attempts were made to re-establish the Sanhedrin over the centuries, but none ever reached the level that was reached in 2004, when a group of rabbis met in Israel and, using the process that had been put forth by Maimonides, established a new Sanhedrin in the very location it was disbanded. This body is not recognized by Israeli courts, nor is it even recognized as an arbiter of Jewish religious law by a majority of religious Jews in Israel. (The practice of Jews in the exile was to seek advice, decisions and blessing from one’s local rabbi, and this method continues today). However, this new Sanhedrin is growing, from its first ordained rabbi to over 250 rabbis across Israel today.

We, see in this nascent Sanhedrin some good qualities, and believe it is slowly gaining respect in the Jewish community. We see in its behavior a circumspect manner that looks for ways to be of help, rather than simply looking for ways to exercise and accrue authority. While they boldly address issues that have laid dormant throughout the centuries of exile, they also realize their limits, and do not consider themselves as having become the Great Sanhedrin, as of old.

The Sanhedrin and the Jubilee

The Shemitah (the Sabbath rest year) and the Yovel (the Jubilee) are commandments that require Jews to work together. And while the Shemitah was tracked continuously during the exile, the Jubilee was not, and therefore would require large-scale coordination to be re-established. The Jubilee, therefore, is a perfect kind of project for the Sanhedrin to study.

They have.

We first learned of the details of this study from one of the Sanhedrin rabbis, Rabbi Avraham Dov Ben Shor, who lives in a community in Judea, not far from where Gidon lives. It so happens that Rabbi Ben Shor was a leader of the working group of the Sanhedrin that studied the Jubilee. I, Bob, found him nothing like the Sanhedrin Rabbis of the movies. He was so friendly and warm, so smiling and unassuming, that it took most of the interview before it began to dawn on me that the man in front of me might actually be the leader of the Jubilee project. To this day, I still don’t know the answer to that.

Rabbi Ben Shor granted us an interview a few weeks ago, and we are excited to now share with you what we learned.

Rabbi Avraham Dov Ben Shor. (Photo: Root Source)
Rabbi Avraham Dov Ben Shor. (Photo: Root Source)

We asked Rabbi Ben Shor why the Sanhedrin took on this Jubilee project?

“Because there is a mitzvah, a commandment, to establish the Shemitah and the Jubilee year.”

So we got right down to business and asked him what year does the Sanhedrin think is the Jubilee year?

“We had a large scholarly debate for many months about when it might have been, when it was, and if it’s possible. One of the requirements that is often mentioned is that there needs to be a majority of Bnei Yisrael (Jews) living in the Land of Israel.”

Currently, while Israel has more Jews than any other country, the population has not increased quite to the level where a majority of the world’s Jews live in Israel. He went on to say that they see Ezra the Scribe as having re-established the Jubilee year. Why?

“Because the counting of the Shemitah year cannot be established without first establishing the Jubilee year. At some level, Ezra established the counting of the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year, which go together. There is no fundamental obligation, from the standpoint of the Torah, to let the land lie fallow on the seventh year, if you are not also counting the Jubilee year. (The Sages [the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah] do require Shemitah observance as a rabbinical imperative, and it is observed in Israel today as such.) They go together.”

When discussing the practical realities of what it might take to re-establish a Jubilee, the rabbi added:

“You have to deal with what exists. That is an important part of a court. You can’t just deal with the law, you have to deal with the reality and the situation as it stands, and try to arrive at the goal that God sets for you.”

In that context, Rabbi Ben Shor sees the Jubilee year as very important.

“Do we count from the first year of creation? Do we count from the time of Joshua after he conquered the land? Did it stop during the exile? Did it continue? There are a lot of various opinions of Jewish scholars throughout the ages on all of these.”

After discussing all these things over months, they reached their opinion. But before telling us that opinion he quickly added that:

“A bigger, better court can always overrule our opinion.”

So what was that opinion? The Rabbi continued:

“One of the leading ideas was that this year [5776] should be the Jubilee year. The reason that [year] would fit is that it fits with at least one version of how it’s been counted since the time of Ezra. The other reason is because if you count from the time that Jerusalem was redeemed, from the Six-Day War, which would be a logical time to start counting, this would be the 50th year.”

And yet as soon as he offered us a solution to the Mystery of the Lost Jubilee, he immediately snatched that solution right back from us saying,

“However, we decided that we cannot consider this a Jubilee year.”

Why not we asked? He answered that if they were to consider this a Jubilee year, they would be violating a commandment of scripture regarding the Jubilee!

Can you guess what the problem was in the mind of the Sanhedrin? Going back and reading Leviticus 25, it is sitting right there as plain as day!

So rather than giving the answer away in this article, we are going to give you the chance to discover and solve this riddle for yourself!

If this is, in fact, a Jubilee year, what commandment would they be violating if they consider this year to be a Jubilee year?

If you do not already know the answer and are deducing the answer from scripture, then we invite you to write your ideas below. Otherwise, we ask you to please wait and comment next time after we disclose the answer.

Next Time

Next time we will conclude our interview with Rabbi Avraham Dov Ben Shor, and answer the riddle. See you next time as we all continue to work together to solve the Mystery of the Lost Jubilee.

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