After a full year of deliberation, the Nascent Sanhedrin has announced that this year is the first year in the counting of the 50-year Jubilee cycle. This not only reinstates a Biblical commandment, but it has implications for Israel’s status as a Biblically mandated nation, returning the land to the Jews and ensuring each Jew an inheritance in the land.
The Jubilee (Hayovel in Hebrew) is a Biblical commandment that is observed exclusively in the land of Israel. It is the fiftieth year that comes after a period seven sabbaticals. The year triggers a number of Biblical commandments concerning property rights and returning the land to its original inheritors, the Jews who were allocated the land by lottery. Debts were forgiven and slaves who sold themselves due to debt were set free.
The Jubilee is dependant upon certain conditions pertaining to Jews being in the land, though there are many differing opinions about the specific requirements. As a result, the Jubilee has not been observed since the Second Temple when the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile.
For the time being, there is no practical implication and in truth, very few Jews have acknowledged the Sanhedrin’s Jubilee decision. Nonetheless, this was a groundbreaking decision that will have tremendous consequences in the future.
Rabbi Hillel Weiss, secretary of the Nascent Sanhedrin, explained their controversial decision to reinstate the Jubilee to Breaking Israel News.
“First we had to decide if the conditions exist to do so. This is done by a bet din (Jewish court) when it has been established that Jews have returned to inherit the land as a nation, and not just as individuals,” the rabbi explained. Rabbi Weiss explained that unlike most Torah commandments which are based on the personal observance of each Jew, the Jubilee has to do with Israel’s national identity.
“The Jubilee is a national mitzvah (commandment) that requires an independent Jewish nation to be in the Land of Israel. The Sanhedrin has 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.”
Rabbi Weiss stated, “It is time to begin observing the positive commandment of counting the Jubilee.”
“Most of the Jews who do not deny their Jewish identity are living in Israel today. There is no Jewish nation outside of the Land of Israel,” he said. “There must be at least 600,000 Jews, like the number that returned to Israel from Egypt under Joshua.”
“When those conditions have been met, as they clearly have, then the conditions for counting the Jubilee has been met,” Rabbi Weiss concluded.
The practical implications will begin only for the next Jubilee in 50 years, when seven shmittah cycles are complete, and the Jews in Israel are required to observe the other Jubilee commandments.
“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. “Our declaration only affects the counting of the Jubilee, for now, and not the other aspects.”
The declaration has theological implications for Israel as the Jewish nation, he continued. “Israel was established by political, military, and social processes,” Rabbi Weiss said. “If, in 49 years, Israel accepts our decision, every Jew will receive his Biblically mandated inheritance in the Land of Israel. Until now, the default assumption has been that the land belongs to the Arabs. The Jubilee returns the land to the rightful owners, which is the Jews.”
A rabbi who was part of the Sanhedrin’s decision spoke to Breaking Israel News anonymously for reasons of personal modesty. “It was really a foregone conclusion. Once we established that the conditions for counting the Jubilee had been met, we were required by the Torah to begin,” he said.
“The only obstacle is that there many Jews do not recognize the authority of the Sanhedrin,” the anonymous rabbi explained. “There is a Torah commandment to establish a Sanhedrin, and despite the requirement and our ability to do so, many people are ignoring this obligation.”
“The same is true for Jubilee,” the rabbi went on. “We have the conditions that require us to begin counting the Jubilee, but what is lacking is for the Jews to recognize their Torah requirement and to act on it.”
The rabbi noted the outcome, should the Jewish people ignore the Sanhedrin’s declaration. “Now, the land belongs to the government. If they do not distribute the land to the Jews as commanded by the Torah, there will be no meaning to the Jubilee and no Biblical connection to the Jews returning from exile.”
He explained, “It will remain a secular state, which has positive aspects for the Jewish people, but it will lose most of its Biblical significance.”