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D19. Resting & Returning Ownership of Our Land in the Jubilee Year.    [Make a Comment]

We are to rest our land, and return it to its prior owner in the Jubilee Year.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 13:12* (Maimonides RP140)
you are to set apart for ADONAI everything that is first from the womb. Every firstborn male animal will belong to ADONAI.

Exodus 34:19* (Maimonides RP140)
Everything that is first from the womb is mine. Of all your livestock, you are to set aside for me the males, the firstborn of cattle and flock.

Leviticus 25:4-5** (Chinuch C334)
But in the seventh year is to be a Shabbat of complete rest for the land, a Shabbat for ADONAI; you will neither sow your field nor prune your grapevines. You are not to harvest what grows by itself from the seeds left by your previous harvest, and you are not to gather the grapes of your untended vine; it is to be a year of complete rest for the land.

Leviticus 25:8 (Maimonides RP140; Chinuch C330)
You are to count seven Shabbats of years, seven times seven years, that is, forty-nine years.

Leviticus 25:9 (Maimonides RP137; Chinuch C331)
Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom-Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land

Leviticus 25:10 (Maimonides RP136-137; Chinuch C331-331)
and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a yovel for you; you will return everyone to the land he owns, and everyone is to return to his family.

Leviticus 25:11 (Maimonides RN224-226; Chinuch C333, C335)
That fiftieth year will be a yovel for you; in that year you are not to sow, harvest what grows by itself or gather the grapes of untended vines

Leviticus 25:12 (Maimonides RP136)
because it is a yovel. It will be holy for you; whatever the fields produce will be food for all of you.

Leviticus 25:13-17
In this year of yovel, every one of you is to return to the land he owns. If you sell anything to your neighbor or buy anything from him, neither of you is to exploit the other. Rather, you are to take into account the number of years after the yovel when you buy land from your neighbor, and he is to sell to you according to the number of years crops will be raised. If the number of years remaining is large, you will raise the price; if few years remain, you will lower it; because what he is really selling you is the number of crops to be produced. Thus you are not to take advantage of each other, but you are to fear your God; for I am ADONAI your God.

Leviticus 25:23 (Maimonides RN227; Chinuch C339)
The land is not to be sold in perpetuity, because the land belongs to me - you are only foreigners and temporary residents with me.

Leviticus 25:24-28 (Maimonides RP138; Chinuch C340)
Therefore, when you sell your property, you must include the right of redemption. That is, if one of you becomes poor and sells some of his property, his next-of-kin can come and buy back what his relative sold. If the seller has no one to redeem it but becomes rich enough to redeem it himself, he will calculate the number of years the land was sold for, refund the excess to its buyer, and return to his property. If he hasn't sufficient means to get it back himself, then what he sold will remain in the hands of the buyer until the year of yovel; in the yovel the buyer will vacate it and the seller return to his property.

Leviticus 25:29-31 (Maimonides RP139; Chinuch C341)
If someone sells a dwelling in a walled city, he has one year after the date of sale in which to redeem it. For a full year he will have the right of redemption; but if he has not redeemed the dwelling in the walled city within the year, then title in perpetuity passes to the buyer through all his generations; it will not revert in the yovel. However, houses in villages not surrounded by walls are to be dealt with like the fields in the countryside - they may be redeemed [before the yovel], and they revert in the yovel.

Matthew 6:25-31
Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Supportive Scriptures

Isaiah 61:1-2
The Spirit of Adonai ELOHIM is upon me, because ADONAI has anointed me to announce good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives, to let out into light those bound in the dark; to proclaim the year of the favor of ADONAI and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn

Proverbs 11:24-25
Some give freely and still get richer, while others are stingy but grow still poorer. The person who blesses others will prosper; he who satisfies others will be satisfied himself.

Luke 4:16-19
Now when he [Yeshua] went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual. He stood up to read, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Yesha'yahu. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of ADONAI is upon me; therefore he has anointed me to announce Good News to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned and renewed sight for the blind, to release those who have been crushed, to proclaim a year of the favor of ADONAI."

Luke 12:22-31
To his talmidim Yeshua said, "Because of this I tell you, don't worry about your life - what you will eat or drink; or about your body - what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Think about the ravens! They neither plant nor harvest, they have neither storerooms nor barns, yet God feeds them. You are worth much more than the birds! Can any of you by worrying add an hour to his life? If you can't do a little thing like that, why worry about the rest? Think about the wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread; yet, I tell you, not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. If this is how God clothes grass, which is alive in the field today and thrown in the oven tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you! What little trust you have! In other words, don't strive after what you will eat and what you will drink - don't be anxious. For all the pagan nations in the world set their hearts on these things. Your Father knows that you need them too. Rather, seek his Kingdom; and these things will be given to you as well."

* Scriptures that are discussed in Maimonides' mitzvot, but that have no obvious relevance to the Year of Jubilee.

** Leviticus 25:5 is about the Sabbatical Year - not the Jubilee Year - but it is listed here because it is referred to by HaChinuch in his mitzvah C334, which is about the Jubilee Year.


We are to count seven Sabbaths of years (forty-nine years) from each Year of Jubilee to the next. When the Year of Jubilee arrives, we are not to cultivate our land or harvest its crops in the usual way, and we are to return it to its prior owner, the one who sold it to us. When land is sold, it must not be sold in perpetuity, and a right of redemption by the seller must be an inherent part of the sale. In a very real sense, therefore, the sale of land is not of the land itself, but of the value of the crops that the land is likely to produce until the next Jubilee.

The Year of Jubilee, similar to the Sh'mittah, can be viewed as a time of faith and benevolence because the crops that grow of their own accord (without cultivation) during the year is available for all to glean, including those who are poor. The Jubilee can also be viewed as a mitzvah of social and economic equalization, because Israelites that become wealthy through land that they have occupied, have to give the source of their wealth up in the Year of Jubilee.

Like the Sh'mittah, I believe that the primary reason for God giving the Jubilee Year to the Israelites was to hone their faith and cause them to have to trust Him for their provision. A question that naturally comes to mind, of course, is how resting our land and returning it to its prior owner applies to us today. I am of the opinion that it can only apply literally as in the past, where today's circumstances are similar to those under which the ancient Israelites lived. So far as I am aware it is never the case since the assumption of Scripture regarding the Jubilee is that (1) it is meant to apply only in the Land of Israel, and (2) it is meant to apply by the entire population so that the burden of returning land that one has bought does not unjustly fall on just a few individuals who are willing to comply. Still, all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17), so we ought to consider how to use the inspiration when the Year of Jubilee arrives. I propose that we consider it a time to reflect on our faith by considering what our willingness would be to rest our land (should we own land in geographic Israel) and give it up in the Jubilee year as a demonstration of our trust and reliance on God.

Commentary by Daniel C. Juster

In modern societies that are not primarily agricultural, the Jubilee (also the Sh'mittah) is difficult to apply. However, there are underlying principles that have been noted by many Bible scholars. First, similar to the Sh'mittah, the command shows the importance of renewing and preserving the land so that it is not worn out. Secondly, the command shows that God does not want the ownership of land to create a permanent class of landed gentry. The Jubilee promotes equal economic and social opportunity that is also the goal of our most enlightened and compassionate governmental systems.

The Jubilee restoration of land does not mean socialism since there could be disparities of wealth by other means (e.g. in gold, silver, herds, etc.). However, there is a redistribution of wealth in Jubilee was well, and it therefore equalizes opportunity. I think the principle here is not to impose taxes for on-going welfare, but to use taxes (especially inheritance taxes) to provide education and training so that those without financial means have economic opportunity. Perhaps we could call such taxes "equal opportunity taxes".

Classical Commentators

Meir has not constructed any mitzvot pertaining to the Jubilee. Maimonides and HaChinuch have, but they do not take into consideration today's changed circumstances as compared to those that existed during the time of Moses. Their mitzvot therefore require literal obedience to the Scriptures in a way that is difficult with regard to resting the land, and nearly impossible regarding its return - even in Eretz Yisrael.

Similar to their Sh'mittah mitzvot, Maimonides and HaChinuch do not connect the Year of Jubilee to man's need to trust God for provision.

NCLA: JMm JFm KMm (not literally); KFm GMo GFo

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