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What Is Shemittah?

What Is Shemittah?

The Sabbatical Year basics: absolution of loans, desisting from all field work, and the spiritual objective of all the above.


As soon as the Jews settled in the Holy Land,1 they began to count and observe seven-year cycles. Every cycle would culminate in a Sabbatical year,2 known as Shemittah,3 literally: “to release.”

The year following the destruction of the second Holy Temple was the first year of a seven-year Sabbatical cycle. In the Jewish calendar, counting from Creation, this was the year 3829, 68–69 CE on the secular calendar. By counting sevens from then, we see that the next Shemittah year will be the year 5782 after Creation, which runs from September 7, 2021 - September 25, 2022.

The The Shemittah year waives all outstanding debtsobservance of Shemittah has several dimensions. In the following paragraphs we will outline the basics of Shemittah observance. For more detailed information, please see our Loan Amnesty and Deserting the Farms sections.

Give Your Friend a Break

At the end of seven years you will make a release. And this is the manner of the release: to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because the time of the release for the L‑rd has arrived. (Deuteronomy 15:1–2)

The Shemittah year waives all outstanding debts between Jewish debtors and creditors.

[Nowadays, a halachic mechanism called pruzbul circumvents this loan amnesty. See Loan Amnesty for more information on the pruzbul.]

This aspect of Shemittah observance is known as shemittat kesafim, “release of money [debts].”

Take a Break from Farming

For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath to the L‑rd; you shall not sow your field, you shall not prune your vineyard, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth of your harvest . . . And [the produce of] the Sabbath of the land shall be yours to eat for you, for your male and female servants, and for your hired worker and resident who live with you . . . (Leviticus 25:3–6)

During the Shemittah year, the residents of the Land of Israel must completely desist from cultivating their fields. They also relinquish personal ownership of their fields; whatever produce grows on its own is considered communal property, free for anyone to take.

This aspect of the Shemittah year is known as shemittat karka, “release of the land.”


In The nation collectively took a breather and focused on higher, more spiritual pursuitsthe ancient Israeli agrarian culture, the Shemittah year proved to be a difficult challenge for the people’s collective trust in the Creator, the One who bequeathed them the land of milk and honey.

And if you should say, “What will we eat in the seventh year? We will not sow, and we will not gather in our produce!” (Leviticus 25:20)

Yet those who put their trust in G‑d were richly rewarded:

I, [G‑d,] will command My blessing for you in the sixth year, and it will yield produce for three years. And you will sow in the eighth year, while still eating from the old crops. Until the ninth year, until the arrival of its crop, you will eat the old crop! (Leviticus 25:21–22)

As well as giving the people an opportunity to put their faith in G‑d and see it fulfilled, the year-long abstention from farming also allowed them to collectively take a breather and focus on higher, more spiritual pursuits—as the people packed the synagogues and study halls. Even today, when the vast majority of Jews are not involved in the farming industry, the lessons of Shemittah are very germane. During this holy year we are expected to concentrate more on our spiritual mission in life, and a little less on our material pursuits. More on why we are needed, less on what we need. More on faith in G‑d, less on faith in our own talents and wiles.


The first cycle started after the years of conquering and dividing the land, in the fifteenth year after they crossed the Jordan River (1258 BCE).


While the Torah ordinarily counts months starting from Nissan (in the spring), the years of this cycle—and the Shemittah, too—begin with Rosh Hashanah, at the start of the autumn month of Tishrei.


When all the twelve tribes lived in Israel, in their ancestral estates, the year following seven complete Shemittah cycles—the fiftieth year—was observed as Yovel, the Jubilee year. During Yovel, too, the land was not worked, as during Shemittah. In addition, during the Yovel year all slaves were freed, and all fields and houses sold during the past fifty years were returned to their original owners. Unlike Shemittah, however, the Yovel year is no longer observed. See When is the next Jubilee year?

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Hermine Rochester, NY October 12, 2017

In this article you state 'the year following the destruction of the second Holy Temple was the first year of the seven-year Sabbatical cycle....this was the year...68-69 CE on the secular calendar. I was always told the temple was destroyed in 70AD. Was I told wrong?

And would that mean the temple was destroyed in 67-68? and would that have been a Shemmittah year? Reply

Rochel Chein for October 26, 2017
in response to Hermine:

Hi Hermine, you can find this question discussed here Reply

Albert Tel Aviv November 8, 2017
in response to Hermine:

Year 69 CE was Hebrew year 3829, year of the destruction of the Second Temple, which corresponds to 547 Sabbatical cycles (547 * 7 = 3829). So year 70 CE was the first year of a new Sabbatical cycle. The reason why the year of destruction is mentioned as 70 CE stems from the fact that the CE calendar "skipped" one year: there is no year 0 CE, so it jumps from -1 to 1 CE. Reply

Shoshana GA November 14, 2017
in response to Albert:

What of the missing 200 plus years? If we add those back then we are already in the 6000's. Reply

Albert Tel Aviv November 14, 2017
in response to Shoshana:

Which years you refer to? There are lots of wrong chronology theories which end up with "missing years"
We are in 5778, not the 6000th yet Reply

Albert Tel Aviv November 15, 2017
in response to Shoshana:

We are not in the 6000's but in 5778. There are missing years only for those who made wrong chronological calculations :-) But one must admit: it is not an easy subject at all. Reply

Tim Alabama December 10, 2015

When is the next year of jubilee? Reply

Abraham Morgan November 27, 2015

shemitah and Judgement How did the Shemitah go from debt forgiveness to a judgment from God that lasted 70 years? Reply

Marilynn Willits, California September 16, 2015

But how would you say these names (G-d & L-rd)? If I were reading this article aloud, for instance. Reply

Shoshana GA November 14, 2017
in response to Marilynn:

Technically in Paleo Hebrew there were no vowels. When Leah named her son Gad is because she considered herself lucky or fortunate to have another boy credited to her name. Gad, that is Gd, actually means luck henceforth I avoid using it as I refuse to give luck any honor or glory, In the beginning luck did not make the heavens and earth, Elohim did. We profane or glorify His name by our actions. Reply

Evelyn September 11, 2015

Spelling of G_d I was taught that the reason we don't spell out His name is to avoid using His name in vain by writing it on paper that will eventually be destroyed in some way or another. Reply

Simcha Newport News, VA September 9, 2015

The Name Ha Shem (The Name) Reply

Paul E. Wisc. September 7, 2015

Right on Carolle. You Hit the nail on the head. Reply

Carolle September 4, 2015

As I understand it L-rd and G-d are spelled that way out of respect or that you would not say His name. I could be wrong though. Reply

Shoshana GA November 14, 2017
in response to Carolle:

I can spell it 'right' all day long and still profane it by my actions.
A son can spell and pronounce his last name perfectly and still bring dishonor to it by his actions. Reply

Anonymous August 23, 2015

I appreciate this website! Always learning more! Reply

EzraO'Brien Fauquier, VA August 20, 2015

Errors creep in if you don't compute right As I read it, the yovel (jubilee) is to count as a separate year, call it the 50th in a full yovel cycle. There may be a human tradition to skip the yovel but we are trying to figure out what G-d might do, so we should stick to what is documented. Thus, the cycle is not 49 years, but 50. So if you determine each shemitta year by adding sevens, you will be off after the first yovel and the error will increase with each cycle. Instead, try adding fifties to the 69-70 starting year and you will come up with 2019-2020 as the shemitta, and 2020-2021 as the yovel. It might be a year earlier, if we say that the destruction of the temple was so great an event that it must be the yovel year. I'm sure there are traditional rejoinders to that last bit, and I admit I am speaking from ignorance. Regardless, may G-d act sooner rather than later. Reply

Anonymous Fort Wayne August 20, 2015

L‑rd? Why is Lord spelled L‑rd? Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC August 14, 2015

Re The Shemita is only applicable in the land of Israel. It is specifically associated with the sanctity of our Holy Land. Reply

Jeff Guenther Grunthall August 12, 2015

how does the Shemittah involve gentiles in a gentile land, and jewish people living in a gentile land. Reply

Betsy Mallory Nashville, TN July 20, 2015

Having just read the book "The Shimittah", I have become very interested in Jewish law. How does the the year of Jubilee's debt forgiveness differ from the year of Shimittah debt forgiveness? I understand the difference in 7 year cycle & 7 periods of 7 year cycles. Reply

Linda Rice Brownsville June 9, 2015

Thank you Albert. That is what made sense to me. Glad it made sense in Israel also. :) Reply

Albert Benhamou Tel Aviv June 9, 2015

Rabbi Jacobs made jubilee calculations, not shmittah years as far as I know. Since a long time ago, shmittah years are no longer correlated to jubilees cycles (once we counted 7x7+1, and since the destruction of the Temple, only the 7 years). But he did predict that the Ottoman rule (which took over Jerusalem in 1517) will last 400 years (8 jubilee cycles of 60 years). Then Jews took control in the 9th jubilee (1967). Jubilee or not, by all means, the year 2017 ought to be very very special for Jews and Israel (year 5777 of our calendar), To start with, ISIS will be destroyed according to some... Reply

Shoshana June 8, 2015

Shemitah There should have been a recalibration, not sure if it was done. At least Rabbi Samuel Jacobs from the 12-13 century seems to have had it right as he correctly predicted when Israel would be declared a nation again and when Jerusalem would go back to Jewish hands. Based on that the Shemitah wont be till 2017. Reply

Albert Benhamou Tel Aviv, Israel June 8, 2015

Re: When shmittah begins First shmittah year assumed from the Creation of Israel was year 1952, because the yovel counting stopped in 69 CE, so there are 269 shmittah cycles from 69 until 1952. The yovel was no longer taken into account after 69, because there was galut (so there is no longer any 50th year to add, in the absence of temple). This year, 2015, is shmittah because the 9th cycle since 1952. Reply

Linda Rice Brownsville June 8, 2015

When shmittah begins 10th of 7th month....Yom Kippur....Leviticus/Vayikra 25:9....seems that 1948 should have been a recalibration. 1998 yvl 1999 the beginning of a new cycle. Someone explain to me why this would not make sense. Didn't they recalibrate after return from Babylon? Reply

Anonymous April 17, 2015

is there anyone who can actually answer some of these questions? Or perhaps share a web page to search? Reply

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