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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.

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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 5775 after Creation, which runs from Sept. 25, 2014, through Sept. 13, 2015.

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.”

Refocus

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.

FOOTNOTES
1.

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).

2.

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.

3.

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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Discussion (28)
November 2, 2014
Can one go back to secular work during Shemittah year?
Rina
Baja Mexico
October 30, 2014
Yovel
When a person purchased land, it was with the understanding it would go back at year 50. Essentially it was therefore a lease.

What you might be forgetting is that the very same person likely owned land elsewhere as everyone had ancestral land in Israel! Even if he was forced to sell it at some point, it would generally have gone back to them.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
October 30, 2014
Re
Nissan is the head of the year when it comes to months. Tishrei is the head of the year when it comes to calculating years, including which year is Shemitah

For The spiritual meaning of each, please seethis link:
Please also see the very first Mishneh in Tractate Rosh Hashana that clearly outlines the laws regarding each "head" of the year.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
October 20, 2014
Loss of home and property at 50 years. ???
So if a man and his wife lived in a house with land he had purchased 45 years prior and he had to return it to the seller in the 50th. year, where would he then live? Start over? I can see banks and mortgage lenders becoming "filthy rich" in a few years. So where do these people now life who had to give up their homes? And no inheritance passed to children?
M. Miller
USA 30122
October 17, 2014
Amazing information
Tonoral
Mississippi
October 8, 2014
China
As of today China has a bigger economy than the US. Can this be part of and upcoming development into the shemita year?
Anonymous
San Antonio
October 4, 2014
Start of the Shemitah
Why should we start the Shemitah at Yom Teruah instead of when the Almighty says the year begins during the spring? True enough our ancestors were sent into captivity for disobeying Torah, including not allowing the land to res. However when they left Babylon they brought along some Babylonian baggage as well such as mingling the Babylonian head of the year with Yom Teruah. Torah clearly says when the year starts. Don't hear many wishing one another a sweet year fourteen days before Pesach... I think its time to return to Torah and that includes determining the moedim by the sighting of the new moon in Jerusalem and not by the Hillel calendar. Sanhedrin or not we can still have witnesses in the Eretz.
Shoshana
September 25, 2014
The part most overlook at Uyiqara 25 is the first 3 verses, and the meaning of “the land”.
“When” you “enter the land” indicates they were “somewhere outside the land” at the time.
We are scattered outside “the land”.
If we try to apply what is to be done in “the land” to other places, we are adding behavior that is unnecessary.
We are in a wilderness right now, literally the lands of captivity where G-d scattered us.
We cannot positively know what year it is regarding the 7th year, or the Yobel (50th year of release).
If we talk to ten researchers, some may agree, while others will not. Even if we knew for sure,
to fully adhere to the instruction we have to first be in “the land.”
The calculation and observance of this precept will certainly resume when Yahusha returns,
when He re-gathers us to “the land”.
As much as we may want to, we cannot make what is not “the land” the land.
Lew White
Louisville
September 23, 2014
The year 5775 is considered shemittah not since Creation but because of the re-calculation from the time of the creation of the State of Israel which fixed the year 1952 as first shemittah (269 shemittah cycle since destruction of 2T in 69). So 2015 (5775) is 9x7 years from 1952.
We cannot count the sabbatical years from Creation because this count really started after the start of the conquest of Canaan, as explained here. In addition, every 7 cycles of 7 years (49 years in total) saw an extra year counted as Jubilee. In other words, the 50th was Jubilee and the 51st was the first year of a new 7 years cycle. Therefore we can't divide the number of years since Creation by 7: at best we should divide by 50, to fix the Jubilee cycles (this was what was done in the Book of Jubilees at the time of the Hasmoneans). Since the Jubilee count was abolished after 69 CE, the new year 2015 will be the 278th shemittah since the destruction of the 2T (2015-69=1946 /7= 278). 5775 will be special !
Albert Benhamou
Tel Aviv
September 22, 2014
Shemittah
Does a Shemittah always begin on the Feast of Trumpets?
Anonymous
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