1. The Jubilee Occurred Once in 50 Years

The Yovel (Jubilee) year took place every 50 years. The Sabbatical year (Shemittah) occurred every seven years, and at the end of seven cycles of seven (49) the nation would celebrate the Yovel.1

What is the Shemittah year?

2. Jubilee Is Not Currently Observed

For the Yovel to be commemorated, the entire Jewish nation needs to be living on their land. Hence, ever since the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Menashe were exiled—18 years before the other northern tribes were exiled—the Jubilee was cancelled. This was 130 years before the destruction of the 1st Temple.2

When is the next Jubilee?

3. No Agricultural Work Allowed

Just like in the Sabbatical year, in the Jubilee year the earth had to remain fallow, and the farmers dedicated this year to prayer and learning. Since the Jubilee followed a Sabbatical year (year 49), that meant two years in a row of no planting. To desist from planting two years in a row was an act of supreme faith, for which G‑d promised a special bounty in year 48.3

What will we eat in the seventh year?

4. The Release of Slaves

In biblical times, when slavery was still practiced, the Jubilee year was the non-negotiable year of freedom. Regardless of whether the slaves had completed their minimum six-year term or had chosen to remain longer than six years, they were all released once Yovel arrived.

Slavery in the Torah?

5. All Property Returned to Original Family

The ownership of movables—objects other than real estate and people—can be permanently transferred from one person to the other with a sale. But in the Land of Israel, where each tribe was allotted its province and each family its estate, “the land may not be sold forever, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.”4

So, if a person became destitute and was forced to sell his estate, the “sale” was in fact only a long-term lease until the next Jubilee year, at which time it reverted to the owner.5

The Limits of the Free Market

6. The Beth Din Would Do the Counting

Like the 49 days of the Omer, the 49 years leading up to the Yovel were counted. However, each Jew is obligated to count the Omer individually, while the Great Beth Din in Jerusalem would count the years on behalf of the whole nation. For example, in the eighth year of the cycle, they would say: “Blessed is the L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who commanded us to count the Shemittah and Yovel. This year is eight years, which are one Shemittah and one year to the Yovel . . .”6

Counting the Omer

7. It Was Announced Via Shofar Blast

According to Rashi, the word yovel translates as “ram’s horn.”7 This special year was first announced by a blast of a ram’s horn (shofar) during Yom Kippur of that year across the land of Israel. The year of liberty had begun!8 The order of blessings and blasts of the shofar were the same as on Rosh Hashanah.9

12 Instances of Shofar-Blowing in Jewish History

8. Other Translations for the Word Yovel

  1. Ibn Ezra translates yovel as “sending away,” which refers to the sending away of slaves.10
  2. Nachmanides translates it as “freedom,” which likewise refers to the freeing of the slaves.11
  3. Rabenu Bechaya translates it as “rivulet” (small stream of water), which refers to the idea that during Yovel, everything flows back to its original source.1213

Positive Commandment #140

9. Symbolism of 50 years

The Abarbanel offers a fascinating insight into the idea of a 50-year cycle. He says that the average work-life of an individual is 50 years. The first and last years of one’s life are usually focused on other areas, whereas the main focus of the middle 50 years is to make a living. He traces the word yovel to bliya, which means “to get weathered and worn-out” and argues that after the 50 years of working, one’s energy should “fade” from physicality and should instead be directed toward his spiritual growth.14

The Fiftieth Year

10. Jubilee Was for All

Unlike Shemittah, which didn’t apply to the Levites (who owned no property) and the slaves who remained with their master, the Yovel was celebrated by the entire nation. Thus, although the laws of Yovel don’t apply before the coming of Moshiach, its lessons to all of us are eternal and relevant.15

Can the Twelve Tribes Become One People?