In this episode of Hebrew Voices, When is Shemitah (Sabbatical Year), Nehemia Gordon discusses why we don’t know when the Shemitah (Sabbatical) and Yovel (Jubilee) years are today, whether Shemitah should be observed outside of Israel, and the problem with the Rabbinical observance of Shemitah in modern Israel.
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A Jewish tombstone from Zoar at the southern end of the Dead Sea on display at the Israel Museum. The tombstone calls into question the current Rabbinical counting of the Shemitah cycle. The tombstone says in Aramaic: הדה נפש [ברה] דמלוס דמית יום שובתה בעסרין וחמשה יומין בירח טיבת בשתה קדמיתה דשאבועה שנת תלת מא ותמנין ושת שנין לחרבן בית מקדשה שלום על ישראל "This is the tombstone of the Son of Melos, who died on the Sabbath Day, on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Tevet, in the first year of the Sabbatical cycle, in the year three hundred eighty-six of the destruction of the Temple. Shalom upon Israel." Jewish sources date the destruction of the Temple to 68 CE, which would mean the tombstone probably dates to Saturday December 12, 453 CE. According to the modern Rabbinical counting of the Shemitah (Sabbatical years), that should have been the 7th year in the Shemitah cycle i.e. a Sabbatical year, whereas the tombstone clearly identifies it as the 1st year of the Shemitah cycle. Based on this tombstone, the (Rabbinical) year ending Sept. 13, 2015 was NOT the end of a Shemitah-Sabbatical year. Rather, the Shemitah year would have been August 2013 through September 2014, making the current year the 2nd year of the Shemitah cycle. The current Rabbinical counting of the Shemitah cycle goes back to Maimonides in the 12th century who claimed that his system was the sole tradition of the Land of Israel. This tombstone from Zoar predates Maimonides by 700 years and proves that he was wrong.