Hebrew Voices #71 – When is Shemitah (Sabbatical Year) [Rebroadcast]

Hebrew Voices - When is Shemitah (Sabbatical Year) with Nehemia GordonIn 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.

I look forward to reading your comments!

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Hebrew Voices #71 - When is Shemitah (Sabbatical Year)

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: We don’t know when the Sabbatical year is, and that’s a radical statement. The bottom line is, we don’t know.

Michael: But it’s true.

Nehemia: It’s true.

Michael: Yeah.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Michael: Nehemia, good to have you here. We have so many questions that are coming up now.

Nehemia: Yeah, and I got one that came into my new website, nehemiaswall.com. Andrew Peacock wrote, “My question pertains to the Yovel, the Jubilee year. When will the next Jubilee become effective?” And you had a question about the Jubilee year.

Michael: Yeah. Marie Flower wrote here and said, “Michael, I appreciate all you do. I cannot see that you’ve addressed this already,” even though I’ve done it at least dozen and 20 times. “I’m told by some believers that we are not to grow gardens this year, we’re supposed to give the land rest. I’m wanting to be obedient, but I didn’t grow enough last year to cover this year, and I’m not really prepared for this. Are we really supposed to let the land rest? Why or why not? Do you have any Scripture to help me understand this?”

Nehemia: This is a great question. First of all, in response to the question you received – and I get this question all the time….

Michael: They’ve heard me so many times, and apparently haven’t heard it, so come on. You live in the Land of Israel, you read in the original Hebrew.

Nehemia: The way that all Jews interpret this, and the way it’s so clear when I read it in the Hebrew, is that these commandments related to the Shemitah of letting the land rest, the Sabbatical year, are related only to the Land of Israel.

Michael: Period.

Nehemia: Period.

Michael: There’s no way you could construe it any other way?

Nehemia: Not Kansas, not Canada, but Canaan. [laughing]

Michael: Not even Babylon?

Nehemia: Not Babylon, right.

Michael: So for 490 years, it appears to be the case, we didn’t keep the Sabbath year, we owed 70 years that the land would rest. We were told by Moses that we would be taken into a foreign land, and while we are there in exile the land will rest. So he says, “The land’s going to rest. We either do it my way, or we do it my way, but we’re going to do it my way. The land will rest.” In Babylon, we didn’t keep it.

Nehemia: The point is, this has to do with the sanctity of the Land of Israel. I’ve had people say, “But it’s good for the land.” Well, if it’s good for the land, do whatever you want, but that has nothing to do with the Torah…

Michael: Good for the land.

Nehemia: It has nothing to do with what the Torah is commanding us. The resting of the land is a Torah commandment.

Now, what about in the Land of Israel itself? We don’t actually know when the Sabbatical year is, and that’s a radical statement, but the bottom line is, we don’t.

Michael: But it’s true.

Nehemia: It’s true. There’s a tradition that’s followed today in Rabbinical Judaism of when the Sabbatical year is - very few people actually observe it in practice. But even that tradition is just one of many rival traditions, and it all goes back to the statement in the Talmud which says, “The Temple was destroyed in the going out of the Sabbatical year.” Then the Rabbis come along and say, “What did those earlier rabbis mean when they said, ‘the going out of the Sabbatical year? Did they mean the year 70 was a Sabbatical year?’” Because when we say “the going out of Shabbat,” we actually mean Saturday night after Shabbat, motzei Shabbat. Maybe that meant 69 was the Sabbatical year and 70 was the going out.

Then it gets really fun, because they say, “Actually, according to our tradition, the Temple was destroyed in 68.” [laughing]

Michael: That’s right. That’s why Maimonides said it was 68 of the Common Era, instead of Roman Catholics’ 70.

Nehemia: So does that mean 67 was the Sabbatical year, and 68 was the going out? Or was it 68? And there are almost as many years as there are possibilities for there being Sabbatical years.

Michael: And if you want to find cataclysmic occurrences that line up with this, you can find them just about anything. All you have to do is stretch is out there.

Nehemia: Sadly, Jewish history is full of cataclysmic occurrences, and so is world history. So if you wanted to find events that would line up, I’m sure you would. What about the Jubilee year? The Jubilee year is even more interesting. We were talking in a previous session about takanot, which are these enactments, these man-made rules and regulations of the Rabbis. Takanot are usually adding laws, but sometimes they’re abolishing laws. There is a specific takana, in the singular, that the Rabbis proclaimed in the year that the Temple was destroyed - whether that was 68 or 70 – and that takana was the abolition of the Jubilee year.

Originally, Jubilee was every 50th year, and then in the 51st year they would start counting the next Sabbatical cycle. The rabbis come along in 69 or 71, depending who you believe, and they abolish the Jubilee, so that they continued to do these Sabbatical years every seven years, leaving out the 50th year. So even if their tradition is right, and that particular year dates back to the destruction of the Temple, it still leaves out the Jubilee year; it isn’t Biblical.

Michael: Right. 1952, the year I was born, that was the first year…

Nehemia: That was cataclysmic to the world, Michael! [laughing]

Michael: That’s right, and that’s why they declared it to be a Shemitah year in the Land of Israel.

Nehemia: Because you were born. [laughing]

Michael: That’s it. So between then and now there would have been a Jubilee, and that would have thrown off everything by a year.

Nehemia: Oh, yeah - it goes off every 50 years by one year.

Michael: That’s right.

Nehemia: So here’s the bottom line for me. There are certain things that we can never know how to do until the Messiah comes and restores this truth for us, and we have verses like that in the Tanakh. Let me read you a passage that I’ll bet most of your audience has never even read this passage – or if they did, they skimmed right by.

It’s 2 Chronicles 15. It’s one of my favorite prophesies, and it’s mistranslated in your English. In your English it says, “For a long time, Israel was without the true God and without a teaching priest, and without the Torah,” without the law. In the English it’s in the past tense. The Hebrew’s not in the past tense, it’s a prophesy for the future, and it says, “Israel is many days,” and he’s looking forward into the future. What he sees is, “Israel is many days without the true God and without the teaching priest and without the Torah.”

So we’re going to have a period where Israel has things that we don’t know the answer to, where we don’t know how to do certain things. We have an example of that in the Book of Ezra chapter 2. They’re dealing with this issue of certain Kohanim who can’t prove their lineage, and if this was Rabbinical Judaism they’d say, “Well, the rabbis will make a decision and that decision will be binding.” Instead, what does he say in Ezra 2? They make this decision, and they say, “They were not to partake of the most holy food until there should be a priest to consult the Urim and Thummim.” The Urim and Thummim was this prophetic device that was part of the Breastplate of Judgement. It wasn’t two stones stuck in a hat, that’s something different.

The Biblical Urim and Thummim was the breastplate of the High Priest, and through that they would be able to ask God and get this prophetic answer. So, the Shemitah is something where we just don’t know, and until there’s a priest standing with the Urim and Thummim and a Messiah, King, reigning over Israel on earth, we just won’t know what to do.

That’s frustrating. We want to have the answers. We want to be the Bible answer man who has all the answers. But the truth is, in the Torah we have to have humility and say, “We’ll do the best we can with what we have and leave the rest up to the Creator of the Universe.”

Michael: Don’t worry about your gardens, people. It has nothing to do with you except in the Land of Israel. In 1952, a rabbi sold the entire Land of Israel to an Arab. So what did the Jews do? The land doesn’t belong to the Jews this year, and so they continued working it. They did that Shemitah after Shemitah. Finally, it was probably four Shemitahs ago in this cycle that they started selling individual pieces of the land to different Arabs. And then finally, you started to see signs go up all over Israel, “We are keeping the Shemitah. We are keeping the Sabbath year. Please come back and do business with us next year.” I respected that, because they were saying, “No. We want to. We want to go back to this.”

Nehemia: What most people who are farmers in Israel do is they have these loopholes, these legal fictions where they’ll say either the land belongs to an Arab and therefore it’s not the Jewish-owned Land of Israel and the Shemitah doesn’t apply, or they’ll say the crops belong to the Rabbinical Court. It’s these legal loopholes, and the bottom line is, most people aren’t keeping it anyway. The bottom line is, from my perspective we just don’t know. But work it out for yourself in fear and trembling, with prayer and study before the Creator of the Universe.

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Show Notes:
2 Chronicles 15:3
Ezra 2:63
Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 11b

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.

  • Isaac says:

    Thank you Nehemia for this study. I have read it a lot of times and I think I never gave it so much importance. since theres nothing I can do. But am I wrong to say that this 2020-2021 is a shmitah? Not that now I have a new revelation but is just interesting whatever God is doing with us.

    • Anon says:

      2 Kings 19:29 records the Sabbatical year of -701 B.C. next to the Jubilee year of -700 B.C., followed by the next year of -699 B.C. Sabbatical years are also recorded in 1 Mac., Jos. Ant. & Jos. Wars. There is archaeological evidence of Shemitah coins from numerous Sabbatical years. The tombs of Zoar are also evidence of several Sabbatical years. The next Shemitah year is Aviv 2023 through Aviv 2024. The Sabbatical cycle is very important to know because we’re commanded to share the tithe in the 3rd and 6th years (Deu 14:22-29); stock up on food in the 6th year (Lev 25:20-21); and not to plant, prune, reap or harvest in the 7th year (Lev 25:3-7), forgive any debts by Sukkot (Deu 15:1-3), and read the Torah aloud at Sukkot (Deu 31:10-13). Yehovah has restored His calendar through Joseph Dumond, just like He restored His Name through Nehemia Gordon.

  • Walter Schwenk says:

    Thanks. As old age increases the need for fresh home grown produce, after 40+ years of attempted compliance, am re-considering.

  • Thomas says:

    The wonderful reality created by Nehemiah’s, “ we just don’t know”, is that it puts all of us on a level playing field. It’s in that field where we should learn to love each other and keep Torah with very precious few, prejudices.

  • Gregory Irby says:

    I have bad news for you Nehemia! The Bible Answer Man joined the Eastern Orthodox Church and since he wouldn’t preach Pre-Tribulation Rapture they banned him from the Christian Media Networks. I used to listen to him on AM radio way back during his Catholic Bashing days. They made him knock it off! What ever happened to ole Hank Hannigram? So, was the Temple Destroyed in 68 or 70 AD? I say 69AD and why? Because 9 is the # for judgment & wrath. 6 is the # for man. Look at Ezekiel 9;6 / coincidence? I don’t think so! Now among the old tymer farmers who want to observe the Shemita…. Wouldn’t God Bless their crops with 3 times as much in the 6th year, as God has said? It might be worthwhile to check with some of those old withered hands. Whatchu think? ??? I think it could be a grape way to figure out what the truth is! Just some food for thought. Who knows, you might find an old ? Jew out there some where as well! Sand Man’s calling, Chow!

  • Alan Naude says:

    Surely knowing the sabbatical year is easily known because Yehovah proclaims it by giving 3 times the harvest on the 6th year to cover the 7th year of rest.

    • Gregory Irby says:

      Good point! And if one is right with God I suppose he would reveal it to you in that way. But, who would believe the truth? Especially if it didn’t agree with the Rabbis!

  • keith says:

    I would like to know if the sabbatical year as it is now understood is accurate. Are we to suppose the JUBILEE is around 2027 to 2028

  • Lars Tunkrnas says:

    Josephus writes in the “Antiquties of the Jews” in Book 14 , Chapter 16:2 that when Herod conquered Jerusalem with Roman help in the autumn ( third month “kislev” ) in the year that Marcus Agrippa and Caninus Gallus were Roman consuls in the 185:olympiad, , which was year -37. That this was a sabbatical year. So that is one reference point.

  • Chris Whitaker says:

    On September 11 2001 the World Trade Centre was destroyed causing a stock market crash. Seven years later in 2008 the sub-prime mortgage market caused another stock market crash. In 2015 the Oil prices dropped and another crash causing many oil producing countries to become insolvent. Is this gust a coincidence or should we consider this to be the Shemitah.

    Our biggest problem is we are not using God’s calendar starting the year in the spring with the first month 14 days before the Passover. So why is the effect of the Shemitah in the middle of the year instead of the beginning or end of it? To understand the reason one has to know the true chronology of the Bible and therefore the real history of the world.

    According to the chronological research I have done Yeshua (Jesus) was crucified in 27AD, a Shemitah year and the same year the millennium changed from the forth to the fifth, making the end of the sixth in 2027. 2027 also is the sixtieths anniversary of the six day war that saw the Jews regain Jerusalem. Noah’s Flood occurred in the year 1656 counting the year of creation as year 1. Now do the math Passover 27AD would be the creation year 4001 – 1656 = 2345 / 7 = 335. The year of the Flood was a Shemitah year when God eliminated everyone’s debts and All the Land (Earth) rested. As the Flood occurred in the middle of the millennium the Day of Release would be in the middle of the year.

    The next Shemitah will be in 2022, 4.5 years before the Passover in 2027.

    • JW Brakebill says:

      Chris, while your logic is understandable, and it is GREAT ghat you are studying.contemplating, the World Trade Center, stock market crashes,oil prices dropping, really are more to do with the U.S.A. The Word of Yehovah tends to FOCUS heavily on the land of Israel and God’s people. Other nations are only mentioned as they came in contact with HIS PEOPLE.

      Market crashes, oil prices, destruction of trade centers, thse are HUMAN, possibly controllable events. Look up tetrad of blood moons (4 during spring & fall Holy Days I believe) in Israel. I think 2014 & 2015. Destructive weather occurrences, or earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, famines, etc.. Those are God events.

      Though I am confident that we are all expected to OBEY Him, prophecies and occurrences, signs in the heavens, etc…, are generally in reference to the Holy Land and the present day Jews, the chosen people of God.

      I AM NOT saying you are WRONG in your calculations, as I DO NOT KNOW myself. I once tried to calculate using common sense and knowledge, by three different methods the approximate YEAR Messiah would come. I kept coming up with +/- 2029-2033, NUT, no man KNOWS.

    • Torahworks.net says:

      Hello Mr. Whitaker, please explain “the year of creation as year one.” As far as I know time only truly starts with Man.

  • Gregg Walker says:

    Thanks for this information. I like the way you put it that we just “work things out in fear and trembling” as best we can – based on how we understand things. I also agree with the idea that the Shemitah is for “when you come in to the Land”. Unfortunately, I’ve known several people who look at the whole Torah as only applying “in the Land”. They use verses which imply that, but I/we try to keep the Torah as best as we can (even though we are outside the land). That’s not an argument for keeping the Shemitah, but like the feast days, it would be good to observe it – if possible where you live.

    Now, a few years ago, I kept the Shemitah year with my backyard garden. It was the year that Jonathan Cahn was calling the Shemitah – Sept. 2014 thru Sept. 2015. By then I had been observing the Biblical Calendar based on the Aviv barley and the sighted new moon. I considered Sept. 2014 as the time to “announce” that the Shemitah would begin with the 1st month in the Spring. I did not plant, and did not reap – just doing nothing to the garden and watching. I continued until the 1st month of 2016 (Aviv).

    Call it an experiment, but it was interesting to do, and fun in a way. I saw that things still grew in the garden without any work from me. Potatoes and other vegetables that I had not harvested, either re-seeded themselves, or sprouted on their own in the Spring. I learned some interesting things. It also helped me to see in a small way, how YHVH could cause crops to grow in year with no planting. Of course, I know now that was NOT the Shemitah year, but I had a taste of what it might be like in the Lord’s kingdom. It was actually kind of nice not having to do anything with the garden for the whole year!

    Just thought I’d share that tidbit. Shalom.

  • Just Someone says:

    Thanks Nehemia for the information concerning 2 Chronicles 15. Unfortunately, my beloved “exact” German translation of the Masoretic Text (by Leopold Zunz) also uses the past tense, not the present. Of course, this leaves me wondering as to what extent I can “trust” this translation since the meaning is heavily altered in this case.

    Do you have any idea why this passage often was translated in the past tense? Like is there any “scribal tradition” to it or so?

    Thanks again for this great pearl 🙂


  • BJ Jordison says:

    Nehemia, could you tell us about the manner of prophesying? What did the prophets and high priest(s) use to do this?