Leviticus mentions a 'Sabbath year' where they were supposed to give the land a rest:

The LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, 2“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. (Leviticus 25:1-5)

How was this’ rest’ observed, did most Israelites actually 'take the year off'. If so, that sounds like a great thing to observe! If they were not attending the fields, and if there was no current war to contend with, what were they doing during this time?

Was this supposed to symbolize anything new not already symbolized in the Sabbath day?

I am interested in how this was actually practiced by the participants, or what meaning they perceived under it historically. Not so much what meaning we would derive from it, if it was practiced today.

Ho would you avoid being lazy during this celebration?


1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia article on the sabbatical year, called the shmitta year is a good start. Here are some additional comments.

  1. For non-farmers, the sabbatical year affects observant Jews mainly with respect to which agricultural produce they do or do not buy or eat.

  2. For Jews living outside the land of Israel the primary observance is not acquiring or eating produce of the sabbatical year.

  3. For Jews living in the land of Israel the primary observance is eating the produce of the sabbatical year as it is considered to have a special holiness, providing that it is obtained according to the regulations of the sabbatical year, and avoiding acquiring or eating such produce when not produced or acquired according to regulation.

  4. Even for farmers, the effect of the sabbatical year on activity is marginal as many farmers are involved in dairy, bee-keeping, livestock, and other agricultural activities that are less affected by the sabbatical laws, or are involved in infrastructure work. In the time of the initial occupation of the land, the sabbatical year likely had more impact on more individuals and probably required some preparations. We have a hint of these in Leviticus 25:20-22, but AFAIK no other references.

  5. The small number of farmers who are temporarily unemployed because of sabbatical observance are expected to use the time for Torah study. There are a number of funds in Israel that compensate farmers who use the sabbatical year for such study.

  6. The connection between the agricultural sabbatical year (Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:1-7) and the year of remittance of debts (Deuteronomy 15:1-6) was made so long ago and is such an accepted part of rabbinical thought that few actually question the connection today. However, from the text itself there is no necessary connection and the observance of the remittance could theoretically be decoupled from the agricultural sabbatical.

  7. As with most other laws in the Torah, the text brings no explicit reason for the sabbatical year. There is some indication from the commandment given in Exodus 23:10-11 that links the commandment with justice to the poor, and some indication of a belief that the land itself required a rest period. This inference is strengthened by the juxtaposition with the commandment of the sabbath day in the following verse, Exodus 23:12. We can also make some inferences from Leviticus 25:20-22, and from the attitude of Isaiah from 2 Kings 19:20-30, that the sabbatical year is a test of faith on the national level.

  8. The sabbath day is connected with the creation (Genesis 2:1-3), and with the giving of the Torah (Exodus 20:8-11). The sabbath year and the jubilee year do not have similar symbolic connections. The sabbath commandment has an explicit reasons, commemoration of the creation in Exodus 20:10, and rest, given in Exodus 23:12.

  9. The sabbatical and jubilee years do not have the immense personal effect on life style that the weekly sabbath has. Their observance is national rather than personal.

  10. The last sabbatical year was 2008. The next is 2015. The 2015 sabbatical will be, God willing, the first sabbatical year in nearly 1900 years that the majority of the Jewish people are resident in the land of Israel. This means (for those who observe the Torah) that the commandment now has Biblical force again and therefore the various legal mechanism approved by some rabbinical authorities in the past 100 years or so to mitigate the difficulties associated with the sabbatical year can no longer be used. It's the real McCoy now.

  • 1
    When the Torah was written, would it have been a greater hardship for a population that was more pastoral then modern-day Israel? Would it have required preparation along the same lines as Joseph preparation for the famine in Egypt? Also, I'd never made the connection between a sabbatical and the sabbath year. That's a more individualistic (i.e. Western) application. Jun 28, 2012 at 23:16
  • Added new material for completion and to address comment. Jun 29, 2012 at 3:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.