Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rambam - Why Don't We Count Yovel?

(For more on the subject of Yovel, click here to return to the Table of Contents.)

Am Yisrael first started counting the years of Shmitah and Yovel after the division of the land in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun. There have been since this time, as we learned from the Rambam, 2 periods wherein Am Yisrael didn't count Yovel: Galut Bavel and Galut Edom, or alternatively, when the Beit HaMikdash was not built.

If we look closely at the Rambam, we find a difference between the Rambam's relationship to Galut Bavel and Galut Edom. By Galut Bavel, he says they didn't count (both Yovel and Shmitah - but it should be noted that the Rambam says later on in the chapter that the tradition of the Geonim is that Shmitah was counted), for the land was nullified. What was nullified? Kedushah Rishonah of Kibbush Yehoshua (The Holiness of the Land which was imparted upon it by Yehoshua capturing the land) was nullified. But, as it says in the Gemara, Kedushah Shniyah, imparted by the settling and acquisition of the land in the days of Ezra, is eternal. Therefore, when the 2nd Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, the count continued. This is why the Rambam brings the entire calculation of what the year count should be, he assumes that we should still be counting the Yovel. He then nullifies his own opinion for halachah, saying we should rely on the tradition of the Geonim.

Conclusion from the Rambam is as follows:

  • Yovel is a mitzvah from the Torah only in times when certain criteria are met, per the Yerushalami Shvi'it chapter 10.
  • Regardless of this, counting of the Yovel is dependent on the Kedushah of Eretz Yisrael being in force. This was nullified with the destruction of the 1st Beit HaMikdash in 3339 (per Rambam), and reinstated in the days of Ezra, and the count resumed in 3416.
  • Since, per the Gemara, the Kedushah imparted in the time of Ezra is eternal, the count of Shmitah including Yovel should continue regardless of whether or not the Beit HaMikdash standing. This is akin to the fixed calendar of Hillel HaKatan, which continues regardless of whether or not the Sanhedrin declares the new month. We follow for halachah, however, the tradition of the Geonim, despite the fact that it contradicts this.

The question that this raises is as follows. According to a continuing calculation from the year 3416, the year 5765 was Yovel. When the Sanhedrin begins counting the years of Yovel, will they pick up from this count or start over from year 1? Or more imminently, will they pick up on the Shmitah count, where either 5772 (instead of 5775) or 5779 (instead of 5782) is Shmitah?


  1. There is another option. Switching at 3830 from Chachamim to Rebbi Yehudah. I'll write that up later. Look at the latest Yovel with that.