Yovel, or Jubilee, is one of my favorite subjects. Very simply, the year of Yovel occurs after seven shmitah years. A shmitah year occurs every seven years (the next one is in 5782) and in the land of Israel farmland must law fallow and debts are released – it is a year of agriculture and economic remission. After seven cycles of seven years, in the fiftieth year there is a full agricultural and economic remission, and in addition all land contracts are released, all indentured servants are released – in essence, a full economic reset button. I’ll spare the specific details of what, practically speaking, shmitah and yovel are because what I really want to focus on is the word yovel. What does it actually mean?
Well, as you probably already anticipate, there are many opinions! So, let’s dive right in and see what our fearless heroes of commentary say…
Rashi (11th c. France)
…it is named yovel because of the blowing of the shofar.
Ibn Ezra (12th c. Spain)
…our Sages of Blessed Memory explained that a yovel is a type of sheep, the proof of which is in the phrase “shofarot ha’yovelim,” so the year is named after the type of shofar.
Ramban (13th c. Spain)
In my opinion, Scripture does not refer to the year as yovel because of the blowing of the shofar, it is because of the freedom it brings. This name is not mentioned in the first verse which states “you will sound the shofar.” It says in this verse, “proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants,” because free people can live wherever they want, and then it calls it yovel because every person is conducted (yuval) back to their ancestral holding…and Scripture uses a similar expression in numerous places…it should be understood as a time of “conveying.”…
HaKetav V’HaKabbalah (19th c. Germany)
Yovel teaches about dominion and freedom, it comes from the root “b.l.l. ב.ל.ל” just like “belulot b’shamen, mixed with oil,” having to do with mixtures. This is because in the year of yovel, there is a mixture because there is a blending of domains [the line between public and private property], there is a blending of the order of domains in fields and over servants, one who acquires becomes like one who sells…unified freedom implies one unified domain for all of us – there is no upper or lower hand, no more or less than one another. The tool we use to announce this blending of domains is also called a yovel, and this is why it is called “the horn of the yovel.”
Ha’Emek Ha’Davar (19th c. Russia/Poland)
According to its simple meaning, it is an expression of moving from one place to another place. This is why the antelope is also referred to as a yovel, because it is always moving from place to place. The verse is explaining why it is called a yovel.