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Shemitah: A time of shaking?


Storm clouds ahead? Photo: TIPOSCHARSKY/Foter/CC BY

Storm clouds ahead? Photo: TIPOSCHARSKY/Foter/CC BY

You may have heard the Hebrew word ‘Shemitah’ being bandied about in recent days.

The word refers to the “Sabbath year” mentioned in the Old Testament and practiced by orthodox Jews for centuries. The word has garnered new interest with the recent turmoil in the stock market which saw the American Dow Jones Industrial Average fall by 1,900 points at the end of August.

Since then the stock market has been turmoil — up 200 one day and down the same amount the next.

The word took on new meaning when Jewish Christian Jonathan Cahn released his  New York Time’s bestseller “The Mystery of the Shemitah.”

In his book, Cahn discussed the Sabbath year or Shemitah which required Israeli farmers to rest the land every seventh year. The land could not be worked and was supposed to lay fallow for the full year. This also included vineyards and orchards.

During Shemitah, the Israelis were to cancel debts and rest the land. All people were allowed to harvest any crops that grew on the fallow land during this time of rest, it didn’t matter if it was their land or not.

In addition to the seven-year agricultural cycle, Cahn discusses what he refers to as the  “Super Shemitah” marked by the Year of Jubilee which took place after seven, seven-year cycles or every 5oth year.

During the Year of Jubilee, the land was rested again (essentially two years in a row since it followed a Shemitah). During this year, any Israelis enslaved due to poverty were set free, any land sold during the previous 50 years was returned to its original hereditary owners.

Leviticus 25:23 says that the land could not be sold for perpetuity because it belonged to God. In other words, land could only be leased from the owner and every 50 years reverted back to the family.

Cahn noted there were repeated promises if people obeyed God during these cycles, He would bring blessing. He would ensure bountiful crops in the sixth year to carry them over in the seventh.

However, if there was sin in the land these cycles would instead mark cursing, upheaval and shaking.

Using the Hebrew calendar, Cahn was able to determine when the Shemitah falls. In the Jewish calendar the new year starts in September, so the Sabbath year runs from September to September the following year.

He noted that the September 11, 2001 attack on the twin towers in New York fell on a Shemitah as did the 2008 stock market crash and as well the 1987 crash which was one of the greatest stock market crashes in recent memory.

This year (September 13, 2014 to September 13, 2015) was not only a Sabbath year, but Cahn also wonders if September 13, 2015 to September 2016 marks a Year of Jubilee or Super Shemitah.

Though he is sure on the Shemitah, Cahn is not positive it will be followed by a Year of Jubilee.

When the market crashed at the end of August, the Times of India reported that “Shemitah” was the tenth most searched for word on Google on August 28 and 29th.

The Times of India wrote:

MUMBAI: Strange are the ways of the market. At a time when billionaires around the world are counting their losses from the ‘Black Monday’ carnage and governments are looking for every available rule in their books to assuage frail nerves of jittery investors, ‘Shemitah’, a little know Biblical term is keeping market men around the world busy.

Meaning the last year of a seven-year cycle in the Jewish calendar, the end of the past several Shemitahs have brought in immense financial hardships to the world. The biggest Wall Street crash, which was in 1987, happened during Shemitah. The 9/11 terror attack happened a day after Shemitah in 2001 and Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the subsequent 777-point fall in Dow Jones in 2008 also happened around Shemitah.

If Cahn is right, the recent turmoil and coming Year of Jubilee suggests there may be interesting days ahead.

The purpose of Shemitah

There were two purposes for the Shemitah. First it showed Israel that the land belonged to God and secondly it stopped any cycle of poverty continuing on in a family for generations.

Since they were required to rest the land during Shemitah, it meant a farmer could not use the land repeatedly effectively wearing it out, affecting crop production and impoverishing future generations.

During the Year of Jubilee or Super Shemitah, any land sold due to poverty or greed, was returned to the original family. If a farmer sold his land which his family received as an inheritance when they entered the Promised Land, he was basically depriving his heirs of their ability to earn a living. Since the land reverted back to the original family during the year of Jubilee, the next generation would not be put into a life of perpetual poverty.

When the Israelis first entered the Promised Land under Joshua, the land was divided between the 12 tribes. Within the tribes, each family was awarded land based on their size.

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