Yovel Text Study: Return

The Jewish mystical tradition offers depictions of periodic cosmic rebirth, in which every 50,000 years, the entire universe returns to its original state. This can be seen as a more mythic, cosmic version of a the radical notion of land-return in our earthly yovel, the biblical commandment in which every fifty years, land would return to its original owners and people would go back to their families. This, together with releasing slaves, makes up the core unique act of yovel:

…and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to your holding and each of you shall return to your family…In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to your holding. (Leviticus 25:10,13)


The idea of return can create foster a wide variety of feelings, including tension and contradiction.  Returning to family provokes different reactions within each of us, depending among other things on our relationships with our families of origin and of choice.  The notion of returning land or homes to others will likely resonate differently for city and rural dwellers. Consequently, if we begin to think in terms of returning things and people to their original states, we inevitably have to wonder to what extent we share a common view of what that “original” state looked like.

Like all aspects of yovel, the practice of returning land to its original owner would have an impact on people’s experience throughout the fifty-year period, not just at its end.  In this section, we investigate the link between periodic return of the land and the particular responsibility to consistently engage in fair transactions regarding land.

As you encounter the sources in this section, consider how you are understand “return” in contemporary terms.  Is there a particular beginning point to land claims in Israel and the Palestinian territories?  What would be considered “return”?  What are the tensions that arise on all sides (and within you) when you think about return?