2024.04.08 Yobel Shofar verso il Giubileo

The Jobel at the origins of the Jubilee

The Shofar, a ram's horn used in the Jewish tradition to announce the beginning of some sacred festivals, is at the root of the word "Jubilee."

By Paolo Ondarza 

The word Jubilee evokes the sound of the characteristic piercing horn of the ram or ram's horn, the shofar, which in biblical tradition marks the beginning of some sacred Jewish festivals such as Rosh haShanah, the Jewish New Year, or Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The instrument is frequently mentioned in the Torah, the Talmud, and subsequent rabbinic literature.

The faith of Abraham

According to tradition, a ram's horn was sounded to recall Abraham's faith on Mount Moriah when the Patriarch did not step back from sacrificing his son Isaac. A ram,  with its horns entangled in a bush, was the sign that God had accepted his obedience.

A Sabbath lasting 12 months

In the Bible the sound of the horn announces another great solemnity: the Jubilee. This word literally means "ram".  According to the prescription contained in chapter 25 of the Book of Leviticus, every "seven weeks of years", in the fiftieth year, the "trumpet of acclamation" was to sound to proclaim a "Sabbath" lasting twelve months in which the land should rest, debts would be forgiven, and property would revert to its original ownership.

The sounds of the Shofar

There are four characteristic sounds of the Shofar: the Tekiah, a long and majestic note, evokes a solemn convocation; the Shevarim, consisting of three medium-length notes, similar to the sound of weeping, recalls human fragility and invites reflection on past actions; the T'ruah blast, a series of short and broken notes, recalls an urgent alarm to awaken from spiritual sleep. In the festival of Rosh haShanah, the three sounds are combined in the Tekiah gedolah, or "Great tekiah," signifying an appeal for lasting change and redemption.

The Jobel
The Jobel

Thus, the Shofar is a reminder to reflect on one's life, to seek improvement, and is made according to an artisanal process that involves removing the inner part of the ram's horn and then polishing it.

The Lord's year of grace

The practice of the Jubilee has always been linked for Israel to the advent of the Messiah who, according to the Prophets, inaugurates the year of the Lord's grace. "For the Jubilee to be applied, it is presupposed that all the Jewish people reside in the land of Israel," explains Rabbi Riccardo Shemuel Di Segni, chief rabbi of the Jewish Community of Rome, to Vatican News. "This situation was interrupted at the time of the first exile by the Assyrians, so that seven centuries before the Christian era, the Jubilee was interrupted." The Babylonian captivity of the Jews of Jerusalem at the time of Nebuchadnezzar II is described in the Book of Kings, as well as in the Second Book of Chronicles or in the prophetic books like Ezra, Nehemiah, or in the Psalms that explicitly refer to it.

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni
Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni

The promulgation of the Decalogue

"The word 'jubilee' - he continues - derives, through various transformations in Latin, from the Hebrew yōbēl. We find this word, for example, when the Decalogue is promulgated." "Only when the ram's horn sounds may they approach the mountain," Exodus reads. "Jobel is closely connected to the sound that, in ancient times, was the official signal that said: at this moment the Jubilee Year begins."

Jobel, at the origins of the Jubilee
Jobel, at the origins of the Jubilee

The liberation of slaves

There are two legal aspects related to the Jobel: the first is the liberation of slaves. The prescription contained in Leviticus always states: "If one of your brothers becomes poor and has to sell himself to you, don't make him work as a slave. Treat him as a hired hand or a guest among you. He will work for you until the Jubilee, after which he and his children are set free to go back to his clan and his ancestral land. Because they are my servants whom I brought out of Egypt, they must never be sold as slaves."

At the origins of Jubilee. Watch the video by Vatican Radio/Vatican News' Editorial Director Andrea Tornielli

Nullification of land ownership

The second aspect concerns "the nullification of land ownership: 'In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his property.'" "It refers to the biblical system," Di Segni explains, "according to which when the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, the territory was divided among the tribes and within the tribes, among the various families, so that each family had a piece of land. It could happen that, depending on the evolution of the times, and the economy, someone would lose everything, or someone would accumulate property. The Jubilee meant resetting everything, that is, everyone returned to their original possession."

The ram's horn
The ram's horn

Starting afresh with equal opportunities

"The messages that come from the Jubilee are extremely important. They are those of the possibility given to everyone to build their existence with dignity with a minimum of land. In ancient times - notes the chief rabbi of Rome - land, and agriculture, were the main source of livelihood. So everyone had to have their livelihood. And if over the years someone became rich and someone became poor, the Jubilee served to rearrange things, to start everyone afresh with equal opportunities."

The social message of the Jobel

Then there is a message that somehow refers to current events and to the themes of social equity and the protection of the creation of which man and woman are the custodians. "The land does not belong to us. The land is given to us as a gift. The land belongs to the Lord who decides how to give it, how much to give it, but above all, he gives it fairly. If there is injustice among human beings, this injustice - Riccardo Di Segni continues - must be corrected systematically and periodically. It is a message of great social importance. It is difficult to translate it into the current economic situation, but the principle that everyone has the opportunity to start on equal terms is fundamental to establishing justice and equity in social relations."

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09 April 2024, 12:00