According to biblical law, the Jubilee is only observed when all twelve tribes of the Jewish nation are living in Israel, as is derived from the verse,1 “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it,” which implies that the Jubilee is only sanctified when “all who live on it”—meaning, all who are meant to be living there—are in the Land of Israel. Furthermore, the Jubilee is only observed when every tribe is living in the specific part of the land which was it was allotted when the Land of Israel was divided. However, some are of the opinion that the Jubilee is observed as long as there is a partial representation of each tribe, even if most of the tribe is not in Israel.
In the 6th century BCE, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and sent the majority of its population into exile. Those who were deported are historically known as the Ten Lost Tribes.
We are certain that before that point in time the Jubilee was regularly observed. We also know that, with the destruction of the Second Temple and the disbandment of the Sanhedrin (supreme rabbinical court), we ceased to mark the Jubilee year in any form. The periods about which there is a question are the remaining years between the exile of the Ten Tribes and the destruction of the First Temple, and the Second Temple Era.
According to the opinion that partial representation of each tribe is sufficient to fulfill the scriptural requirement, biblically mandated Jubilees were fully observed throughout the periods in question, because there remained a small representation of each tribe in Israel.
However, according to the first opinion mentioned above, with the exile of the Northern Kingdom the required condition for the Jubilee to be sanctified was lost. Thus, the last time there was a biblical requirement to observe the Jubilee was about 150 years before the destruction of the First Temple.
The question remains, however, whether according to this opinion Jubilee years were designated or observed during this time by rabbinic injunction. This is the subject of debate amongst the sages.2
As mentioned above, though, today the Jubilee year is neither designated nor observed.3
And now for the answer to your question: “When is the next Jubilee year?”
We eagerly await the day when G‑d will bring our entire nation back to our homeland—including the ten “lost” tribes—and we will again resume observing the Jubilee year, as well as so many other mitzvot which we are incapable of performing until that awaited day.4
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson
The reasons behind this debate: Although there was no biblical
requirement to observe the Jubilee year after the Ten Tribes were
exiled, the observance of the shemittah (Sabbatical year)
remained a biblical obligation. The integrity of the seven-year
Sabbatical cycle depended on the larger fifty-year cycle—after
completing seven seven-year cycles, a one-year hiatus was taken before
the new cycle began (on the 51st year). It was thus necessary to
designate a (non-observed) fiftieth “Jubilee” year. Others explain that
the sages also instituted the (partial) observance of the laws of
Jubilee to commemorate the biblical mitzvah.
However, there is also an opinion in the Talmud that the Jubilee is not an “in-between-cycles year,” but rather that it is the first of the next 49-year cycle, and thus not designating it would not impact the calculation of the Sabbatical cycles. This opinion also maintains that the Sages never instituted the Jubilee year as a commemoration.
Although the laws of shemittah are observed in Israel to this
very day, the Jubilee year is not designated or observed. There are many
reasons for this. Some of them: a) The Jubilee only affected the shemittah cycle when the shemittah
was established and declared by the Sanhedrin, as opposed to today when
it is automatically programmed into the perpetual Jewish calendar. b)
The observance of shemittah today is only a rabbinic decree, and
therefore the Jubilee year does not affect its cycle. c) No
commemoration is in order when there is no Sanhedrin, whose
participation in the declaration of the Jubilee year was integral. In
fact, it was the Sanhedrin’s blast of the shofar (ram's horn) on Yom Kippur which signaled the entry of the Jubilee year.
The information in this response is taken from Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. XXII, s.v. “Yovel.”
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