Last night a very large and jovial group assembled to talk and munch on the all too numerous goodies (including a freshly baked pumpkin banana bread, among other things!). We were discussing the last two books of Leviticus, Emor and B'Chukotai, extremely interesting and provocative portions.
Emor discusses the intricacies of the Jubilee year. I am sure all of you have heard of this idea before, the notion that every 50 years, income would be largely redistributed and the land would lie fallow. It is a sabbath of sabbaths, when all contracts are retracted, or the sellers get an opportunity to re-purchase all lands, etc. that they have sold in the previous 49 years. In fact, all contracts in the land of Israel would be temporary, as buying a home in Irvine entails purchasing rights to build on land, but not the ownership of the land itself. The price a person paid for something would be based on how many harvests they would hold this thing for. When the 50 years were up, the rights would revert to the previous owner, should that person wish to repurchase the thing.
Though it is a radical idea, very idealistic, there is some question whether and how it would work or if it were in fact ever put into play on a large scale. There are apparently Orthodox Jews in contemporary Israel who do act on it, but they are a small portion of the population. They live on specially designated frozen and canned food made just for these Jubilee years.
Shockingly, though Jewish indentured servants (debt slaves) had to be freed in these years (except for the women, who were sex slaves, and thus belonged permanently to their owners), all others who were held as slaves did not, even though the reason stated for this rule is a reminder of how God freed the Jewish slaves in Egypt, generally linked to the necessity of being conscious of how the stranger needs consideration. No one ever accused the tradition of being consistent or logical.
The second book was a gripping discussion of all the blessings that would ensue if the people followed the laws, and the many and detailed curses that would follow if they did not. I learned from this book that the ancient Hebrews raised forbidden animals, such as pigs, and sold them to outsiders in order to make money. Sometimes these animals would be given to the temple as pledges. Since no one in the community could eat them, they were probably sold and the proceeds went back to the Levites. Interesting.