Jubilee: Midstream at 50 - 1955 to 2005

By Haber, Leo | Midstream, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Jubilee: Midstream at 50 - 1955 to 2005


Haber, Leo, Midstream


The very first issue of Midstream appeared in the autumn of 1955 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States and David Ben Gurion was the first Prime Minister of Israel. It was only ten years after the end of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. The miraculously established modern State of Israel was a mere seven years old.

The new American-Jewish magazine called Midstream began as a quarterly publication, appearing four times a year. Its founding editor was Shlomo Katz, a writer and translator of note. The journal was somewhat smaller in size than a current issue, but it contained more pages. Then as now, it was sponsored by the Theodor Herzl Foundation, and the "Statement of Purpose" printed by the Foundation on the inside front cover of all current issues has not changed a single word of the original Statement since the inception of the magazine. The overwhelming impact of the Holocaust, the glorious birth of Israel, the abiding questions of Jewish survival worldwide, both physical and cultural, and the survival of Israel as a Jewish state are still worthy themes of concern and interest for the modern reader as they were for the readers of that era. And from our point of view in the editorial office, the need to publish in America an indigenous journal of free inquiry on these vital subjects within the parameters of our stated identification as a Zionist magazine is still self-evident and our all-embracing goal.

The word "jubilee" is the English cognate of a Hebrew term yovel mentioned in the Torah in the Book of Leviticus (Va-Yikra 25:10) referring to the law of the Jubilee year. The word appears immediately alter the following directive that must have changed the world, "and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof"--a quotation that is inscribed (in English, not in the original Hebrew) on the American Liberty Bell still housed in Philadelphia with its famous crack that does not diminish its powerful message. The Jubilee year requirements of freeing all slaves and returning all bought property to their original owners was to take place, according to Biblical law, every fiftieth year. First would come seven Sabbatical years, each one occurring, naturally, once every seven years. Then after 49 years, the 50th Jubilee year. The return of all property to their original owners on the Jubilee year was predicated on the equal distribution of property in the Land of Israel to all families upon the entrance of the Hebrew tribes to the Land of Promise under Joshua after the passing of Moses. Both the seven Sabbatical years and the Jubilee year also included the obligation to allow all the land to lie fallow and regenerate for the full year, perhaps the first law, or one of the first, proclaiming environmental concern for the preservation of the earth. The return of all property to original owners, set in motion by the law of Jubilee, impressed the 19th-century American economist and social theorist Henry George. I'm not familiar enough with the writings of Marx to know if he was conversant with the Torah text and if he had ever written a reaction to this landmark innovation of Jubilee. I suspect that the Torah's sanctioning the existence of private property but also insisting that bought property must be returned to the seller every Jubilee year to assure that no family would be permanently exploited and impoverished, might have given the author of Das Kapital apoplexy.

By the way, the traditional Jubilee year observed by devout farming Jews in Israel is to return in 2008-2009, from Rosh Ha-Shanah to Rosh Ha-Shanah. Our Midstream Jubilee in this year of 2005 is not so earth-shaking, but it has filled us all with pride and hope that we have enlightened and inspired our readers in America and elsewhere in the world on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel.

The "Table of Contents" of our first issue in 1955 (Volume 1, Number 1) is reprinted on page 2 of this issue, opposite this editorial. …

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