As America—burdened by months of sheltering in place, economic devastation, and protests over racial injustice—prepares to gradually open up again, a fundamental question remains: What kind of society would we like to be? Do we really want to return to a world, for example, where Black lives still do not seem to matter and systemic racism and inequality are only exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic? Should we reopen to a “normal” economy in which millions of people are only deeper in debt and unemployment? Should this moment of emergency merely reify the inequalities and weaknesses of our former social norms? I believe there is a way to reflect meaningfully in this moment of societal pause and upheaval to help us renegotiate and renew our social contract by looking up to the socially equalizing ethos of the Biblical Jubilee.Rather than leave social organization as an indefinite construct until war, famine, or revolt upends the order and installs a new one, the Biblical Jubilee presents a framework for anticipating the need to renegotiate the social order periodically. As described in Exodus 23, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 15, the Jubilee is the culmination of a seven-year sabbatical cycle of years of rest, or Shmita years, and following seven of these cycles, the 50th year is called the Yovel or Jubilee. The Shmita year is one where no one plants new crops and while the Bible mandates these pauses as an agricultural release, it also explicitly imagines that these cycles will dictate social responsibility:Six years shall you sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves. (Ex. 23: 10-11)The Jubilee year, the seventh of seven cycles, fulfills the sabbatical temporal cycle:You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim release throughout all of the land for its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. (Lev. 25:10)In other words, after a sabbatical cycle of weeks and years of pause, a total release of the Jubilee enacts the cancellation of debts, the release from bondage, and the release of property from its current ownership. In short, nothing less than a total societal reshuffling and restructuring, all premised upon the economics of pause, or sabbatical time. Of course, the radical nature of such a complete reset has been contested as impracticable by rabbinic commentators and modern pundits alike. Nonetheless, the power of sabbatical time still presents an opportunity: Can we inhabit the sense of suspension, upheaval, or tumult gleaned from this ancient concept even as our world seems upside down? How might this form of societal autocritique instruct us in acknowledging that inequalities and inequities can be restructured? Indeed, what other innovative ways of thinking about economics, time, and social trust might emerge from this way of thinking beyond emergency thinking?In contrast to an emergency time that underscores the desire to get back to normal, the biblical notion of sabbatical time, and more specifically the Jubilee, is about separation and distinction, underscoring a sphere that exceeds human machinations in the day to day.Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel beautifully described the weekly Shabbat as a separation between sanctified and quotidian, providing a blueprint for resisting the commodification of our world and existence, freeing us from bondage to space and things, opening a space of freedom. On a larger scale, the sabbatical represents a temporal horizon whereby interruption and suspension can provide us an opportunity to renegotiate what the normal ought to be. This, as the political theorist Bonnie Honig notes, is the radically egalitarian power of the sabbatical time in the Jubilee, where “[h]uman sovereignty is suspended and something common, oriented toward equality takes its place.” The Jubilee, like the Sabbath, therefore marks “the triumph of time over space.” Thus, one of the reasons the biblical ideal of the sabbatical year and Jubilee provides a powerful alternative to emergency thinking is that it mandates a way to rethink our relation to time and its fluidity in the structure of social relations. Sabbatical time, especially the Jubilee, is thus not limited to the sanctified; its power extends to the societal and economic. If the sabbatical is land-centered, a time for the land to rest, Jubilee is a periodic restructuring of social inequality to allow for society to reset the structures that produced that inequality.Jubilee is therefore a scene of renegotiated social relations. The conceptual root of this sabbatical renegotiation is the cancellation of debts and release from bondage. These provide the inner mechanics of the completion of the sabbatical cycle and mark the novum of the Jubilee in relation to its closely related seventh-year sabbatical, or Shmita. Indeed, rabbinic interpretations of the meaning of financial release emphasize that these sabbaticals are not specific to an ancient agricultural institution.The economic lessons of the Shmita and more specifically the Jubilee have provided economists and political theorists with a model to reimagine responses to the contemporary debt crisis, which existed before the pandemic. This is not distinct to Israelite society. For example, economist Michael Hudson writes that the practice of debt cancellation can be found in ancient Mesopotamian agrarian economies and their enacted debt release taught the expediency of a reset: It is now understood that these rulers were not being utopian or idealistic in forgiving debts. The alternative would have been for debtors to fall into bondage. Kingdoms would have lost their labor force, since so many would be working off debts to their creditors. Many debtors would have run away (much as Greeks emigrated en masse after their recent debt crisis), and communities would have been prone to attack from without.Hudson advocates the “write down” of those debts in deepest arrears such as student debt and health care debt, which in turn can prevent spending in the “real” economy. Hudson notes such debt relief was just the kind of Jubilee that post-WWII Germany experienced under the Allied Powers when 90% of both government and private debt was abolished.Attempting to make such a policy practicable for people today, activist oriented campaigns such as The Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt have similarly advocated the Jubilee’s model as a way to imagine abolishing debt as not social fiction but historically necessary. By pointing to the secondary market upon which consumer debt is often bought and sold, these organizations have shown the power of collective economic agency to buy up and then abolish debt. In the context of the international arena, John Nichols recently described why debt relief for developing nations will necessarily stem the growing divide between nations and the global pursuit of GDP growth, especially in a COVID-19 economy. Debt relief and debt forgiveness are thus economic policies that should be seriously considered in any new economic stimulus package that the U.S. Congress considers. In fact, looking beyond the immediate situation of contagion, debt relief is perhaps the single most immediate economic policy to consider. Here much can be learned from the Jubilee. After all, with the Jubilee declaration of Leviticus 25:10 to “Proclaim liberty throughout the land …” memorialized upon the Liberty Bell, one might expect it to be on the minds of those in the halls of government.But the sabbatical thinking articulated out of Shmita and the Jubilee extends far beyond economic policy. It represents a model of rupture and suspension that can help us make sense of the uncertainty and vulnerability that we are living through in this pandemic and its aftermath. The conceptual mechanics of debt relief and release from bondage are therefore all the more significant when we consider them as models for a complete renegotiation of our social relations. By pressing pause on the unequal distributions of resources and power, the Jubilee demands we all take stock of our public trust; it demands we step back and acknowledge that there are forces beyond our control. The Jubilee, in short, is an opportunity to renegotiate the social contract.Recalling Heschel’s description of sabbatical time, therefore, we ought to consider how the sabbatical time of the Jubilee year might provide us with an opportunity to rethink the kind of relationship of trust that is implicit to our social contract. If we begin to look at our current moment as a Jubilee time, we might harness the power of pause to annul those calcified social and economic relations that have brought us systemic disparities in wealth, health, justice, and security; to cease from recommitting to structures that subdue the freedom of sabbatical release to the mundane and ossified institutions of exploitation.We have already experienced a radical suspension of the normal. The question is whether this moment will lead us into the risks of emergency thinking or free us to imagine new solutions to generations-old problems. Perhaps the Jubilee, and not a state of emergency, is a more fruitful framework for cultivating a consciousness capable of dealing with COVID and its aftermath. Perhaps this moment of contagion provides the conditions to rethink our social contract and public trust. And once the contagion subsides, perhaps this model might also help us think deeply about the demand for societal restructuring we are witnessing; about just what kind of “normal” we desire.