In modern use, a sabbatical is a period (usually a semester or a year) during which a teacher or professor has no teaching duties and may pursue research or other work. Other industries occasionally grant their workers sabbaticals and the word is used for artists who take a mid-career break for inspiration. Traditionally such sabbaticals are granted every seven years, although in actual practice the period can differ.
The word comes to us via the Latin sabbaticus and is ultimately from the Hebrew shabbath, or sabbath, the seventh day of the week, a holy day on which no work is to be done. Mosaic law also created the concept of a sabbatical year, or shemitah in Hebrew. Every seventh year the fields were to lie fallow, debts to be forgiven, and slaves to be freed. From Exodus 23:10-11 (Authorized Version):
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton