Question #1: Where?
Many mitzvos can be performed only between the “walls” of Yerushalayim. Do these laws apply to everywhere within the walls of today’s “Old City”?
Question #2: What?
“What may I not remove from Yerushalayim?”
Question #3: When?
“When am I permitted to eat maaser sheini?”
This week’s parsha includes the mitzvah of maaser sheini. Although people currently living in chutz la’aretz often feel that they do not need to know the laws applicable to the agricultural mitzvos of the Torah, everyone must know the basic laws of this mitzvah for many reasons, including:
1. When in Eretz Yisroel, to which we all aspire, we need to be sure that all terumos and maasros are properly separated. Someone living outside of Eretz Yisroel also needs to know the details of the laws on produce that grows in Eretz Yisroel.
2. We daven three times daily for Moshiach to come so that we can live in Eretz Yisroel and observe the mitzvos that apply there. Although most of the laws of maaser sheini do not apply today even in Eretz Yisroel, they will all apply again, iy’H, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and we can achieve a state of taharah by virtue of the ashes of the parah adumah.
3. Fruits of chutz la’aretz may have the status of neta reva’ie, which shares the laws of maaser sheini.
Produce grown in Eretz Yisroel and the lands nearby must have several small portions separated from it before it may be consumed. These are:
First, a small amount is separated as terumah, which is property of the kohen. When we are all tahor, the owner gives the terumah to a kohen of his choice. Terumah may be eaten by any close member of the kohen’s family – including his wife, sons, and unmarried daughters — as long as they are completely tahor.
Since no kohen is tahor today, terumah may not be eaten. If the terumah is itself tamei, it is destroyed, preferably by burning it. If the terumah is tahor, we are not permitted to eat it, nor to destroy it. What does one do with it?
We put it in a place where no one will mistakenly eat it, and leave it there until it decomposes to the point that people will not eat it. At that point, it is disposed of. We will soon explain why decomposition permits one to destroy terumah.
After terumah has been separated, a tenth of the remaining produce is separated as maaser rishon, which is the property of the Levi. The Levi is required to separate one tenth of what he receives, which is called terumas maaser and has all the laws of terumah as explained above. The remaining maaser rishon has no sanctity, and therefore may be eaten by anyone, even when tamei. Therefore, maaser rishon can be eaten today, even though we are all tamei, and the Levi can sell it or give it away to whomever he chooses. Furthermore, none of the restrictions we will discuss shortly regarding redemption or use applies to maaser rishon.
Maaser sheini/maaser ani
After maaser rishon is separated, there is an obligation to set aside a tenth of what is left. Depending which year it is relative to the shemittah cycle, either maaser sheini or maaser ani is separated.
These two types of maaser are halachically very different. Maaser ani is the property of the poor and has no sanctity, similar to maaser rishon. The owner of the field decides to which poor person or persons he gives the maaser ani. There is detailed halacha defining who qualifies as “poor” for the purposes of this mitzvah, but since the theme of this article is maaser sheini and not maaser ani, we will leave this question for a different time.
When is one required to separate maaser sheini, and when is one required to separate maaser ani? The halacha is that Eretz Yisroel follows a seven year shemittah cycle. In the first, second, fourth and fifth years, the second tithe is maaser sheini, and in the third and sixth years it is maaser ani. Since shemittah produce is ownerless, there are usually no terumah and maasros separations that year. In the unusual instances where there is, which is a topic for a different time, there is extensive halachic discussion whether the second tithe is maaser sheini or maaser ani.
Maaser sheini, the topic of our article, must be eaten in Yerushalayim by people who are tahor. Any tahor Jew is permitted to eat it, but it must be eaten within the walls of the ancient city of Yerushalayim. We will soon discuss what that means and we will also see that there are many other laws that apply to it. We will also discuss what can be done if it is impractical to transport all of one’s maaser sheini to Yerushalayim.
We should note that the term maaser, without specifying which one, is used sometimes to refer to maaser rishon and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, notwithstanding that their laws are very different from one another. Usually, one can understand from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually maaser sheini is intended. Since the rest of this article will be discussing the specific and unusual sanctity of maaser sheini, I will henceforth use the term maaser to mean only maaser sheini.
At this point, let us examine the appropriate pesukim in this week’s parsha: “And you shall eat the maaser of your grain, your wine, and your olive oil… before Hashem your G-d, in the place that He will choose to rest His Name — so that you will thereby learn to be in awe of Hashem at all times. However, when you are blessed by Hashem, your G-d, such that you are unable to carry [the maaser sheini] to a place as distant as the one that Hashem chooses, then you may exchange it for money that you bring with you on your visit to that place that Hashem has chosen. Once you are there, you shall exchange the money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which you shall eat there, before Hashem, your G-d. In this way, you and your family will celebrate” (Devarim 14:23-26).
Obviously, the place that He will choose to rest His Name refers to the city of Yerushalayim. Thus, we are told the following halachos: Maaser should be brought with you when you travel to Yerushalayim. However, if you have more produce than you can easily carry to Yerushalayim, you may redeem the maaser produce, a process that removes the sanctity and special laws from the maaser produce and places it on coins. The Torah shebe’al peh teaches that this redemption can be performed only onto minted coins. When the owner is redeeming his own maaser produce, he must redeem it for coinage that is worth 25% more than its value. Then he brings this money to Yerushalayim, where it is used to purchase food to be eaten within the confines of the city. This acquisition transfers the maaser sheini sanctity from the money to the food, which means that this newly acquired food can be eaten only within the walls of Yerushalayim and must be eaten while tahor.
Whether one transports one’s maaser sheini produce itself to Yerushalayim, or purchases food with the money to which the sanctity has been transferred, the farmer remains with a lot of maaser sheini that may be consumed only in Yerushalayim, a city bursting with sanctity and special, holy people. The beauty of this mitzvah is that it entices the farmer to ascend to the Holy City and be part of the spiritual growth attainable only there.
One can even look at the maaser sheini as “vacation fund” money that the Torah provides. Although the farmer may not be wealthy, when he arrives in Yerushalayim, he can eat and drink like a king!
Sanctity and purity
As mentioned above, the original maaser sheini that was separated and brought to Yerushalayim, and the food purchased in Yerushalayim with the redemption money are holy and may be eaten only within the walls of the old Yerushalayim and only when both the food and the individual eating it are tahor, ritually pure.
In addition, there is another halacha pertaining to Yerushalayim. Once maaser produce has been brought within the Holy City’s walls, it may not be removed or redeemed.
O’ my Jerusalem!
By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. The Turkish walls encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and therefore do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim; and, without question, parts endowed with the sanctity of the Holy City are outside these walls. Thus, it will be necessary when Moshiach comes to determine exactly where are the borders of the halachic “old city of Yerushalayim.”
What food may one purchase with maaser sheini money? There are many laws regarding what one may purchase. The Torah specifies that, once in Yerushalayim, one may exchange maaser sheini money for cattle, sheep, wine or anything else you desire, which seems both wordy and unusual. The Torah sheba’al peh explains this to mean that one may not purchase any food with maaser sheini money, but only those that grow either from the ground or meat and poultry, that grow “on the ground.” Therefore, one may use maaser sheini money to purchase fruit, vegetables, breads, pastry, meat or poultry; but not fish, which do not grow on the ground; not salt or water, which do not grow; nor mushrooms, which are fungi and are therefore not considered as growing from or on the ground.
The pasuk’s reference to purchasing cattle or sheep teaches a new law. It is considered exemplary to purchase animals that will then be offered in the Beis Hamikdash as korbanos shelamim. The owner takes home most of the meat of these korbanos to eat with whomever he chooses to invite. Of course, this must be eaten following all the laws of korbanos shelamim, which includes that everyone eating it must be tahor and that the meat is eaten only within the walls of the city, as explained above. Among many other laws, the meat may be eaten only until nightfall of the day following the offering of the korban. Whatever is not eaten by that time must be burned.
There is an interesting halacha germane to those who purchase animals for korbanos shelamim with maaser funds. One may use maaser funds to purchase an animal as a korban, even though it is not completely eaten. Parts of the animal are burned on the mizbei’ach, and the hide and bones are not consumed by anyone. Notwithstanding the strict rules governing the consumption of maaser, the hide, which was purchased as part of the animal with maaser funds, has no sanctity and belongs to the owner!
Sanctity of maaser sheini
Although any tahor Jew is permitted to consume maaser, there are many detailed rules governing how one must consume maaser. For example, one may not cook foods that are usually eaten raw, nor may one eat raw produce that is usually cooked. Therefore, one may not eat raw maaser sheini potatoes, nor may one cook maaser sheini cucumbers or oranges.
Similarly, juicing vegetables and most kinds of fruit is considered “ruining” maaser sheini produce and it is therefore prohibited, although one may press grapes, olives and lemons, since the juice and oil of these fruits are considered more valuable than the fruit itself.
How do we determine whether processing a food “ruins” it or not? Some poskim contend that one may not process maaser in such a way that its brocha is changed (Shu”t Mishpat Cohen #85, based on Brachos 38a and Rambam, Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Others contend that it is permitted when this is the most common use of this fruit (Minchas Shelomoh, Shvi’is pg. 185). A practical difference in halacha between these two positions is whether one is permitted to squeeze oranges and grapefruits.
One must certainly be careful not to actively destroy maaser sheini. Therefore, one may not destroy it when it could still be eaten. Similarly, peels that are commonly eaten, such as those of cucumber or apple, still have kedusha and may not simply be disposed of. One is required to place them in a plastic bag and then place the bag in a small bin or box called a pach maaser, where it remains until the food is inedible. When it decomposes to this extent, one may dispose of it in the regular garbage.
Sanctity until spoilage
This leads us to a question: If indeed one may not throw maaser sheini produce in the garbage because it has sanctity, why may one do so after the produce decomposes? Does decomposition remove kedusha?
Indeed it does. Kedushas maaser sheini means that as long as the food is still edible, one may not make it inedible or use it atypically. This is because maaser sheini food is meant to be eaten. However, once the maaser sheini is inedible, it loses its special status and may be disposed of as trash.
This sounds very strange. Where do we find that something holy loses its special status when it becomes inedible?
Although the concept that decay eliminates sanctity seems unusual, this is only because we are unfamiliar with most of the mitzvos where this principle applies. Other mitzvos where this concept exists are shevi’is, terumah, challah, bikkurim, and reva’ie (Rambam, Hilchos Terumos Chapter 11; Hilchos Maaser Sheini 3:11; Hilchos Shevi’is 5:3). Of these types of produce that are holy, but meant to be eaten, only shevi’is may be eaten by someone tamei. Even though someone tamei may not consume tahor terumah, challah, or maaser sheini, one also may not dispose of them or even burn them. Instead, one must place them in a secure place until they decay and only then dispose of them (Tur, Yoreh Deah 331). We burn the special challah portion after separating it, only because it has become tamei. If it did not become tamei, one may not destroy the challah portion, but must place it somewhere until it decays on its own.
Contemporary maaser sheini
The fact that one must be tahor to consume maaser sheini changes the way one observes this mitzvah today, since we cannot become tahor. Without the ashes of a parah adumah with which to purify ourselves of certain types of tumah, we cannot eat maaser produce, nor the food purchased with the redeeming coins. Because we cannot eat maaser food, it is pointless to purchase food with these coins; instead, maaser coins remain unused and are eventually destroyed. To avoid excessive loss, one is permitted to redeem large quantities of maaser sheini onto a very small value within a coin, and this is the way we redeem maaser sheini today. Of course, we are missing the main spiritual gain of consuming the foods in Yerushalayim, but this is one of the many reasons for which we mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and pray many times daily for its restoration.
There is another law that is different because of our unfortunate circumstances. Since the maaser will not be consumed, it is permitted to redeem tamei maaser produce onto coins, even within the boundaries of the Holy City. Otherwise, one is permitted to redeem maaser produce only in a place where it cannot be eaten.
In conclusion, when we buy produce that grew in Israel, either we should check that there is a good hechsher that attended to all the maaser needs or we should make sure to separate all the terumos and maasros ourselves and redeem the maaser sheini.
I mentioned above that all the laws that apply to maaser sheini also apply to reva’ie. Reva’ie is the fruit that grows in the fourth year of a tree’s life. In a different article, I have explained how we calculate the years of a tree’s life. There is also an article titled Could the Fruit of My Tree Be Orlah? where I discussed whether and when the laws of reva’ie apply to trees planted in chutz la’aretz or only to those in Eretz Yisroel.
A prominent talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein once related to me the following story. A female calf was born that was completely red. Of course, conversations were abuzz: Could this possibly be a hint that Moshiach will be coming soon, and that we would soon have a parah adumah to use in removing our tumah?
Some of the talmidim in Rav Moshe’s yeshivah approached him with this information, expecting to see his reaction to the great news. Much to their astonishment, Rav Moshe did not react at all. Surprised, one of them asked Rav Moshe: “Does not the Rosh Yeshivah think that this might be a sign that Moshiach will be coming soon?” To this, Rav Moshe answered: “A parah adumah is not kosher until it is three years old. I daven that Moshiach should come today, not in three years.”
We should all have Rav Moshe’s desire for Moshiach to be here, today, and, to demonstrate this desire, be as knowledgeable as we can in all the halachos that will then be germane. May we soon see the day when we can bring our maaser sheini and our reva’ie and eat them betaharah within the rebuilt walls of Yerushalayim!