Maaser Sheini

Photo by david Kadosh from FreeImages

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
, which shares the laws of maaser sheini.

The basics

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.

Maaser rishon

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

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

Which maaser?

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.

The parsha

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
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.

Vacation fund

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

What food?

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
, 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

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
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
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
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.

Neta reva’ie

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!