The End of The Line: Laws of Biur Ma’aser

Published Spring 2015
The Land of Israel follows a unique seven year cycle.   For the first six years, fruits and vegetables grown there are tithed.1  The seventh year is  Shmitta , the sabbatical year, which has its own set of special laws.  These laws mainly affect those living in Israel, but also those living in the Diaspora if they are in possession of Israeli-grown produce.2

For the tithing of the first six years, the  Torah 3 sets an end date for the process called Biur  Ma’aser .   Biur  Ma’aser  includes a number of components, which are still applicable today:

Biur  Ma’aser

  • Any untithed produce ( tevel )  in one’s possession must be tithed by  Erev  Pesach 4of the fourth and seventh years of the  Shmitta  cycle.5
  • Ma’aser Shaini  is the second tithe separated on produce harvested in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th years of the Sabbatical cycle.  In the times of the  Beis  Hamikdash , this tithed portion was brought to Jerusalem to be eaten.  If the owner of the Ma’aser Shaini  lived too far away from Jerusalem to carry the actual produce, he was permitted to transfer the  kedusha , sanctity, of the  Ma’aser  Shaini  onto money. This money was brought either by himself or by other Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem to purchase food and drink during their stay in Jerusalem.  Today, we follow the procedure  of transferring the sanctity of  Ma’aser  Shaini  onto a coin worth at least a  peruta .6

Biur  Ma’aser  requires that this coin must be disposed of by  Erev  Pesach  of the fourth and seventh years of the  Shmitta  cycle.  The coin must be disposed of in a manner in which no one will be able to use it.  It may not be given to  tzedaka . One can throw it into the sea or bang it until it is no longer useable.7

Vidui  Ma’aser

  • Another part of this process is the  Vidui  Ma’aser .  In the times of the  Beis Hamikdash , one would appear in front of the  Kohanim   and recite the verses in the Torah 8 which proclaim that he has fulfilled all of his requirements related to Ma’aser .  The  Rambam 9 and  Shulchan  Aruch 10 write that this  mitzvah  applies today, even in the absence of the  Beis  Hamikdash  and not in the presence of the Kohanim .  However, the  Raavad  and  Vilna Gaon  write that it does not apply nowadays.  In addition, if one has not performed the  mitzva  completely one cannot say  Vidui ; therefore, there are authorities who rule we should not say Vidui .  Today, in Israel some do have the custom to recite the  Vidui  on the seventh day of  Pesach .11 In the Diaspora, it is not the custom to recite the  Vidui .

An easy way to figure out which are the fourth and seventh years of the cycle is to divide the current Hebrew year by seven.   If there is a remainder of four, or no remainder at all, it is a year that requires  Biur  Ma’aser .

This year, 5775, is a  Shmitta  year (the 7th year of the cycle).  All tithing must be done, and the coins destroyed by  Erev  Pesach     Friday, April 3, 2015.

May we merit to fulfill these  mitzvos  in the  Beis  Hamikdash  in the presence of the Kohanim  serving there.

 


1. For a full explanation of the process, see our article on  Terumos  and Ma’asros here.

2. Reliably kosher certified products and produce from Israel have already been tithed.

3.  Devarim  26:12

4. This is a dispute between our text of the  Mishna  ( Maaser  Sheni  5) where it  states the biur   is on  erev  Pesach,  and the  Rambam  ( Maaser  Sheni  11:3) and  Shulchan  Aruch  ( Y.D. 331:140) who state the  biur  is on the last day of  Chol  Hamoed Pesach . The usual custom is to do it on  Erev  Pesach  ( Rav  Yosef Efrati).  If produce from Israel was purchased on Chol  Hamoed , one should do the  biur  on the last day of  Chol  Hamoed .

5. The tithes must to be given to their recipients. Today, we don’t give  Teruma  to a Kohen  or  Ma’aser  to a  Levi , but if one has produce that definitely has not been tithed previously, the  Ma’aser  Ani  should be given to an a poor person.

6. The minimum coin valid for a  peruta  is a coin that has purchasing power.  ( Rav  Moshe Heinemann,  shlita , quoting  Rav  Moshe Feinstein  zt”l ). In the U.S., one cannot easily purchase anything for less than a dime.

7.  Y.D.  194:6.  To the best of our knowledge, it is not illegal to destroy U.S. coins. It is only illegal if one’s intent is for fraudulent use. U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 17, Section 331.

8.  Devarim  26:13-15

9.  Hilchos Masser Sheni  11:4

10.  Y.D.  331:42.

11. Some have the custom to say the entire  parsha  with the  trup  of the  pesukim . The Aderes  writes in  Kuntras  Acharis Hashanim  that it is proper to recite the  Vidui  with a tzibur .