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:
- 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
- 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.
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 .