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Supporting Rabbis through Tithes and Offerings

The commandment of giving tithes and offerings from agricultural produce is intended to maintain the spiritual-religious dimension in the People of Israel through the priests and Levites, whose role is to engage in Torah study and education * From the right of every person in Israel to decide which priest and which Levite to give their gifts, we should learn that the public is the one who should choose their rabbis * The proposal to strengthen the power of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in selecting city rabbis is bad * It is appropriate for lecturers in synagogues and teachers in schools to teach how to separate tithes and offerings through practical demonstration in front of the students

In this week’s Torah portion, ‘Korach’, we learn about the commandment of terumot and ma’asrot (tithes and offerings) from agricultural produce, which is intended to maintain the spiritual-religious dimension in the People of Israel through the Kohanim (priests) and Levites, whose role is to engage in Torah study and education, as the Torah says: “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your Torah to Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:10). This is how the Jewish nation is built in a proper manner, as a nation with its feet planted on the ground, and its head reaching the heavens, making both the people of action and the people of spirit partners in maintaining a meaningful life, full of content.

Israelites Choose to Whom They Give Their Gifts

This partnership is also expressed in the fact that the owner of the produce has the right to choose which priest and Levite to give his gifts to, as it is written: “Every man’s holy things shall be his, and what a man gives to the priest shall be his” (Numbers 5:10) (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 7:4). This right creates a personal connection between the Israelites and the priests and Levites, and encourages the priests and Levites to be dedicated to their holy work among the members of their communities, so that in turn, the community members will want to give them their gifts. One who has made an effort to teach Torah to children and adults, and from whom people benefited counsel and wisdom, merits that they prefer to give him the gifts. On the other hand, one who has alienated himself from his community members, refused to participate in the war to defend the People and the Land, or was lazy and did not teach Torah, receives similar treatment when the gifts are distributed.

The Public’s Influence on Selecting Rabbis

From the right of every Jew to decide which priest and Levite to give their gifts, we can learn that the public are the ones who should choose their rabbis, and indeed, this is how it was practiced in all Jewish communities from time immemorial.

Therefore, the proposal currently being promoted to strengthen the power of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in selecting city rabbis is a bad proposal. The Ministry of Religious Affairs already has too much power in selecting rabbis, and instead of correcting the situation and transferring all selection authority to public representatives in cities, neighborhoods, and synagogues, they are going in the opposite direction, and continue to degrade the status of the rabbinate. Although rabbinic ordination is granted by rabbis, the public has the right and authority to determine which ordained rabbi they will choose.

Example from the Elections of Chief Rabbis

We recently received an example of the negative influence on the selection of rabbis from the issue of postponing the elections for Chief Rabbis for more than a year. Various people whom I consider reliable are certain that the only reason for this is that the decision-makers in different parties have not yet managed to decide whom to support, or have not managed to secure a majority for this in the electing body. There is no certainty that this is the reason, but the very fact that reliable people are certain of this, indicates that these improper considerations are plausible. It’s important to note that these same individuals are also pushing the proposal to strengthen the power of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in selecting city rabbis at the expense of community representatives.

The political situation is very complex, and not just in this area. To begin the process of correction, each community needs to choose a rabbi and strengthen his status, regardless of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The more communities do this, the more the status of the rabbinate will rise thanks to the good example of rabbis who study and teach the true Torah, elevating the honor of the Torah.

Regarding the selection of Chief Rabbis and other rabbis, the electing body should be greatly expanded to include various representatives from all parts of the public, as long as the Torah and Jewish tradition are very important to them.

Fruits Growing in the Yard

Q: Does every fruit we pick from a tree growing in our yard need to have terumot and ma’asrot separated immediately, or only after bringing the fruit into the house are we obligated to separate terumot and ma’asrot, and as long as I’m in the yard, can I eat it without separating the tithes?

A: If you pick only one small fruit that is eaten in one bite, you can eat it without separating terumot and ma’asrot. But if you pick two small fruits, or a larger fruit that is not eaten in one bite, it is forbidden to eat from it without separating terumot and ma’asrot.

This is because we are dealing with a guarded yard, meaning, a yard that a stranger is not allowed to enter. In such a case, it is permitted to eat from the fruits growing there in a casual manner only before ‘gemar melachtam’ (the “completion of their work”) that is, before their ‘isufam’ (“gathering”). For example, one grape or one fig, which are eaten in one bite. But if one picks two grapes, or two figs, or a large fruit that is not eaten in one bite, like an apple or a large fig, already upon picking them they are considered “gathered” and “their work is completed”, and they become obligated in terumot and ma’asrot, because this is the way of their “gathering” in the yard. And since they are in a guarded yard that establishes obligation for tithes, even casual eating is forbidden before separating terumot and ma’asrot from them (Rambam Ma’aser 4:15; 17; Radbaz ibid. 18; Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 8:8).

However, if one climbed the tree and picked many fruits there in a way that “completed their work”, as long as he is on the tree and has not descended to the ground of the guarded yard – the fruits have not yet been established for tithes, and since his eating on the tree is casual eating, he is allowed to eat from them without separating terumot and ma’asrot (Rambam ibid.).

What Should One Do Who Doesn’t Know How to Separate Terumot and Ma’asrot

Q: What can be done when we are not sure that we know how to properly separate terumot and ma’asrot? Until now, for this reason, we have refrained from eating from the fruits.

A: The best advice is to learn how to separate terumot and ma’asrot. For this purpose, I will write here the order of separating terumot and ma’asrot with explanations in parentheses. It seems that if you read the text slowly and carefully, you will understand the order of the commandment, and will be able to merit fulfilling it whenever you want to eat from the fruits.

In addition, it is appropriate for synagogues lecturers and in schools teachers to teach how to separate terumot and ma’asrot through practical demonstration in front of the students. When it appears that the students still have not gained confidence that they know how to fulfill the commandment, repeat it several times, and perhaps, appoint a different student each time to perform the commandment himself, until everyone knows how to separate terumot and ma’asrot.

Another Solution: Declaring the Fruits Ownerless

Another solution is to declare the fruits hefker (ownerless), and then, since the fruits are ownerless, they are exempt from terumot and ma’asrot. The act of declaring them ownerless is done as follows: One needs to say in front of three people “My fruits are ownerless,” and by doing so, they become hefker, and any person can acquire them. At least two of the listeners need to be qualified to testify, so that if the third comes to acquire the fruits, the two will testify that he acquired them legally (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 273:7). However, you can announce that anyone who wants to pick from the fruits can come at a certain time of the day, because even though the fruits are ownerless, the yard is not ownerless, and as long as you allow anyone who wants to pick at a certain time, the declaration of hefker is valid.

The declaration of hefker that is effective to exempt the fruits from tithes is from the time they became fit for eating in pressing circumstances until they are picked, but after they are picked, they have already become obligated in terumot and ma’asrot, and the declaration of hefker does not exempt them (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 8:3).

Introduction to the Order of Separating Tithes and Offerings

Terumot need to be separated and removed from the fruits, because they are intended for the Kohanim and have kedusha (holiness), and since there is no possibility to eat them, they are placed, wrapped, in the trash. In contrast, the ma’asrot are separated by designating a place on one side of the fruits, such as the right side, or the north side, thereby separating them from the rest of the fruits, with the intention to give the value of the ma’aser rishon (‘first tithe’) to the Levite, and the value of the ma’aser ani (‘tithes for the poor’) to the poor, and to redeem the ma’aser sheini (‘second tithe’) on a coin. Afterwards, those fruits that were designated for tithes will be eaten together with the rest of the fruits.

Order of Separating Terumot and Ma’asrot

First, bless: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate tithes and offerings” (when there is doubt whether tithes and offerings have been separated from the fruits, we do not bless).

Take a little more than one percent of the fruits and separate it from the rest of the fruits, and it is designated for terumah gedola (‘great offering’) and terumat ma’aser, and say: “The part exceeding one hundredth of what I have separated that is on my right side shall be ‘terumah gedola’ (in what was initially separated, there is a percentage and a bit more, and we intend that the part exceeding the percentage will be ‘teruma gedola’, and its place is on the right side of the fruits designated for terumot). The one hundredth that remains here (in what was initially separated for terumot) with nine more parts like it on the right side of these fruits shall be ‘ma’aser rishon’ (thus, we have separated ‘ma’aser rishon’ – the fruits, or their value, will be given later to the Levite). That one hundredth that I made ‘ma’aser rishon’, and is placed separated from the fruits, is ‘terumat ma’aser’ (and with this, we have separated ‘terumat ma’aser’. The terumot are wrapped,and placed in the trash).

A tenth of what remains (ten percent of what remains after what we have already separated) on the left side of the fruits shall be ‘ma’aser sheini’ (and with this we have designated a place for ‘ma’aser sheini’), and if they are obligated in ‘ma’aser ani’ – they are ‘ma’aser ani’ (because in years 1, 2, 4, 5 of the Shemita cycle, we separate ‘ma’aser sheini’, and in years 3, 6 ‘ma’aser ani’). (When separating ‘ma’aser ani’, give the fruits, or their value, later to a poor person).”

Redemption of Ma’aser Sheini

When separating ‘ma’aser sheini’, like this year, 5784 (2024), it needs to be redeemed, to make it chulin (non-sacred). If the separation of terumot and ma’asrot is done from fruits that are certainly not tithed, and it is clear that they are from a year from which we separate ‘ma’aser sheini’, one should first bless: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to redeem the second tithe”. And if there is doubt in the matter, we redeem without a blessing.

And say: “This ‘ma’aser sheini’ (referring to what we designated a place for on the left side), it, and its fifth (it’s a Torah commandment to add a fifth during redemption), shall be redeemed on one pruta (low-value coin) from the coin I have designated for redeeming ‘ma’aser sheini’.” One who has not designated a coin for this, can redeem it on a spoonful of sugar worth a pruta, and rinse the sugar in water in the sink, or place it respectfully in the trash.

Blessings for the Approval of the Settlements

Blessings to Minister Bezalel Smotrich and all his partners in the legal regularization of five settlements in Judea and Samaria, and in the constant strengthening of the settlement in Judea and Samaria, and the removal of the danger of enemy takeover of the Land of Israel.This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated

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