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Ma'aser Sheni

MA'ASER SHENI (מעשר שני) "second tithe," name of a tractate in the Mishnah, Tosefta and Jerusalem Talmud, expounding on the biblical commandment (Dt. 14:22–27) to set aside a tenth of one's produce, to be consumed "before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to cause his name to dwell there"; i.e., in Jerusalem. The Torah states that, if it is inconvenient to transport the produce itself, then it may be exchanged for money with which foodstuffs may be purchased in Jerusalem. The rabbinic understanding was that this requirement would be superseded by the "poor tithe" that is separated instead on the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle according to Dt. 26:12–15. This interpretation is found in early sources like the Septuagint, though Jubilees (32:11) and Josephus (Ant. 4:8 [22]) state that the poor tithe is additional to the second tithe.

Much of the Mishnah tractate consists of specific definitions of the concepts mentioned in the Torah, such as: what items may or may not be purchased with the second tithe money; the legal procedures for the exchange; whether the sanctity of the tithe extends to containers and waste products; what qualifies as "eating"; under what circumstances may the coins be exchanged for other coins; defining the exact city limits of Jerusalem in which the second tithe food must be eaten; what counts as a coin for which the tithe may be redeemed.

The second tithe money may be spent on food, drink, and anointing oil for personal consumption, or for freewill shelamim offerings (which are eaten by the owner), but not on sacrifices for which the owners are otherwise obligated. The exchange of the original produce for cash was perceived by the rabbis as a "redemption" process in which the sanctity of the original items was transferred to the coin, and then to the foodstuffs that were purchased with it. Leviticus 27:31 requires that an additional fifth be added when redeeming a tithe. The halakhah understood this as a fifth of the total; i.e., one fourth of the original produce's value. The interpretations of this procedure were influenced by those for redemption of sacrifices (see Lev. 27:27, etc). The Mishnah discusses situations when the additional fifth need not be paid, and mentions some subterfuges for avoiding its payment.

According to the rabbinic interpretation, the designation that fruit (or grapes) in the fourth year after planting "shall be holy for giving praise unto the Lord" (Lev. 19:24) means that it must be consumed in Jerusalem, or exchanged for money under conditions similar to those prescribed for the second tithe. Because of the resemblance of the rules, the topic of fourth-year fruit is also dealt with in Chapter 5 of this tractate, though it probably belongs more appropriately to Orlah.

The Jerusalem Talmud (3:8, 50b) relates the story of Rabbi Joshua ben Korha's castigation of R. Eleazar ben Rabbi Simeon for assisting the Romans, in a shorter and more original version than that of the TB, BM 83b.


Translation of Yerushalmi: H.W. Guggenheimer, The Jerusalem Talmud: First Order: Zeraïm: Tractates Terumot and Ma'aserot: Edition, Translation, and Commentary (2003); E.L. Ehrlich, Studia Judaica, (2002); S. Friedman, "La-Aggadah ha-Historit ba-Talmud ha-Bavli," in: S. Friedman (ed.), Saul Lieberman Memorial Volume, 335, 11 p. (1993).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.