Halachah requires the separation of terumah and ma’ aser from Israeli produce. When the Temple was extant, these separated portions were distributed in a specified manner to the Kohanim (Priests), Leviim (Levites) and the poor, or eaten in Jerusalem. While terumah and ma’ aser are no longer distributed or eaten in Jerusalem, the requirement to separate and designate them is still in effect. Prior to the required separations, the food is called tevel, and may not be eaten, just as one may not eat any non-kosher food. The laws of terumah and ma’ aser apply even when the food is eaten in the Diaspora, and are equally binding on a Kohen, Levi and Yisrael.
Many people mistakenly believe that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel separates terumah and ma’aser from all produce exported to America. Our office clarified this matter with the Rabbanut and, regrettably, this is presently not the case. Of course, if the produce is a packaged item which bears reliable supervision, one need not be concerned with tevel; however, in the absence of supervision, the consumer must separate terumah and ma’ aser himself.
It is therefore important to note the source of origin of produce. Generally, supermarkets will post signs indicating fruit or vegetables which are a product of Israel. Readers should be aware that much of the canned grapefruit sections sold in America are products of Israel and require separation. Information on country of origin is provided on the packaging label.
It would be unfortunate if Jewish consumers, believing this separation to be a complicated procedure, declined to purchase Israeli produce. There is no need to withhold this revenue from the Israeli economy. In truth, the actual procedure is a simple one and can be mastered in but a few moments of time.
(The reader should note that Rosh Hashanah, 2007, begins a shmittah year.
The laws of terumah and ma’ aser are suspended for fruit grown during a shmittah year, but other halachic restrictions, which are beyond the scope of this article apply1.)
In practice, the separation of terumah and ma’ aser is performed- as follows:
1) Place all of the produce in front of you2.
2) Remove slightly more than 1% of the produce. For example, if there are 100 oranges, one whole orange and a small part of a second orange are separated.
3) A coin, which is valid currency in the country in which the redemption is performed, is designated for redemption. At the time of this writing, one nickel is sufficient3.
4) No blessing is recited because of the possibility (though remote) that terumah and ma’ aser were separated in Israel.
5) Terumah and ma’aser may not be separated on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
6) It should be noted that while reciting this formula, neither the produce nor the separated portion should be moved, since the formula refers to designated locations.
7) The following text is recited:
— “The amount in the northernmost part of the separated portion which is greater than 1% of the total amount of the produce shall be Terumah Gedolah.
— “The remaining part of the separated portion4 , plus an additional 9% on the northernmost side of the produce shall be Ma’ aser Rishon.
— “The part of the separated portion that was previously designated Ma’ aser Rishon shall be Terumat Maaser.
— “10% of the remaining produce in the southern side shall be either Ma’ aser Sheni or Ma’ aser Oni, in accordance . with the year of the shmittah cycle during which the produce was grown5 .
— “If the 10% on the southern side is Ma’ aser Sheni, it should be redeemed by transferring its kedushah calculated at its value plus 25%, to the coin.
— “If the produce is neta revai6 , it should be redeemed by transferring its kedushah calculated at its value plus 25%, to the coin.”
Alternatively, if one has difficulty with the full text or it is not available, this simplified text may be recited:
“All separations of terumah and ma’ aser and redemptions of Ma’ aser Sheni and neta revai shall be effected in accordance with the text of the Chazon Ish.”
8) The separated produce (the part which was more than 1%), and the designated coin are wrapped and discarded.
The formula which is recited for separation of terumah and ma’ aser is a lengthy one because there are four categories of terumah and ma’ aser that are hatachically required. Each category has unique guidelines which are reflected in the text.
Following is a brief explanation of these four groups:
1) Terumah Gedolah: A minimal amount is designated for Terumah Gedolah. This is set aside for the Kohen and may not be eaten by anyone else. Today, Kohanim are ritually impure, and therefore may not eat the terumah. The terumah must be wrapped before it is discarded.
2) “Ma’ aser R.ishon: 10% of the remaining produce is designated Ma’ aser Rishon. This is normally given to the Levi, but may be eaten by anyone. However, in practice, when purchasing produce in a store, the halachah requires that the ma’ aser be designated, but it may then be eaten by the owner of the produce, for the reason explained in footnote 7 below.
3) Terumas Ma’ aser: 10% of the Ma’ aser Rishon is separated and is designated for the Kohen. As Terumah Gedolah, this may only be eaten by a Kohen who is ritually pure, and it is therefore left uneaten today. It., too, must be wrapped before it is discarded.
4) Ma’ aser Sheni or Ma’ aser Oni: An additional 10% of the remainder is designated for Ma’aser Shenl or Ma’aser Oni depending on the year of the shmittah cycle. When the Temple was extant, Ma’ aser Sheni was eaten in Jerusalem, or it was redeemed and the money was used to purchase food in Jerusalem. Today, the produce which is designated as Ma’ aser Sheni can be eaten only after redemption on a metal coin which is at least the value of a shoveh prutah, a minimal coin of the Talmudic period. Ma’ aser Oni must be given to a poor person. For halachic reasons explained in footnote 7, Ma’ aser Oni may be eaten by anyone.
• While reciting this formula, neither the produce nor the separated portion should be moved, since the formula refers to designated locations.
• Terumah and ma’aser are not separated for produce of a shmita year and a different set of halochos apply.
• At the time of this writing (February 2013), a troy ounce of silver is worth about $31.00. Based on previous conversations with Rabbi Belsky, if the the produce is worth less than approximately $1.10 cents one could not redeem ma’aser sheini on a standard coin, and it would be necessary to use a perutah chamurah. (A perutah chamurah is a coin that was used once before for redemption of produce. For various reasons, one can only acquire a perutah chamurah in Israel, and it is generally necessary to visit the area where the produce is grown to ascertain with absolute certainty that the redemption was not previously performed.)
1 There is one additional halachic concern relevant to Israeli fruit. Fruit which a tree bears during the first three years of the tree’s existence is orlah, and may not be eaten. Orlah applies to fruit grown in any location. However, if there is a sofek (possibility) of orlah. the halachah distinguishes between Israeli-grown fruit, which is prohibited, and Diaspora-grown fruit, which is permitted. Certain fruits grown in Israel fall into the category of sofek orlah. Nonetheless, at the present lime, dates, citrus fruit and persimmons, which are typically imported to the United States, are not problematic since the majority, and in some cases all, of these fruits are not harvested during the first three years.
2 To satisfy the requirement of min hamookaf
3 Redemption must be effected with at least a shoveh prutah. A shoveh prutah is the value of l/40th of a gram of pure silver. (This is based on the Chazon Ish, Choshen Mishpat [16-30], that five shekalim for pidyon haben is the value of 96 grams of silver. One shekel then is the value of 19.2 grams of pure silver. There are 768 prutos to a shekel (Kiddushin, 12b]. Thus, one prutah is 19.2 grams divided by 768, which equals 1/4Oth of a gram.) There are approximately 31.1 grams in a troy ounce of silver. Therefore, a shoveh prutah is 1/1244th of a troy ounce of silver. (1/4Oth x 1/31.1 = 1/1244.) At the time of this writing (Feb 2013), a troy ounce of silver is worth approximately $31.00, and a shoveh prutah is 2.5 a cents. Thus, in the United States, a nickel is sufficient for redemption. Ordinarily, any penny can be used for redemption. However, in the unusual event that the produce is worth less than $1.10 (the value of 44.4 prutos, based on the current value of silver), redemption must be performed on a prurah chamurah. A pruloh chamurah is a coin that was once previously used to redeem the most stringent form of Ma’ aser Sheni. (See 8abo Metzia, 53a & 53b and Chazon Ish, Demai, 16-12). This is based on the view of some authorities that one must use a prurah chamurah when the chomesh, which is 25% of the value of the ma’aser, (since the chomesh is milibar), is worth less than a prutah. The chomesh will be less than a prutah if the total value of the produce is less than 44.4 prutos. (44.4 prutos x 9% (Ma’aser Sheni is 9% of the total produce] x 25% [the chomesh] = 1 prutah.) According to other authorities. a prurah chamurah is required only when the Ma’ aser Sheni is worth less than a shoveh prutah, which would be the case when the total produce is worth less than about 28 cents (the value of 11 prutos.) (11 prutos x 9% = 1 prutah)
4 1% of the total produce, and together with the additional 9% will equal 10% of the total produce.
5 Produce of the first, second, fourth and fifth years following the shmittah year require tithing Ma’ aser Sheni, while produce of the third and sixth years require Ma’ aser Oni.
6 Fruit which a tree bears on the fourth year of its existence is neta revai. It may be eaten after redemption.
7 There is a slight possibility that there is no obligation to tithe the produce. One reason is that the local Rav may have already have done so. Since this possibility is remote, the produce must be tithed. However, there are sufficient grounds to apply the rule of hamotzi mechavero olav horaya (the burden of proof lies with the extractor), and the ma’ aser portion may be eaten after it is designated.