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Parashat Bechukotai: Two Types of Ma'aserot in Jerusalem

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Parashat Bechukotai: Two Types of Ma'aserot in Jerusalem

Ahead of Jerusalem Day, we'll discuss ma'aserot brought to Jerusalem: ma'aser sheni and ma'aser behema, and find the difference between them. We will also attempt to identify the First Temple Jerusalem borders, which have major ramifications on various mitzvot.

Yoel Yakoby

...'וכל מעשר הארץ מזרע הארץ מפרי העץ לה' הוא, קודש לה"
 " 'וכל מעשר בקר וצאן כל אשר יעבור תחת השבט העשירי יהיה קודש לה

"All tithes from the land, whether seed from the ground or fruit from the tree, are the L-rd’s; they are holy to the L-rd. … All tithes of the herd or flock—of all that passes under the shepherd’s staff, every tenth one—shall be holy to the L-rd." (Vayikra 27: 30, 32)

Land dependent vs. non-land dependent ma'aser

The verses above mention two types of ma'aserot: ma'aser sheni and ma'aser behema. Ma'aser sheni, the second tithe, is a mitzvah linked to the Land of Israel and its soil. For this reason, it applies only within the Land of Israel—just like all of the terumot and ma'aserot given from crops. Ma'aser behema, the tithe given from domesticated animals, in contrast, applies both within and without the Land of Israel (Mishna, Bechorot 9:1), since it does not depend on the soil or crops. Nevertheless, both ma'aserot meet in one place: Jerusalem; since both are to be brought up to Jerusalem and eaten in a state of ritual purity. Ma'aser behema is considered kodashim kalim (a sacrifice that can be slaughtered anywhere in the Temple Courtyard (azara) and eaten throughout Jerusalem); its innards (eimurim) are sacrificed on the altar, while the owner eats the meat.

The Sages had a major impact on the relevance of both ma'aserot today, but in opposite ways. Although ma'aser sheni (like all terumot and ma'aserot from crops) is not biblically mandated today (at least according to Rambam, Hilchot Terumot 1:26, since the majority of the Jewish People does not yet live in the Land of Israel), the Sages instituted ma'aser sheni following the Temple's destruction. In contrast, ma'aser behema actually is biblically mandated today, but the Sages forbade taking this tithe while the Temple is not standing. Their reasoning is that there is no way to eat the meat of the ma'aser behema without a Temple (we cannot sprinkle the blood and sacrifice the innards on the altar). It follows that if people would tithe their livestock, there is a concern that someone would eat kodashim outside of Jerusalem, for which the punishment is karet (Rambam, Hilchot Bechorot 6:2).

This concern, however, does not exist regarding ma'aser sheni, so there is no reason for a similar decree for this tithe, despite the similarities between the two.

A reminder of sanctity vs. dangerous sanctity

Aside from the halachic technicalities that differentiate between these two ma'aserot, let us attempt to understand the spiritual difference that lies beneath the dry halacha. Why is it that our Sages wanted to distance us from the mitzvah of ma'aser behema, but at the same time draw us closer to ma'aser sheni—even though we are actually exempt from the biblical commandment today?

Perhaps this is linked to the simple fact that ma'aser sheni, like all of the terumot and ma'aserot is a land-dependent mitzvah. Even when we don't have a Temple, and even when we don't live in the Land of Israel, the soil retains is sanctity. It is sacred due to the very fact that it is a land "your G-d keeps His eye on" (Devarim 11:12). To a certain degree, one could say this is even to a greater extent due to the intense loving sacrifices with which our forefathers sanctified it when they settled the Land of Israel in the times of Joshua and even to a larger extent in the days of Ezra, in the beginning of the Second Temple period. While halachic technicalities can prevent this sanctity from manifesting in all of the land-dependent mitzvot, so that we do not forget the mitzvah, our Sages instituted that terumot and ma'aserot nevertheless continue to be given in the Land of Israel. The land-dependent mitzvot remind us of the Land of Israel's sanctity, which, in turn, reminds us to comport ourselves in a manner befitting one living in the King's palace. Otherwise, the Land of Israel may, G-d forbid, spew out those who forget to do so.

With ma'aser behema, the situation is different. Here the concern is not that we forget about sanctity, but rather that we won't know how to treat this sanctity properly. In such cases, the Sages ruled that despite the Torah's commandment to set aside ma'aser behema, if there is a concern that we not know how to interact with this sanctity, it is better to avoid it altogether. It is preferable for us to raise livestock and not deceive ourselves that we are dealing with kodashim, rather than separating ma'aserot that are sacred, but then not knowing how to treat them properly.

These two divergent paths also exist the individual's service of G-d, and each has its place. There are times when an individual may want to draw close to G-d and sanctify himself, but at levels of sanctity that are inappropriate for him; he would not be able to cope or comport himself properly at those levels. Such a person should lower the bar of his spiritual goals; better that he set his sights on lower, but achievable, spiritual goals than drive with his proverbial brights on, but without proper direction.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that due to humility—genuine or misguided—one might be too concerned to engage in the sacred. However, this self-imposed distance from the sphere of sanctity—or at least the higher levels of sanctity that one could achieve—is also inappropriate. By failing to pursue this achievable level of sanctity, they disregard their innate potential. Such individuals are charged with reaching higher so that do not forget about the lofty soul they possess.

It seems that during the exile, the Sage's approach with ma'aser behema was the more prevalent. Now, though, with the increasing light of redemption there is more room for the ma'aser sheni approach. Today more people delve into the secrets of the Torah and aspire to attain loftier spiritual heights. This could very well be the link between Lag BaOmer and Jerusalem Day, which comes a week-and-a-half later.

Limits of sanctity: Jerusalem's borders

The Jerusalem hills

The Land of Israel is defined by various sets of borders, with varying levels of sanctity; the city of Jerusalem is also defined by borders. And just like the abovementioned borders directly impact the land-dependent mitzvot, Jerusalem's borders also similarly impact the laws governing these mitzvot. Ma'aser sheni (as well as ma'aser behema, along with other kodashim kalim) are eaten throughout Jerusalem. Of course, this does not refer to the areas included in the Jerusalem urban municipality, rather those that are part of the sanctified Jerusalem. It is possible to expand Jerusalem's sanctified area, but this is not accomplished by an order by the Minister of Interior, rather by a process detailed in the Mishna (Shevu'ot 2:2). It is possible to redeem ma'aser sheni (i.e. transferring the sanctity of ma'aser sheni onto money) as long as the produce has not entered the sanctified Jerusalem. The moment the produce enters this area, though, it is no longer possible to redeem the ma'aser sheni. Today we cannot eat ma'aser sheni since it is supposed to be consumed in a state of ritual purity. In light of this, the prohibition of redeeming ma'aser sheni that entered the Jerusalem area is relevant to us today, especially to those who merit living in Jerusalem's sanctified areas. Today, those who live in these sanctified areas need to first "defile" (cause to become tamei) produce before taking terumot and ma'aserot. This is performed by wetting the fruit and touching it. Only after the produce is defiled in this way, it is possible to take ma'aser sheni and transfer its sanctity to a coin (the Sages permitted redeeming ma'aser sheni that had become tamei) in these areas.

Ancient Jerusalem is divided into two main parts:  the eastern mountain, whose northern summit is Temple Mount, with the City of David at its foot. While this is the ancient part of Jerusalem, it lies outside the Old City's walls of today, which were built by the Ottoman Sultan Solomon the Magnificent in the 16th century. The City of David was called the Lower City by Josephus Flavious, describing the area at the end of the Second Temple period.

The second part is the western mountain, called the Upper City by Josephus Flavious. This part includes the southern quarters of today's Old City—the Jewish and Armenian quarters.

Since the halacha (Rambam, Hilchot Beit HaBechira 6:14) is that each of the prerequisites that appear in the Mishna in Shevu'ot are necessary to sanctify the city, every area that was part of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period but not during the First Temple period is not sanctified. This is because the list of conditions includes the presence of a king (from the Davidic dynasty), urim vetumim (G-d's ineffable name embedded within the breastplate), and a prophet—all of which did not exist during the Second Temple (prophecy existed only at the very beginning of the Second Temple period). What this means is that even at the height of Jerusalem's splendor at the end of the Second Temple era, "Jerusalem" included entire swaths of land that were not part of the sanctified Jerusalem territory. This is also implied by the Tosefta (Sanhedrin 3:4). Albeit, there are some who are stringent (such as Rabbi Yaakov Ariel) and include the expanded area of Jerusalem from the Second Temple period in the sanctified area (in the "Third Wall" area). For this reason, from both north and west of the Old City until the Russian Compound, one should first defile produce before separating terumot and ma'aserot (see Hilchot Ha'aretz, p. 36 [Heb.])

The archeological ramifications of the Six Day War

Until the Six Day War there was a major dispute among archeologists as to the dimensions of Jerusalem during the First Temple Period. The reductionists believed that Jerusalem was in narrow territory of the City of David only, while the expansionists believed it to be much larger, as described by biblical accounts.

Following Jerusalem's liberation, concurrently with the reconstruction of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, most of which had been razed by the Jordanians during the War of Independence, Prof. Nahman Avigad performed extensive excavations in the Jewish Quarter. Among his incredible findings, he unearthed parts of a wall seven meters wide (!), which surrounded Jerusalem of that time from the north and west. The wall is situated at the north of the Jewish Quarter, at the ridge of the valley formerly known as Nachal HaTzolev, which is no longer detectable today. This finding, dated back to Chezkiyahu's times (late eighth century BCE), was built as a fortification in face of the imminent conquest of Sancheriv, King of Assyria. The discovery of this wall (called the Broad Wall, hachoma harechava, mentioned in the book of Nechemia, 3:8) joined many other findings dating back to the second half of the First Temple period. Thus, the dispute was resolved in favor of the expansionists. In this way, Jerusalem's honor was restored following the Six Day War, even on an archeological level.

This finding also helps us identify the limits of the sanctified area of Jerusalem: now we know that everything south of this wall is included in the sanctified area of Jerusalem. And when there will once again be an active altar, it is will possible to eat ma'aser sheni in this area. May it be G-d's will that we merit to become ritually pure and eat ma'aser sheni and kodashim kalim throughout sanctified Jerusalem.

For more on this topic, see Aher Grossberg's article (Hebrew) in Techumin 19 (5759), here