Determining the ma’aser year for fruit that blooms early
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Loquat and almond trees bloom early, some before Tu BiShevat, and some afterwards. How do I take teruma and ma’aser from these fruit?
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 15b) states: “Our rabbis taught: a tree whose fruit blossoms before Tu BiShevat is tithed according to the previous year.” The meaning of this halacha is two-fold:
- The stage of blossoming (chanata) determines which ma’aser year the fruit belongs to: years one, two, four, and five of the shemita cycle are ma’aser sheni years, while years three and six are ma’aser ani
- Ma’aser should not be taken from the fruit of one year to exempt fruit from another year (Rambam, Terumot 5:11).
The big question, is, then: What is considered “blossoming”? There are two main approaches to the matter:
(1) The Meiri (Rosh Hashanah 2a, incipit “באחד בשבט” defines “blossoming” as when the petals wilt and the fruit begins to appear. This is also the definition used by Rashi in several instances, and by the Tosafot (Rosh Hashanah 12b, incipit “התבואה”).
(2) Rambam (Ma’aser Sheni 2:4) writes that the determining criteria is whether the fruit has reached a stage called onat hama’asrot (ma’aser season), the stage when the fruit becomes edible in extenuating circumstances; that is, when the fruit begins to ripen.
Our question arises if we follow the first approach (referred to in halachic literature as the opinion of Rashi and the Tosafot), since some fruit blossoms before Tu BiShevat, and others after this date. According to the Rambam, however, all fruit blossoms after Tu BiShevat.
An additional question is: how do we take ma’aser when there is a mixture of fruit from two different years?
The Shulchan Aruch (331:128) rules like the Rambam (Ma’aser Sheni 1:11), that if fruit of two years mix together, we follow the majority. In the case when similar amounts of fruit subject to ma’aser sheni and fruit subject to ma’aser ani mix together, or when one is uncertain which type of fruit is the majority and which is the minority, set aside only ma’aser sheni. Despite the fact that the Acahronim have raised difficulties with this ruling, in practice we are lenient like the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch. This, too, is the ruling of Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli and Rabbi Shlomo Min Hahar.
While the dispute about “blossoming” between Rashi and the Rambam has not been resolved, the prevalent custom is to adhere to Rashi’s definition. Rav Kook (Mishpat Kohen §3), however, rules that in cases where it would cause a significant financial loss, it is possible to be lenient in keeping with the rulings of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch. See also the Chazon Ish (Shvi’it 7:12). For this reason, in the case at hand we should be lenient like the Rambam, and all of the fruit can be considered to have blossomed after Tu BiShevat.
In conclusion: If the time of the fruit’s blossoming is unknown, it is optimal to: )1) mix up the fruit, (2) set a little bit of fruit aside from the various fruits, and (3) recite the following text at the time of separating the ma’aser sheni /ani:
"ומעשר שני בתחתית הפירות החייבים במעשר שני, ומעשר עני בתחתית הפירות החייבים במעשר עני"
“And the ma’aser sheni at the bottom of the fruit, which require ma’aser sheni, and the ma’aser ani at the bottom of the fruit that requires ma’aser ani.”