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Terumot and Ma'aserot from Myrtle Berry Liqueur

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There are people who prepare liqueur from the small fruits that grow on myrtle bushes (hadas) during this season of the year (hereinafter: "myrtle berries"). Is it necessary to separate terumot and ma'aserot from them?


Rabbi Ehud Ahituv / Emunat Itecha 141, Tishrei 5784, pp.17-18

The Yerushalmi (Orlah 1:1) states that the orlah prohibition applies to myrtle berries when they are cultivated for consumption. We also see from the Mishnah in Sukkah (3:2) that myrtle berries were used for consumption once they turned black. The Yerushalmi (Ma'aserot 1:2) explains that at this point, they reach the onat hama'aserot stage (the stage they are obligated in tithes). This is based on the Mishnah (Ma'aserot 1:3), which states that onat hama'aseot of "all black fruits [is] after they form dark spots." Furthermore, the Mishnah and Gemara (Sukkah 33b) note that it is forbidden to harvest myrtle berries on yom tov, when the berries are more numerous than its leaves in order to make the hadas kosher for the mitzvah of the four species, since this is considered repairing a vessel. However, when harvesting for the sake of consumption it is permissible, since the repair of the vessel takes place on its own. This is the ruling of Rambam and Shulchan Aruch (646:2); they permit this only if harvested for consumption and only if harvested one by one. Tzofnat Pa'aneach explains that this is permitted only one by one, since if they were harvested two by two, they would be obligated in ma'aser and thus could not be eaten on yom tov (it is forbidden to separate terumot and ma'aserot on yom tov).

This, however, seems to contradict the Gemara (Menachot 27a), which states that the myrtle bush is considered a non-fruit bearing tree (eitz serak), and therefore the blessing on its berries is shehakol. This, indeed, is the ruling of Shibolei Haleket in the name of the Geonim; Shulchan Aruch (OC 203:4) rules accordingly. The reasoning for this is that the berries are not significant and are not edible without first being cooked. While the Chida and Birkei Yosef write that the custom is to recite borei peri haeitz, according to the Ari's opinion, on fruit from non-fruit-bearing trees, Rabbi Refael Meyuchas in his Responsa Peri Ha'adama writes that this should be done only for important fruits of non-fruit-bearing trees.

This is also implied by Petach Hadvir, who records a testimony by Rabbi Shmuel Vital of his father, Rabbi Chaim Vital, who would recite borei peri haeitz on the sweet myrtle berries that grew in the gardens of Damascus. In response to his son's question, he said that the blessing on these berries depends on the local myrtle cultivation practices; in Damascus, their blessing would be borei peri ha'eitz since the myrtles are grown for their berries. Based on Rabbi Chaim Vital's answer to his son, we can reconcile the contradiction between the Yerushalmi, which requires the separation of terumot and ma'aserot from these berries, and the Bavli, which views myrtle bushes as non-fruit-bearing trees: We can say that the blessing and the obligation of terumot and ma'aserot depend on the local cultivation and consumption habits.

Today, myrtle berries are not eaten since they are inferior berries; so anyone who would eat the berries would recite shehakol. It follows that they are also exempt from the obligation of separating terumot and ma'aserot.

This seems to be the opinion of Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, namely that foods eaten only in extenuating circumstances are not obligated in terumot and ma'aserot unless they were planted for the purpose of human consumption, similar to savory, hyssop, or thyme.

However, the Aruch Hashulchan (Hilchot Zera'im 54:7-8) writes: "Anything that is edible to humans, even in extenuating circumstances, is subject to terumot and ma'aserot." Many posekim of the previous generations follow this approach.[1] This would certainly hold true with regard to myrtle berries, as we see in the Yerushalmi that in certain places myrtle berries were eaten not necessarily in extenuating circumstances.

While today, people do not eat these berries, they do prepare myrtle liqueur, whereas the berries impart flavor to the water and alcohol. This scenario is similar to the question of whether there is an obligation to separate terumot and ma'aserot from herbs immersed in boiling water, where the ensuing flavored water is drunk (herbal tea). In this case, several Acharonim exempt these herbs from terumot and ma'aserot, while others maintain that they are obligated. It is best to be stringent in this matter and separate terumot and ma'aserot without a blessing.


When preparing myrtle liqueur from myrtle berries, most posekim maintain that they are exempt from terumot and ma'aserot. Since some authorities do obligate the separation of terumot and ma'aserot from these berries, it is best to separate the terumot and ma'aserot without a blessing.

[1] Chazon Ish; Har Tzvi; Yeshuat Moshe; Mishpatei Eretz; Tzitz Eliezer. See here for more.