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, 1993, 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 apply.)
In practice, the separation of terumah and ma' aser is performed- a~ follows:
1. Place all of the produce in front of you.
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 penny is sufficient.
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 portion , 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 grown .
- "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 revai , 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 l%), and the designated coin are wrapped and discarded.
Explanation of the Procedure
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.
Rabbi Luban is a Senior Rabbinic Coordinator in the OU Kashruth Division.
Kashruth questions are always welcome. If you have an inquiry about any ou certified product, you may call our headquarters at (212)563-4000, extension 241.