“This week is Tu B’Shevat,” announced Rabbi Dayan. “We celebrate the ‘New Year’ of trees with produce of Eretz Yisrael. However, the Israeli Rabbinate does not take full responsibility for Terumos and Ma’asros to export produce. So, unless the produce is marked as tithed, it is proper to take Terumos and Ma’asros yourself.”
“But I thought that only applies in Israel,” commented Mr. Greenberg.
Rabbi Dayan answered, “Fruit grown in Israel is obligated in tithes even when eaten in America.”
Mr. Greenberg checked his fruit store for Israeli produce, and found Jaffa oranges, Israeli pomegranates and many more fruits and vegetables. He bought a bag of each and wondered, “What do I do now?” he wondered.
Mr. Greenberg invited his knowledgeable neighbor, Mr. Weiss, to advise him.
“Tithing involves four steps,” explained Mr. Weiss. “First, cut off somewhat more than one percent of the produce. Second, designate a coin to redeem the Ma’aser Sheni. Take a quarter, since that allows you to redeem a few times.”
Mr. Greenberg cut off a small piece of each type of produce and got a quarter. “Now what?”
“Third,” continued Mr. Levy, “recite the Terumos and Ma’asros text whereby you declare the various tithes, in a language you understand. Fourth, double wrap the 1+ percent that you cut and dispose of it, and destroy or discard the coin after a few uses.”
Mr. Greenberg recited the text, disposed of the fruit, which had been cut off, put away the quarter safely for additional redemptions, and thanked Mr. Weiss.
“My pleasure,” smiled Mr. Weiss. “But I’ll take an orange, half a pomegranate,” and named some more of the produce. “Please hand them over.”
“Huh?” Mr. Greenberg looked at him blankly.
“You know I’m a Levi,” explained Mr. Weiss. “One of the tithes you just declared was Ma’aser Rishon given to the Levi. So I’d like 10 percent of each type “
“Can you really collect 10 percent from everyone?” asked Mr. Greenberg.
“Why not?” retorted Mr. Weiss. “You declared Ma’aser Rishon and I’m a Levi, so you owe it to me or some other Levi.”
“Let’s check with Rabbi Dayan,” insisted Mr. Greenberg.”
Mr. Greenberg, together with Mr. Weiss, called Rabbi Dayan. “Your question,” said Rabbi Dayan, “touches on the basics of Terumos and Ma’asros.
“The mitzvah of Terumos and Ma’asros has two parts. The first is to designate and declare Terumos and Ma’asros. Even nowadays we must do this and only after declaring tithes is the remaining fruit kosher.”
“The second part is to give the tithes to the relevant parties, the Kohen and the Levi. The 1+ percent is the Kohen’s, but it must be eaten in purity. This is not possible nowadays, so we dispose of it respectfully.”
“What about my 10 percent?” demanded Mr. Weiss.
“The Levi’s portion can be eaten nowadays. However, this brings us to the most fundamental principle of monetary law,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “That is: ‘One who demands of his friend has the burden of the proof.’ A person can demand money only if he can prove that he is definitely entitled to it.
“There is an element of doubt here. Tithes may have been taken by the Rabbinate, in which case the ‘tithing’ was superfluous. Mr. Greenberg declared Terumos and Ma’asros out of doubt, to make sure that the fruit would be kosher. However, when you demand that he hand over to you the 10 percent Levi portion, that’s a different story! This is now a monetary issue.
“Demanding that Mr. Greenberg give you an orange places the burden of proof on you that Terumos and Ma’asros were not taken and that his tithing was meaningful. Otherwise, Mr. Greenberg can say, ‘Prove that I owe you this orange. Maybe it isn’t really Ma’aser.’ Furthermore, you have no proof of your lineage as a Levi, other than your own statement. Since no Levi can prove that he is definitely entitled to that orange of Ma’aser Rishon, Mr. Greenberg can retain possession of it and eat it.”
Rabbi Meir Orlian is a Halacha writer for Machon L’Choshen Mishpat, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn. For more information visit www.machonmishpat.com.