Today I had the distinct pleasure of subscribing the the Fund for the Redemption of Maaser Sheni. This fund is used by individuals, farmers, and companies to redeem the second tithe according to Jewish law. Joining represents a unique fulfilment of the little-known but nonetheless ancient and vital Jewish precept of maaser or tithing.
One of the conditions upon which the Torah states that the Jewish People were given the Land of Israel as an inheritance was that they not take the produce of the land of their own, but rather share it with each other in specific ways. These gifts were called terumos and maaseros and they were given to the Kohanim, Leviim and to the poor and they were also used to celebrate the holidays in Jerusalem.
Produce that had finished being harvested and was ready for sale required tithing before it was allowed to be eaten. Untithed produce was called tevel and was as forbidden as non-kosher meat.
The first gift to be separated was called Trumah Gedolah and it was given to a Kohen. The second gift to be separated was a called Maaser Rishon – ten percent of the produce given to a Levi. The kohanim and the leviim were given these gifts because they did not own land of their own through which to support themselves. Instead, they engaged in Torah study and in Temple service on behalf of the people and were thus supported by the people in turn.
After taking Terumah Gedolah and Maaser Rishon, the Second Tithe or the Poor-man’s tithe was taken, depending on the year in the calendar. On Second-tithe years, the owner would set aside a further ten percent for use in Jerusalem during the festivals. On Poor-man’s tithe years, that ten percent would be given to the poor instead.
Nowadays, according to many authorities, the obligations to take Terumos and Maaseros apply only on a Rabbinic level, but they are nonetheless obligations, and one may not eat produce grown in Israel until one ensures that his obligations have been met.
In order to assist Jews in the observance of these ancient and holy laws, an organization called the Institute for the Commandments which are Dependent upon the Land of Israel established the Fund for the Redemption of Maaser Sheini. By subscribing to the fund, members are able to take their own trumos and maaseros up to twenty times a day in a halachically appropriate manner. This is done by essentially transferring the sanctity of the various tithes to coins which are held in the fund’s possession. Maaser Rishon and similarly maaser ani is given to a Levite via a loan to the subscriber which is paid off with the value of the produce redeemed.
Joining the fund is a convenient and effective method of fulfilling these age-old commandments in the modern world.