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Supported by The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, The Koret Foundation, the Estate of Mort Fleishhacker, and the students of Lehrhaus Judaica

Thursday, December 22, 2016

From Bonni Schiff of the Marin Talmud Circle

This is a link to a Pardes podcast by Rabbi Rachael Berkovits.  Rachael is a wonderful teacher that Steve and I had the privilege of learning with at Pardes.  This particular podcast is about the 3rd Mishna of Berachot, which we (Talmud Circle) studied together.  She approaches the Mishna in a different way, and I really enjoyed hearing it.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Berakhot 35b, page 241, "Rabba bar bar Hana..." Tithing and skipping tithing

Bruce Furman (Palo Alto Talmud Circle) writes: In our last class a discussion of tithing came up. I was curious about it and looked it up. I wrote up these notes.

In our last Talmud session we read about a tax loophole. Produce was loaded into the house through the roof instead of through the entrance in order to escape tithing. I thought this was interesting and was curious about tithing in general.
Tithing in English means giving one tenth - the word root itself is related to the word tenth. The Hebrew word for tithing, מעשר , literally means to "make a tenth". 

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia and Wikipedia the practice of tithing is part of a larger category that includes "Heave Offerings" (תרומות)  and tithes (מעשרות). There are two kinds of Terumot (Priestly Offerings or Heave Offerings) - these go to the priests and, depending on how you count, two or three kinds of Ma'asrot (tithes).  Looking at different books of the Torah as well as the Mishnah it seems that there are varied laws on how exactly tithing works. It seems that the practice changed over time. Originally, it was only the produce of Israel. During some periods it was extended to neighboring lands. 
 The Priestly offerings were eaten by the Priests and their household: their wives, their unmarried daughters and their slaves - sons of Priest were, of course, also Priests. They were eaten while those who consumed them were in a state of ritual purity (טהור). The food offerings themselves were considered holy.  If the food became ritually unclean (טמא) it could not be eaten by the Priests. The punishment for non-priests who ate  Priestly offerings and for  Priests who ate Priestly offerings that became unclean was "death by the hand of God" (מיתה בידי שמים).

The tithes were eaten by their owners, by the Levites or by the poor. This food was considered ordinary food (חולין) (not holy) and the people who ate it did not have to be ritually clean.
The procedure was to tithe all grain, wine and oil (דגן ותירוש ויצהר) that was ready to consume. Before the Terumot and tithes were separated (הפרשת מעשרות) these products were called Tevel (טבל) or unfit. Tevel cannot be eaten and the penalty for eating it is "death by the hand of God" (מיתה בידי שמים).This penalty is more extreme than the penalty for eating rabbinically prohibited foods  - such as for eating permitted animals not ritually slaughtered. 
Step one was to take the Priestly Offering  (תְּרוּמַת מַתָּנָם) or Great Offering (תרומה גדולה) from the Tevel.  Numbers Chap. 18 did not specify an amount for the priestly offering. In the book of Ezekiel it mentions 2%. The Rabbis settled on 1 % to 2 ½ %. The heave offering is mentioned in Numbers 18 v. 8-19. It is not clear if the Priestly Offering was delivered by the giver to their favorite Priest or if there was some administrative hierarchy that collected and distributed it.
Step two was to remove the first tithe (מעשר ראשון) from the remainder. This comes from Numbers 19, v21-24: 

"And unto the children of Levi, behold, I have given the entire tithe (מעשר) in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they serve, even the service of the tent of meeting. And henceforth the children of Israel shall not come nigh the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin, and die. But the Levites alone shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, and among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they set apart as a gift unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said unto them: Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance."
The first tithe - 10% - was given to the Levites. 
The Levites in turn gave 10% of their 10% (תרומת המעשר) to the priests - that is 1% of the original what was left after the great offering, Numbers 18, v26: 

"Moreover thou shalt speak unto the Levites, and say unto them: When ye take of the children of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall set apart of it a gift for the LORD, even a tithe of the tithe."

Apparently, Second Temple periods Ezra decreed the whole 10% was given to the Priests who were supposed to distribute some to the Levites. In any case the part the Priests kept was considered a holy Terumah and had the same rules and restrictions as the Priestly Offering. 
The second tithe, מעשר שני, comes from Deuteronomy 12, v17-18: 

"Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thine oil, or the firstlings of thy herd or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill-offerings, nor the offering of thy hand. but thou shalt eat them before the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, and the Levite that is within thy gates; and thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God in all that thou puttest thy hand unto."

The second tithe was a tenth of what remained after the great offering and first tithe were taken. It was taken in years 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the seven year Sabbatical year cycle (השמיטה). The second tithe had to be taken to Jerusalem during that year and consumed by the owner there in a state of purity. The owner could redeem the produce for money (פדייה), bring the monetary equivalent with a 20% penalty to Jerusalem and convert the money to food and drink that was then consumed (i.e. buy food and drink in Jerusalem and consume it in the city). 

In the other two years of the Sabbatical year cycle - years 3 and 6 the Poor Tithe (מעשר עני) or Third Tithe (מעשר שלושי) substituted for the Second Tithe. (Year 7 was the Sabbatical year and crops were not grown).

The Poor Tithe is described in Deuteronomy 26, 12: 

" When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithe of thine increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be satisfied"

The Poor Tithe was given to the Levites who distributed it to the poor.
Today, Terumot and tithes are separated but not given to the Priests (possibly to spite the Priests).  The Priests could only consume the tithes in a state of ritual purity (טהורה). Today no Kohanim - the descendents of the Aaron - are considered ritually pure. Priests, now and in Biblical times, become ritually unpure (טמא) from contact with the dead and by other means, as a matter of course. In Temple times this was remediated by ,"Sin Waters" (מי חטאת). These were made with the burnt remains of the famous "Red Heifer" (פרה אדומה), sacrificed at the Temple. After Temple times this was not possible so today's Priests are assumed to be ritually unpure and cannot consume the Terumot or the TIthes. The Terumah is taken and buried or thrown away. There is no specific quantity.

The tithes given to the Levites and the poor were not restricted to the consumer being ritually pure. Technically these could still be carried out today by Israeli Jews  but this is generally not done. Some Orthodox give a nominal amount to a "Second Tithe Fund" to fulfill the Second TIthe commandment. 
Modern Orthodox practice involves a recommended personal tithe of 10% of income to be given to charity (מעשר כספים).

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Roland Commentaries

The circle of the Talmud page grows by it's commentaries.  The JCCSF Talmud Circle is expanded by our own commentator, Reb Roland.  To be enriched by the newest version of his prodigious efforts CLICK HERE

His previous excellent work can be found at CLICK HERE.

Any errors in his commentary are the responsibility of his presenter, and that would be me.

Shabbat Shalom,

Peretz Wolf-Prusan

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rabbi Adin Even Yisrael Steinsaltz Hospitalized in Jerusalem

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has suffered a stroke. It happened after his return to Israel following his private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Monday, December 5.

Born in Jerusalem in 1937, Rabbi Steinsaltz is known to Jews around the world as a teacher, philosopher, social commentator, and spiritual mentor.  His life and work is the foundation of Lehrhaus Judaica's Bay Area Community Talmud Cicle program.

The Rabbi’s Hebrew name is Adin ben Rivka Leah.  May the one who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless Adin ben Rivka Leah.  May he merit from the Holy One of Blessing protection, rescue from any trouble or distress, and from any illness, minor or serious; may God send blessing and success in his every endeavor, together with all Israel, and let us say, Amen.

Here is a video of Rabbi Steinsaltz discussing gratitude, a fitting companion study to Berakhot.  GRATITUDE VIDEO 

On June 11, 2016, Yom Yerushalim, we gathered all the Talmud Circles for a Siyyum/Closing at the Jewish Community Library.  Rabbi Steinsaltz, via video, taught about the Sh'ma and the Tefilah.  You can see him here:

He also answered questions from us!  Here are the questions and notes on his answers from the video:

You can find the 2013 and 2014 Community Talmud Circles Steinsaltz events BY CLICKING HERE 

We will all imagine him fully recovered and sharing his profound love of life, humanity, and Talmud Torah with us all soon.  

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Got to know (and love) those basic terms

Pages 238-239 of Berakhot 35a contain many key terms and principles of the Talmud.  These terms are explained in this link CLICK HERE

On the bottom of 239 is Svara, reason.  

A fascinating and appropriately provacative essay by Rabbi Benay Lappe, the Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva Click Here

You can see her ELI talk here CLICK HERE

You can find our all time favorite Guide to Jewish Texts BY CLICKING HERE

Friday, October 21, 2016


All students should obtain a print or digital copy of the Koren Talmud Bavli Berakhot with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz).

We will begin with Chapter 6, page 237.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Join a Talmud Circle Today

Click Here

The Bay Area Community Talmud Circle is a growing, dynamic, and welcoming community of adult students engaged in modern Talmud study and active conversation. This unique project is a collaboration of Lehrhaus Judaica and The Aleph Society of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, hailed by TIME magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar."

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Talmud Circle Siyyum with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Annual Bay Area Community Talmud Circle Steinsaltz Shiur and Siyyum on June 5, 2016, at the Jewish Community Library was a fulfilling and stimulating success.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Talmud Circle students and our faculty, Rabbi Ilana Goldhaber-Gordon, Professor Deena Aranoff and Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan learned with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in a question and answer conversation.  

The first part answered the question, “Kriyat Sh'ma and The Tefillah: How Can They Possibly Fit Together?” 

The second addressed the meaning of Jerusalem Day (June 5) and responses to questions posed by our students.

A guide to the responses was provided and a robust community discussion illuminated and expanded the learning.

You can find links to the videos and the guide here.

Shiur Guide

Kiryat Sh'ma and the Shemonah Esreh

Talmud Circle Students and Rabbi Steinsaltz Questions and Answers

We are grateful for the partnership with the Aleph Society of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the hospitality of the Jewish Community Library, and the support of the Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Fleishhacker Fund, and the students of Lehrhaus Judaica.