As we learned on yesterday’s daf, one of the tithes that was separated by the farmer is ma’aser sheni – a portion of the harvest that is taken by its owner to Jerusalem, where he can eat it on his own or give it to others, but it must be kept tahor and only eaten within the precincts of the city.
The Gemara on today’s daf brings a baraita where Rabbi Yishmael rules that the law of separating ma’aser sheni still exists, but that it is no longer eaten in Jerusalem. Rather, after separating the tithe, we apply the biblical law that allows the farmer to redeem the ma’aser sheni. When the Temple stood, the money was taken to Jerusalem where it would be exchanged for food that had to be eaten in the city. Today, since the tithe cannot be eaten, the coin that was exchanged for the tithe is destroyed.
It appears that our Gemara assumes that the holiness of the Land of Israel remains in force today – which is why there is still a need to separate tithes, and the question that was posed was whether even after the Temple was destroyed there was still a need to bring the tithe to Jerusalem as commanded by the Torah.
The idea that the holiness given to the Land of Israel may have been established in such a way that it would last forever is subject to a dispute among the rishonim.
Tosafot accept the simple reading of the Gemara, which seems to view the holiness of the Land of Israel and that of Jerusalem as being the same, so if the destruction of the Temple removes the holiness from the Land, it does so for Jerusalem as well. The Rambam, on the other hand, sees the two as distinct and rules that even if the holiness of the Land is removed, kedushat Yerushalayim – which stems from the presence of God – can never be removed. With the return of the Jews to Israel under Ezra HaSofer and the building of the second Temple, the center of the kedusha was the rebuilt Temple – the seat of the Almighty – and the rest of the Land derived its holiness from Jerusalem. Thus the Rambam rules that even with the destruction of the Temple, kedushat Ezra remains forever.