The “taxes” paid by your average farmer during Temple times went largely to the mikdash – the Temple – itself and to the people – kohanim and levi’im – who worked there. The major matanot (literally “presents” but effectively taxes) included:
- Bikkurim – the first fruits of the harvest that are brought to the Temple and given to the kohanim
- Teruma gedola – a portion of the harvest given to the kohen. He can use it in his home for normal purposes, but it must be treated as kodshim, preserved (when possible) in a state of ritual purity, only consumed by kohanim, etc.
- Ma’aser rishon – a portion of the harvest given to the levi. It has no kedusha attached to it and it can be used for any purpose.
- 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 in a state of ritual purity and only eaten within the precincts of the city.
Our Gemara discusses the laws of ma’aser sheni, which was separated by the farmer in four out of the seven years of the agricultural cycle – during years 1, 2, 4 and 5. (In years 3 and 6 it was replaced with a tithe given to the poor; in year 7 – the Sabbatical year – no tithes were separated.) We learn that according to Rabbi Meir, dough made of ma’aser sheni flour will be free of the obligation to separate ḥalla – a portion of dough that is separated and given to the kohen – while the other Sages obligate him to separate ḥalla. This argument points to a basic disagreement about such tithes. According to Rabbi Meir ma’aser sheni is mamon gavoha – it is sanctified property that a person is allowed to eat under specific circumstances. As such, no other tithes need to be separated from it. The Sages, however, believe that it is mamon hedyot – it remains the property of the owner – although the Torah requires that it be eaten only in a specific place and under certain conditions.