Among the terumot and ma’aserot – the tithes that the Torah requires be separated from fruits before eating – we find the commandment to set aside ma’aser sheni (see Devarim 14:22-26). Ma’aser sheni – “the second tithe” – is separated after the first tithes have been set aside for the kohen and the levi. This produce is taken by the owner and eaten in Jerusalem. In the event that there is too much for him to bring, he can redeem the fruit and purchase food in Jerusalem that he will eat there.
Does the requirement to set aside ma’aser sheni exist even when the Temple is no longer standing?
While the Gemara first attempts to answer this question by drawing a comparison to the laws of bekhor – a firstborn animal that is brought to the Temple – ultimately the Gemara suggests that it is dependent on the question of whether kedusha rishona kidsha le-sha’atah ve-kidsha le-atid la-vo – does the holiness of Jerusalem remain in place even after the Temple’s destruction? If there is no longer any holiness, then what would the purpose be to set aside ma’aser sheni?
The simple reading of the Gemara appears to view the holiness of the Land of Israel and that of the city 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. This, in fact is the approach that is taken by Tosafot. 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.