The second tithe (Hebrew: ma’aser sheni מעשר שני) is a tithe mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and still practiced in Orthodox Judaism. This is different from the first tithe (Hebrew: ma’aser rishon מעשראשון), the third tithe (the poor tithe) and the terumat hamaaser.
Before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the second tithe was the setting aside of a tenth of certain agricultural products during the first, second, fourth and fifth years, in each cycle of seven (until the Sabbatical year), for the purpose of bringing them as an offering to the holy city of Jerusalem to be consumed there.
In the Bible
The instructions for the second tithe are given in Deuteronomy 14, 22-27, supported by references in Deut 12, 11-18 and 26, 12. Specifically in Deuteronomy 14, 28-29 we find instructions for the third, also called the poor tithe, which is performed in the third and sixth year of the Sabbatical cycle of seven. The remaining seventh year is considered the Shmita, the Sabbatical year.
As described, tithing should be of grain, wine and olive oil, but if the distance from Jerusalem made it unreasonable to transport these crops, the monetary value of the tithe could instead be brought to Jerusalem and used to purchase whatever edible thing the owner wished to eat there, from an ox, to a sheep, to wine, beer or “whatever your Spirit desires,” for a feast with the person’s family in the presence of GOD:
26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your GOD and rejoice.
(Deut 14, 26)
The practice of ma’aser sheni
The second tithe is a separate offering obligation from the 10% of the regular tithe. The owner of the produce was required to separate the tithe, of any kind, after the particular type of produce was finished in its common preparation for harvest. Unlike the first tithe, the second tithe was separated only in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the sabbatical year cycle. The poor man’s tithe (the third) was separated on the third and sixth years.
The produce had to be kept in a state of purity and eaten in a state of purity in Jerusalem, at any time of the year. If the owner did not want, or was unable, to bring the produce to Jerusalem, he had the right to redeem the produce on a coin of equal value, as well as adding a fifth to the value. The ability to redeem the products on the coin results in money that is mikudash (sacred, as it is intended for Temple purposes), while the products became desanctified and available for any use. Money could only be used for limited categories of use consistent with its sacred status. Misuse of money was prohibited.
Scripture includes a commandment to remove all tithes from one’s household at the end of the third year (Deuteronomy 14, 28).