by: Reb Avi Lebovitz
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There is a fundamental argument between Rabbeinu Tam and Rivam quoted by Tosfos regarding the exemption from ma’aser on produce that Reuven sold to Shimon.
Rabbeinu Tam holds that if Reuven processed the produce prior to selling and it became obligated in ma’aser and assumes a status of tevel, by selling it to Shimon, the tevel status is removed and it is exempt once again. But if Reuven never processed it, when Shimon does the processing, he will be Biblically obligated in ma’aser because it is considered his own produce.
Rivam says exactly the opposite. If Reuven processed the produce prior to selling it, since it has become obligated in ma’aser and assumes a status of tevel, this status cannot be removed. Therefore, when he sells it to Shimon, Shimon will have a Biblical obligation to separate ma’aser. But if Reuven sold it to Shimon prior to processing it and it was processed in the home of Shimon, then it is not subject to a ma’aser obligation.
When the produce was grown by an idolater (assuming his acquisition in Eretz Yisroel will not remove the ma’aser obligation), the Gemora says in Bechoros (11b) that if the idolater processed them and then sold them to a Jew, they are exempt from ma’aser, but if the Jew processed them, they are obligated.
Rabbeinu Tam holds that if the produce was processed by the original farmer, it makes no difference if he were a Jew or an idolater, the buyer would be exempt. But, if they weren’t processed by the original farmer, the buyer would be obligated.
The Rivam holds that when the original farmer was an idolater, the halachah is exactly the opposite from when the original farmer would be a Jew. An idolater farmer who processes and sells would be exempt since it was processed by the idolater and it will remain exempt even after it is sold. But if an idolater farmer didn’t process it, it is not considered his at all, so that when he sells it to the Jew and the Jew processes it, it is obligated.
The greatest difficulty with Rabbeinu Tam is that produce that is tevel can be sold and revert back to being exempt from ma’aser (and then if sold back to Reuven would revert back to being obligated in ma’aser)! The greatest difficulty in the Rivam is that produce of an idolater is not considered to be his unless he processed it, so that if sold to a Jew, it is as if the Jew grew it himself and is obligated in ma’aser.
Another hybrid approach (possible Reb Chaim’s explanation in a Rambam) is that it is not dependent on who processed it, but rather what the intent was when it was processed. If Reuven processed it for personal use and it becomes obligated, nothing can remove that status of tevel (like the Rivam). If Reuven did not process it; rather he sold it to Shimon who processed it, then it is also obligated (like Rabbeinu Tam). Only if Reueven processed it with the intent of selling it to Shimon, it will be exempt.