Rashi in parshas Toldos (25:27) tells us about Esav:

יודע ציד: לצוד ולרמות את אביו בפיו, ושואלו אבא היאך מעשרין את המלח ואת התבן, כסבור אביו שהוא מדקדק במצות׃

who understood hunting: [He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth and ask him,“Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought that he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments (Tanchuma, Toeldoth 8). (emphasis mine)

Apparently, the Avos were careful to separate maaser. But who did they give their maaser to? Though we find Avraham giving a tithe to Shem who was a Kohen of sorts (see Beraishis 13:20 with Rashi there), that was in a situation of dividing war spoils.

Since the separating being discussed here is the regular tithes of all crop yields--if it was for Shem, then it should've been referred as "Teruma." Were there Leviim at that time too?

I would be intrigued to hear an answer.

  • There certainly were poor people around, and Yerushalayim was around. (there are other kinds of maaser)
    – Double AA
    Nov 17, 2014 at 5:37

2 Answers 2


The one Av we find mentioning maaser outright was Yaakov in parshas Vayeitzei chapter 28 verse 22. That Maaser is explaned by Rashbam to be Korbanos. Radak, Seichel Tov and Pirkei diRabi Eliazar all explain it was a separating of one of his children for heavenly servitude, a job detail Levi filled. Only Rashi in chapter 32 verse 14 seems to learn it was an actual maaser on animals. The Meshech Chochmah explains Rashi opinion to mean that the animals were sacrificed.

Chazal explained that the מאה שערים mentioned in in chapter 26 verse 12 was hinting to Yitzchok giving מעשר, see Bereishis Rabba 64 6, mentioned in Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the passuk. This Maaser was given as Tzedaka to the poor see Pirkei DiRabi Eliezer in the begining of chapter 33 & the first chapter of Tanna DiBei Eiliyahu Zuta.

This is all besides the fact that it is quite possible that until the establishment of the Levite class post the sin of the Eigel, no such position existed. There were Kohanim, who were the firstborn, and perhaps the entire tribe of Levi after the firstborns lost their status at the Eigel, but no such idea of Leviim in the sense that we know them.

  • 1
    I don't follow how this answers the question. Nov 17, 2014 at 15:14
  • @Shmuel acc to most opinions there was no seperating or giving involved.
    – user6591
    Nov 17, 2014 at 15:20
  • I think only your last line answers the question, which is asked with the premise of Rashi's explanation. (+1 for the last line, although I don't see how it possibly fits into Rashi's Tanchuma citation). Nov 17, 2014 at 20:12
  • @YEZ maybe. Although it was not phrased as a 'opinion of rashi' question, merely referencing someone mentioning the tithing. Happens to have been Rashi. But i Am leaning towards your understanding, that's why i went looking for some explanation. Still looking for something simpler.
    – user6591
    Nov 17, 2014 at 20:27

How could Avraham feed his guests tongue? I point out that technically, Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov were kohanim themselves. Thus, they could have separated ma'aser and "given" it to themselves for Hashem. Also, since they funded their own Yeshivos, they could have used their ma'aser kesafim for that purpose.

Another point is that since it was before matan torah, ma'aser in general would have been similar to ma'aser kesafim nowadays. That is, a midus chassidus and not a davar kedushah (sacred). As a result, it could all have gone to poor people.

The analogy is brought because even if the avos kept the mitzvos, they were not required to do so. Thus, Eisav's questions (about salt and straw) were designed to make it look as if he had already accepted and carried out all other aspects of ma'aser.

Since it was before matan torah, the equivalent of kohanim and leviyim were not really "officially" appointed. While Shem was the initial kohen in the family of Noach, he would have passed it down through the line. Apparently Hashem appointed the Avos as kohanim by giving them the bracha.

Eisav by selling the bechorah showed that he did not want to have the kehunah come to him, which meant that Hashem appointed Yaakov. Levi and his descendants took on that role in Mitzrayim.

  • 3
    By "technically" do you mean "according to my own made-up thought"?
    – Double AA
    Nov 17, 2014 at 15:06
  • As to the theory that it was maaser kesafim, this doesn't fit with Esav's feigned questioning of whether salt or straw is subject to the mitzva. For maaser kesafim applies to one's income, not a specific type of crop yield. Nov 17, 2014 at 15:10
  • @ShmuelWise The point was that since it was before matan Torah, giving ma'aser would not have been a requirement, but a midas chasidus. I used tha analogy to ma'aser kesafim nowadays to help explain it. Nov 18, 2014 at 0:50

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