Terumah (offering)

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A heave offering, or terumah (Hebrew: תְּרוּמָה‎), plural terumot, is a kind of offering. The word is generally used in the positive sense of an offering to God, although sometimes it is also used in a negative sense, such as the ish teramot, a "[dishonest] judge who loves gifts".[1]

In Chazalic literature it is listed as one of the twenty-four priestly gifts. The consumption of terumah (heave-offering and heave-offering of the tithe) is restricted by numerous Torah-based rules and could be eaten by priests, their families, and their servants. The terumah may be consumed only in a state of ritual purity.

This is also called the "great offering" (Hebrew terumah gedolah תרומה גדולה) which is, usually, a food item given to the Jewish priest, as a gift. The thirteenth-century French rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoah explains the adjective "great" (Hebrew gedolah) to be because this terumah is the first of all tithes given on produce and thus is given from the "greatest quantity of produce" before any other gift is given.[citation needed]


The feminine noun terumah, ("lifting up") comes from the verb stem, rum (רוּם), "high" or "to lift up."[2] The formation of terumah is parallel to the formation of the feminine noun "wave offering" ('tenufah' תְּנוּפָה) from the verb stem nuf, "to wave," and both nouns, and both verbs, are found together in the third occurrence in the Hebrew Bible.[3] Consequently, versions such as the King James Version have in a few verses translated "heave offering," by analogy with "wave offering":

Exodus 29:27

— And thou shalt sanctify the breast of the wave offering (tenufah) which is waved (verb nuf), and the shoulder of the "raised offering" (terumah) which is raised up (verb rum), of the ram of the consecration, even that which is for Aaron, and of that which is for his sons, Revised Version

Numbers 15:18-19

— When you come into the land to which I bring you, then it will be, when you eat of the bread of the land, that you shall offer up a heave offering to the Lord, New King James Version

Hebrew Bible[edit]

The term occurs seventy-six times in the masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible; in the Septuagint it was rendered afieroma (ἀφiαίρoμα), in JPS Tanakh (1917) it is generally translated "offering";[4] while in the King James Version (1611) it is also generally translated "offering" but also sometimes "oblation" and four times "heave offering".[5]

The word is used in various contexts throughout the Hebrew Bible, including one use in Proverbs denoting haughtiness or graft (Proverbs 29:4). In most contexts it refers to designating something for a higher purpose, or lifting apart of a quantity from a larger quantity), as in the gifts offered by the Children of Israel for the inauguration of the Mishkan (as described in the Book of Exodus). In the Bible, there are numerous different varieties of gifts for which the term terumah was applied. In Jewish law, the word terumah by itself was associated with "great offering" (terumah gedolah), the first portion of produce that was required to be separated and kept pure for consumption by a kohen (priest). There was no direct connection with the Jerusalem Temple or the Temple service.

There were two groups of terumot:

  • Sacrifice/redemption of the first-born:
  • General tithes:
    • The general offering (terumah) or the "great offering" (terumah gedolah) was a portion of the finished grain, wine and oil separated for the Jewish priest prior to the "first tithe" (maaser rishon) separated for a Levite . Unlike the "first tithe" (maaser rishon), the Torah did not specify any minimum measure for a terumah offering; hence, even one grain of barley could satisfy the requirement to separate terumah. A passage in the Book of Ezekiel suggests that the "great offering" (terumah gedolah) should consist of 1/50 of the owner's grain, wine or oil.
    • The Mitzvah of Challah ("dough bread", challah חלה) Contemporary practice is to burn rather than give to the priest.
    • Portion of gift offerings, of slaughter offerings, which were allocated to the priests.
    • Portion of the terumat hamaaser, the Levite Tithe, which applies only to produce grown in the Land of Israel.

In the Talmud and rabbinic literature[edit]

The Mishnah, Tosefta, and Gemara include a tract entitled Terumot ("Offerings"), which deals with the laws regulating "heave offerings" (terumah).[6][7] The rabbis of the late Second Temple period added certain strictures to its consumption, requiring that the terumah be burnt (and not consumed) if a priest or Israelite who touched the terumah suspected that he had passed in close proximity to a grave (Hebrew: Beit ha-Peras), and was uncertain if he had contracted corpse uncleanness.[8]

According to Jewish Law, the "great offering" (terumah gedolah) could only be separated from the non-tithed produce (tevel), and "tithe offering" (terumat maaser) only be separated from "first tithe" (maaser rishon), by its owner, or an authorized, legally permissible agent; minors, deaf-mutes, the mentally ill and non-Jews were not obligated to perform such separation (Terumot 1:1). However, while non-Jews could not act as agents for Jews to separate terumah, the terumah owned by and separated by non-Jews was considered valid and had the status and sanctity of terumah (Terumot 3:9).[9] Based in part on the measures described by the prophet Ezekiel, Jewish Law set the minimum amounts of the "great offering" at 1/60 of the finished produce for a poor person, 1/50 for the average person, and 1/40 for the generous. The "tithe offering" (terumat maaser) was always 10% of the "first tithe" (maaser rishon).

The Talmud opens with a discussion of when the Shema Yisrael ("Hear O Israel") prayer should be recited. The Mishnah states that it should be recited when priests who were "unclean" (tamei, טָמֵא ritually impure) are able to enter the Temple to eat their terumah raised-offering (Brachot 2a). This passage is one of many which intimately connect the daily rites of Rabbinic Judaism with details of the rhythm of the life of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Biblical criticism perspectives[edit]

The heave offering of the tithe, though mentioned by the Priestly code, is not mentioned in the Deuteronomic code; critical scholars believe that this is because the Deuteronomist regarded all Levites as being able to become priests, and not just Aaron's descendants, hence this tithe of a tithe would be meaningless.[citation needed] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article (1907), this assumes that the Book of Deuteronomy was written before the books of Leviticus and Numbers and also requires the assumption of an unrecorded and previously unknown revolution in the Jewish world.

See also[edit]

  • Numbers 31 § Fate of the 32 virgins
  • Shlach - see sixth reading (Numbers 15:17-21)
  • Terumat hamaaser - a tithing obligation arising from the Terumah sacrifice still regarded as obligatory by Orthodox Judaism on produce
  • Terumot - plural of Terumah, and a section of the Mishnah concerning tithing obligations.
  • Terumah (parsha) - the nineteenth weekly portion of the Torah. It primarily contains the instructions on how to create the Tabernacle.


  1. ^ Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew Lexicon entry for terumah, citing Proverbs 29:4 "The king by judgment establisheth the land, but he that receiveth gifts overthroweth it."
  2. ^ Sidrah Sparks: Talking Torah at the Table with Your Family p329 Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins - 2010 "The word “Terumah” comes from the Hebrew root “rum” – meaning rise, or elevation"
  3. ^ Jewish antiquities: or, A course of lectures on the three first books p198 David Jennings, Philip Furneaux, Thomas Godwin - 1825 "This waving was of two kinds; one called terumah, from rum, elevatus est, which, they say, was performed by waving it perpendicularly upward and downward; the other, tenuphah, from nuph, agitare, movere"
  4. ^ "JPS Bible 1917". Archived from the original on 2012-03-14. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  5. ^ entry in Strong's Concordance
  6. ^ Joel Gereboff Rabbi Tarfon, the tradition, the man, and early Rabbinic Judaism 1979 "K. This [the opinion that an Israelite betrothed to a kohen may eat heave-offering prior to her nissu'in, is the] first mishnah. "
  7. ^ Jacob Neusner The modern study of the Mishnah p240 - 1973 "one may assume that in the case of one who gives heave-offering for oil instead of for crushed "
  8. ^ Mishnah (Taharot 4:5); Nathan ben Abraham's Mishnah commentary (ibid.).
  9. ^ Simcha Fishbane Deviancy in early rabbinic literature p153 - 2007 "above laws that are intrinsic to the Land of Israel.34 Yet we find a Mishnah in Tractate Terumot (3:9) that states: “A gentile and a Samaritan, that which they separate is [valid] raised offering and that which they take as tithes is ""