Do I Tithe on Social Security?

Should my husband and I tithe our Social Security checks? My husband is doubtful since we contributed to them and tithed the original earnings?


Dear Bev,

Instead of trying to answer your question with a yes or no, we’ll try and provide you with the relevant Biblical principles.

The first basic principle is that you regard as tithable income only money that you actually receive. In other words, your gross (before tax) income is not relevant. The government seized a portion of that which was never yours.

Thus, your tithable income is your gross income, minus federal withholding, state withholding, social security employee share, Medicare employee share (if applicable) and any other mandatory government amounts extracted from your pay. It follows that when you start receiving social security checks, you treat them as tithable income. (Needless to say, if you originally tithed on your gross income, it is a completely different calculation.)

Now let’s explore a different scenario.

  1. Mr. and Mrs. B. tithe on the income they receive, as we explained above. One of the things they do with their remaining money is give a weekly allowance to each of their children. Should their children tithe on their allowance?

Answer: Yes. Mr. and Mrs. B are choosing to give some cash to their children just as they might choose to give some to the plumber fixing their hot water heater. Like the plumber, the children need to tithe on what they receive. However, we would also like to note the educational advantage of children tithing. The more practice our children have in doing the correct thing, the more likely they are to do the correct thing when they are older.

That was one of the reasons we were not enthusiasts of former First Lady, Nancy Reagan’s well-intentioned “Just say no” campaign. Meant to discourage drug use, the campaign was aimed at teenagers. Yet, too many teenagers have grown up without acquiring the internal strength to ‘just say no’.

As parents, we were always amazed at what took place when our children spied the tempting candy seducing them in the supermarket checkout line. Our very young children, even at the age of 3, would ask us for the candy, but would immediately end their plaintive requests if we told them it wasn’t kosher. (Didn’t conform to the Biblical dietary laws for Jews) In fact, they quickly learned to ask if it was kosher before even thinking of having it. (And, if it was ok to have, it was incumbent on us to be honest about that rather than trying to save ourselves the trouble of dealing with the request.) If the candy was kosher, we might have to endure their pleading eyes for longer. But they already knew to say no to non-kosher candy. Learning to “just say no” at a young age, and about the demands of their tummies, made it easier for them to “just say no” to more urgent drives than candy when they were older. Learning to give from what you have is similarly easier to do when learned from a young age.

Taxes are different. We have no option not to pay those taxes. Thus, we only need to pay on income we, not the government, receive. Social Security is slightly different since that money (in theory) comes back to us. The option there is, as we mentioned above, to tithe on it in advance (by not deducting social security payments from our tithable income) or to tithe when we (hopefully) receive it. Since you seem to have paid a tithe in advance on social security, 100% of the money is yours.

Enjoy what’s left after increasingly confiscatory rates of taxation,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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14 thoughts on “Do I Tithe on Social Security?”

  1. I am curious what your thoughts are on tithing when receiving assistance from the government (a discussion on the merits of such a system aside). It seems more intuitive that one might tithe on cash assistance. But what about assistance such as SNAP/foodstamps? Dollars are allocated, though restricted in what they can buy. It is still income in a sense, however.

  2. I’ve learned over the years that “what 10% doesn’t give you, 100% or 90% wont give you either. We foolishly tithe and are not ashamed to practice it, for I don’t see people asking questions and seeking clarification about prayer, fasting and other forms of worship. But when it comes to our finances our arithmetic skills are heightened.
    I pray God helps us to have absolute trust in Him with our monies, and give us understanding on the basic principles in creating and sustaining wealth.

    1. Achi, when we led a synagogue in California, we received many questions about prayer, fasting, and all sorts of forms of worship. In our view, questions about charity reflect well on people. We see money as a gift from God – a way for people to peacefully interact with strangers – and the Bible has a great deal to say about using this gift properly.

  3. To answer Laura above: Yes God does love a cheerful giver, but there was a time in the US and in Britain that the tax rate was above 90%. If you tithed on the gross then you would have no income. As the Rabbi said you should tithe on your increase. Love you Susan and Rabbi.

    1. How wonderful to hear from you, Dale! I remember hearing that Astrid Lindgren (author of Pippi Longstocking) owed more in Swedish taxes one year than her entire earnings.

  4. Travis P in SC

    Thank you Rabbi and Susan. This was very insightful. My wife and I recently sold two pieces of real estate, and we were struggling with how to tithe. My position was that we should tithe based on the net gain, however, we were not consistently tithing at the time we initially made the investment. Based on this new information, it appears that we should tithe on the entire proceeds- which I do give with a grateful heart.

    1. What a lovely attitude you have, Travis. May grateful giving bring you blessing.

  5. God loves a cheerful giver and we cannot outgive God. We should tithe on ALL gross income, no matter whether it’s social security or otherwise, it’s still income.

    1. That’s what I was taught. If I earned $100, $10 of that is earmarkedto honor G-d, to acknowledge His ownership and my stewardship over the rest.
      I have to pay bills…the tax burden is a bill of sorts, and I always considered the fact that Uncle Sam helped himself to it before I could even cash my check to be irrelevant.

      1. Donna, we like to think of it as working on a 90% commission, but as we said, the government’s take is another thing.

      2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

        Dear Donna-
        Just to clarify, there is a colossal difference between my bills for my car payment, and my rent, etc. and my tax burden. You see, for the latter, I have no choice. It is not in my discretion, therefore it is NOT my money and NEVER was my money. If you give me $50 with the promise that you’ll be by later with your armed gang to take back $30, then I only have $20 all along.

    2. Careful, Laura, with all due respect, you’re sounding like a Protestant Prosperity Preacher.
      In addition, to the miraculous, God expects us to have a rational, well thought out faith in Him.
      Surely, we ALL know it is the attitude of the heart that matters most when offering up “anything” to the Lord, especially our money.
      We cannot do it begrudgingly, or to seek attention, or compensate for other areas of our lives not yielded to Him.
      I come from a denomination that got invaded by prosperity teaching/preaching and I have seen enough rash giving that left families destitute both financially and emotionally to last a lifetime.
      We do well to seek Godly and wise counsel when walking out our faith. I believe Rabbi Lapin has done that, on this all important topic.
      Personally, as a Christian (Protestant) I have heard arguments regarding tithing on the net or gross until I was sick to death of the whole subject. I always wondered, in the midst of these heated debates, what Ancient Jewish Wisdom would have said, now I know.
      Thanks, Rabbi!

      1. Cheryl, giving is an obligation, but as a side matter, we feel that except for the very few whose faces shine and personalities soar no matter their economic situation, most people are more attractive advocates for God when they have a few dollars.

    3. We share our approach, Laura, but everyone can and should decide for themselves.

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