Savings vs. Tithing

January 15th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

I finished my medical training in 2016, this on top of my training as a pharmacist. I have a plan in place to pay off my student loans in 5 more years. My wife is an engineer but is currently staying at home with our three children. She is planning on going back to school to get a teaching certificate when our children start school so that we can get a nice tuition discount at our parish school.

We live below our means, I contribute the max to our 401k and and we drive inexpensive cars. I have read your book (Thou Shall Prosper-loved it) and I tithe around 10% of our net income to our church and various charities.

It has come to my attention that we need to contribute around 11,000.00 a year more to “retirement” accounts than we are currently doing. I would like to contribute to a backdoor Roth IRA account automatically from my paycheck every pay period , which means my net income would go down, and I would tithe less.

So I am struggling with whether or not it is ok to tithe less but contribute to retirement more, or if I should forgo investing more in retirement until I make more money.

Thank you so much,

DoctorSquared

Dear DoctorSquared,

We were ready to take a nap by the time we had finished reading of all your personal and professional accomplishments! You and your wife sound like thoughtful, caring and disciplined people.

Please allow us to try and rephrase the question you are asking. We think it is one that applies in many different situations. Are we under any obligation  to manage our finances in order to maximize tithing?

We have been asked similar questions from people inquiring whether they should tithe on pre or post-tax income. As always, we encourage people to ask someone in their own faith family, but we can only say that from the perspective of ancient Jewish wisdom, you tithe on the money you actually receive and that is available for your needs and desires. If taxes reduce what you get to take home, then you do not tithe on the amount that went to the government and that you never received.

In a not entirely different parallel, if someone is held up on his way home from picking up his weekly pay envelope and all his money is confiscated, he naturally does not pay a tithe on the money that was stolen.

If poor people glean and gather wheat from the edges of your field before you harvest, you wouldn’t pay a tithe on that wheat which you never harvested. (Leviticus 23:22)

In your case, the same reasoning applies, but with a twist. If prudence dictates that you put money away for the future, then you are not getting that money and don’t need to tithe on it. You certainly don’t have to ignore what you understand to be the best for you and your family in order to have more to tithe. However, down the road, whenever you do access that money you will then need to tithe on it. In other words, when it is yours to use, you owe tithe.

We should iterate 10% is a minimum and one can always choose to give more to charity. While ancient Jewish wisdom doesn’t suggest giving too much no one needs to meticulously take care not to go an iota over 10%.

We’re delighted that you benefitted from Thou Shall Prosper and wish you continued family and financial success.

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

P.S. With three young ones, be sure to send your wife over to my (Susan’s) Practical Parenting page.

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13 comments

chris hartman says:

Mr LAPIN
How many christians have ever told you about JESUS who is JEWISH?
also since you run a christian jewish alliance organization have you ever read the holy bible to know what
exactly the christians believe and why???
thanks have a blessed day in the lord amen.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mr Hartman,
Thanks for your good wishes,
Cordially
RDL

Ted Smith says:

Chris, I am a Christian and I am appalled and totally embarrassed by your response to Rabbi Lapin. The first principal of both Christianity and Judaism is love, and love is the valuing of someone so much that you would honor them and sacrifice almost everything for them. Rabbi Lapin honored you in your ignorance and showed you how love works. I suggest that you quit just “reading” the Bible and start trying to understand it and apply it.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Ted,
I am pleased and grateful for your note. I just didn’t see that there was much that I could say to Chris other than “thanks for writing”.
With best wishes
Cordially
RDL

Mark Z says:

My teacher,
As a Christian, I completely agree with what Ted wrote.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Mark!
Cordially
RDL

Simcha Weinberg says:

I enjoyed the wise response. I loved the spiritual beauty of the question and imagined God’s pleasure in His children seeking to live according to God’s Will.
In general, I often rejoice over your teachings attract such beautiful questions.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Rabbi Simcha,
Most readers will not be aware of your rabbinic distinction which makes your kind comment even more appreciated. Wishing you a 2019 of good health.
Warmly
RDL

Carmine Pescatore says:

Thank you for putting this topic in perspective. Many of us struggle with paying our bills and still want to support chararities and our religious institutions.

Jaime Jamison says:

Rabbi Lapin, I agree with your answer. I would just add …. No matter the amount of our tithe, we must remember G_d wants us to give generously to Him and to do so without a grudging heart. (Deut 15:10) We are to honor him with our wealth, with our first fruits. So, we are to give happily! Bless cheerfully!

Susan Lapin says:

You are absolutely right, Jaime. Giving with a glad heart is an important part of giving and can make a smaller gift be more valued than a larger one given grudgingly.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Maybe worth noting, Jaime,
That from perspective of needy recipient, $1,000 given with a grudging heart may well be worthy more than $10 given happily. In other words, motivation is lovely but the key is the action. In other words, I’d rather someone behaved beautifully towards me insincerely while not liking me much to someone who, in his heart, was filled with love and sweetness but behaves atrociously towards me. What’s in the heart is important but nowhere near as important as our conduct, actions, and behavior.
Cordially
RDL

Dion Stumpo says:

Rabbi Daniel,

Could you elaborate some on Malachi 3:8-12, with Tithing. Asking for elaboration and understanding, not debate. Very Curious. I have heard with this passage when it says to bring your tithe and offerings into the storehouse is, in my case a church, yours a synagogue. Could help clarify with this and give some more understanding.

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