Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin,
My husband and I want to pick your brain regarding tithing. In 2020, we started our own trucking company and have been doing very well for ourselves. We began tithing in 2022 always giving the first 10% to the Lord. We have a lot of fun giving and often round up and give more than the calculator suggests.
Having started the business, we are having to write off so many things when tax season comes around. However, one thing we have disagreed on writing off, is our tithe. Our friends and families suggest we use our tithe as a tax write-off, and we believe we should not use this as a way to benefit us. We don’t want to end up tithing only because it is a tax write-off, we want to tithe because it comes from the heart. However, we could also understand that if taxing the tithe does benefit us, it would open an opportunity for us to give more.
This is our question. Is it right to write off our 10% tithe? Do you write off what you give to the Lord, in other words? We give privately to folks in need such as friends and families, homeless, Ukraine, Turkey, etc. What is your opinion on this?
In general, we are wary of picking out a few words from the Bible as one can easily mislead by doing so, but we are not attempting to mislead you with the following verse.
Ecclesiastes 7:16 says, “Don’t overdo righteousness…”
On the surface, that doesn’t seem to be a very God-fearing sentiment. We love righteousness – how can there be too much of it? Here is one example.
Human interaction comes with many possible pitfalls. For instance, speech is incredibly powerful. A few lies, or even truths that are maliciously (or innocently) shared, can and have destroyed lives. Ancient Jewish wisdom imposes many parameters around what is permissible and what is forbidden to say. Engaging in commercial enterprise brings moral peril. The danger of doing something unethical or damaging in business is huge. When we interact with family, friends, and acquaintances, it is easy to accidentally do something hurtful or cause pain even by a look on our face.
Relating to other people in almost any context is morally risky. There are so many possible mistakes one could make. It would be easy for a well-intentioned person to arrive at the conclusion that becoming a hermit in a remote cave is the best way to avoid sinning. At the very least, maintaining silence and remaining disconnected from other people is surely the best solution for the virtuous individual. To those who think that way, King Solomon wrote: Don’t overdo righteousness.
Yes, we will sin as we go about our lives. We are human. We also will do great things, say words that bring joy to others, improve people’s lives through our businesses, and build families that bring joy to God and to the world. The potential upside outweighs the downside.
Lena, we don’t know whether you are located in the United States which allows you to deduct charitable contributions from your taxable income. So it is not so much a question of writing off your contributions but deducting them in the first place from your taxable income. And if you live in the U.S. then from a Biblical perspective, you should certainly do this. If you live elsewhere and you can reduce your tax liability by writing off the contribution, you must do this too.
Although you didn’t specifically ask this, we think it might be relevant for us to mention that tithing is on your after-tax income.
Furthermore, money you spend to enable you to earn an income should be deducted from your income before separating your tithe. For example, if you are a self-employed business owner the following may be deducted from your gross income before separating your tithe: Wages paid to an employee, inventory related expenses, cost of leasing property or vehicles, advertising, and any business-related taxes.
You may legally and morally write off your tax deductions. The action of giving charity is good. God is the only One who can know your heart. Are you giving only in order to get public praise, or to get a tax write-off, or for some other reason? You will need to get that straight with God after 120 years. But, not taking the write-off that allows you to have more money to use for your own purposes, which may or may not include being more generous to others, is a case of trying to be too righteous. Not virtuous, not Biblical, and not a good idea.
Thank you for your kind words about our work,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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LAST DAY TODAY!
In our debut Scrolling through Scripture teaching, Rabbi Daniel Lapin walks you verse by verse through the Bible, decoding the original Hebrew text via the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. For a short time, we are offering a rare discount on Genesis: Creation Unit 1 which focuses on the six days of Creation and Foundational Principles from the beginning of Genesis.
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Genesis: Creation (Unit 1), starts with Genesis Chapter 1:1, wending its way through the six days of Creation and culminating with Chapter 2:3, the actual stopping place for this section. It covers foundational principles for successful living that are introduced in the first chapter of Genesis, and is the longest of our courses with 20 video lessons.