Where Should My Tithe Go?

December 11th, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Is tithing still relevant today?  Is it solely giving to the church that we attend every week or we can give to other needs (needy relatives, needy pastors from poor countries…) If we apportion the 10% to our church + needy relative + needy pastors, are we sinning against God?

My husband gives to our parents instead of giving tithing because he feels that taking care of parents is a type of giving too. A relative has just lost her job and we thought of giving a part of the tithe to help tide her over.

I feel guilty if I don’t give my full 10% to God by giving only to my home church but my church is a mega church and it receives a lot of tithing and offerings.

Thanks for teaching us the real meaning of tithing based on your understanding of Hebrew and ancient Jewish wisdom.

Sincerely,

Julie

Dear Julie,

The idea of being charitable is so common in both religious Jewish and Christian circles that we may not appreciate how amazing that is.  Many Americans chuckled at a series of PSAs – Public Service Announcements – that ran a few years ago, encouraing people to give 5% of their income to charity.  Millions of ordinary people routinely and without second thought, tithe – giving away a tenth of their earnings based on Biblical principles.  In fact, they don’t even see it as their money. The way we sometimes put it, is that we are glad to work for a Boss who gives us a 90% commission.

With that introduction, different religious groups encourage slightly different methods of giving. We cannot tell you what to do. Each person should affiliate with one spiritual approach and act accordingly. We can only describe what happens in Jewish circles.

In accordance with God’s commands, traditional Jews are not allowed to handle money on Saturdays, the Sabbath, or on holy days.  These are the very days that attract largest synagogue attendance.  Yet, there can be no offering or passing around of a basket for tithes.   Instead, most synagogues have a membership fee, though they encourage people to give beyond and above that. We pay some or all of that annual fee out of the tithe we owe but it would be most unusual for anyone’s entire tithe to go to their synagogue.

We would like to comment on your statement that your church doesn’t need your money because it is so big. If this is where you worship and the pastors there are serving you, then it would be spiritually unhealthy for you to be only a taker and not a giver. You are asking if your entire tithe needs to go there, which we cannot answer since we come from a different religious approach, but to give nothing would be inadvisable.

General charitable guidelines were recorded by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and they tend to be followed until this day. Among other things, these guidelines rank helping someone gain an independent livelihood as more praiseworthy than simply giving a hand-out. The guidelines also prioritize giving locally to one’s family and community before giving to strangers and distant communities. 

Sometimes, charities that are categorized under tax law are also valid for tithing, while other times they are not. Likewise, to use America as an example, while the IRS might not consider helping out a struggling neighbor to be deductible, the money would be considered as part of a tithe under a Jewish understanding.

In the Lord’s language, the word for tithe actually means one tenth.  Interestingly enough, the word also hints at wealth.  The implication is that by tithing, one not only helps others but also advances oneself towards greater wealth, not as a quid pro quo but in ways we describe in a chapter on the subject in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language.

Imagine what a world we would live in if everyone valued earning money and voluntarily and thoughtfully gave 10% or even a little more of what they made.

We hope this helps you and your husband give joyously,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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23 comments

Jim Neal says:

Rabbi I’m so grateful that you posted this question and for your thoughtful reply. I have had the same question for several years. Until about a year ago I didn’t have a home church, I bounced around from one to another. At the end of the year I would make modest donations to the churches I attended, but I mainly donated to causes I felt were important. And I always wondered if I was meeting the Lord’s command to tithe. During the year I would help friends and family in need, charities for veterans, I have sponsored a young rodeo cowboy trying to make the big time, and I support the AAJC. I chose carefully where I sent my money and the amount given was well over 10% of my income. It’s ironic that I write this publicly because I give anonymously when possible. I have found that the most joyful time for me during the holidays, or any time of year for that matter, is when I make financial gifts. I encourage everyone to do this, I believe it is a meaningful statement of one’s faith and because it just feels good to give!

I have learned much of this from you, as I wasn’t interested in church or religion as a young man. I’ve been listening to your shows since the KSFO days when you were on Sunday afternoons, never missed a show or now a podcast.

My walk with God has become an important part of my life, I’m a Christian but I have a deep respect and appreciation for the Jewish faith and for Israel. And for your work. Thank you and shalom!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Jim–
Thank you for your support of the AAJC and thank you for telling me of our long association back with KSFO San Francisco. I am so happy to hear that you have been engaged in a spiritual odyssey and I pray it takes you onwards and upwards.
Cordially
RDL

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

‘But you ask, “How do we rob you?”

‘In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.'” Mal 3:8-10

Most thithes in the OT were agricultural or livestock. In today’s world that is money. The expecation is that the tithe is brought into the central hub for worship and then apportioned by that place as appropriate. We could talk long about how govt has usurped the church’s place as the saftey net for the needy (with the goal of restoration not enablement) but the clear call is that the tithe is directed to God via earthly agents. Therefore it is not ours to direct where and when we want.

There is a mechanism which allows us to help others and that is called charity and gifts. It is another word then tithe for exaclty that reason.

Camelia Wall says:

Very True, the tithe belongs to GOD. We give it back to HIM by way of the church. Be certain to sow on good ground. The original question was issued by someone who said that they feel “guilty” at times when they appropriate the tithes in directions other than where they are spiritually fed. The holy spirit is our helper and there are moments when guilt can be a tool utilized by the spirit of GOD to help us recognize when something should be corrected.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Camelia
As you correctly say and contrary to what most mental health professionals insist, feelings of guilt are good, useful, and perfectly normal and perfectly natural. The last thing I want is a therapist or psychiatrist who tries to talk me out of feeling guilty over things I have erred on.
Cordially
RDL

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Grant-
thanks for writing; your letter is precisely what were thinking of when we explained that there are different religious traditions as to what exactly to give, where and how to give it. In the Hebrew original of the Old Testament, or as we call it, the Tanach, there are more than one word for tithe (ma’aser) And each one is quite different from the others in terms of who it was for and who was to benefit from it. So we don’t want to interfere with whatever is your tithing and charitable customs.
Cordially
RDL

Brian F. Tucker says:

Dear Rabbi,
Thank you for clarifying this issue for me personally. I have always been under the impression that the original commandment to tithe was for the benefit of the priests since they had no land inheritance of their own. I always give ten percent to the church (the pastor draws his salery and other living expenses from that) and give other charitable donations as my conscience leads me.
Brian

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Brian–
Interestingly, the idea behind them having no land inheritance was to align their interests with those of the people. When they blessed the people and prayed for them to thrive economically, you can be sure their prayers were fervent and their blessings sincere since their own well-being would depend upon that happy outcome since they were, as it were, on commission.
Cordially
RDL

randy says:

I am surprised that people of your faith do not handle money on the Sabbath. Three times a year I am commanded to stand before the Lord without an empty hand. As an urbanite, goats, sheep and oxen are not a realistic option. I bring an envelope with money.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Randy–
Ah, you see, we are commanded to stand before Him in prayer three times each day; so that gives us eighteen times each week on when we can have money on us and are able to give. It is only for the three services each Saturday and on Biblical festivals that we are prohibited from carrying money. I understand you not taking goats, sheep and oxen in spite of the commandment to which you refer, but I am surprised you ignore one other vital aspect of that particular instruction and that it to take your offering to Jerusalem. Why is that not part of your practice? Just wonderin’
Cordially
RDL

Heather says:

Thoughtful and thought-provoking as always. We had been giviing the full 10% to our church, and supporting a couple tour dues monthly on the side, but it would be interesting to take some of that 10% and decide as a family what to do with it so that the kids can see tithing in action and participate more. Things to think about for 2019. Thank you!

Susan Lapin says:

Heather, most people we know actually give more than 10%. My guess is you do too as you respond to various appeals. You might keep your tithe to the church and let your children participate in giving what is above that amount.

rocky knickerbocker says:

I too feel my charitable giving should be freely given and at or above the 10% level. I also wonder about my time. I am at church almost everyday, fixing this or that to make the ‘plant’ continue to operate. I enjoy this as I am a retired construction worker and love to solve problems. Does this ‘time giving’ count? Always wondered and thank you two for your words of wisdom.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

With all the churches at which I guest speak,
I can instantly tell which ones have a “Rocky” and which are sadly without! You are a blessing to your church.
Your time donated does count.
Cordially
RDL

Robyn says:

Great stuff! Thank you!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

You’re welcome, Robyn.

Lisa says:

Thank for posting the question and your answer. I have a lot to say, but I will keep it short.

Being from both sides of the church and the synagogue, this is my personal opinion.

Being a so called mega-church by size does not mean sufficient resources to cover the basics of operating a church. Many of well- known mega churches have gone bankrupt and are no longer in existence. Unless one is sure that everyone attending has always given, don’t just assume everything is financially sound.

Instead of using the word charity, I preferred the word justice. I like the idea of my tithes repairing damages and injustices in the world.

Having said that, I don’t believe it is necessary for one organization or individual to receive all my tithes. I do share my tithes with multiple individuals and organizations that also have need.

Also if one does not have money to tithe, volunteering your time and skills works just as well.

Isaac says:

I am a Pastor of a young pentecostal church. I pay my tithe to my pastor who is elderly and in need because he can’t do much. I also pay tithe to a child foundation that raises and educate orphan and needy children. I feel fulfilled in this and testify of God’s sufficiency in my home, ministry and business.
Rabbi, is there something more I need to know and do. I love your teachings and I am an ardent follower of your principles.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Isaac,
We don’t think there’s any more you need to know. In fact there are so many who need to learn what you know. Keep on pastoring with God’s blessing.
Cordially,
RDL

Mark says:

Until last year I gave 10% of what was left after the government took what they needed. Last year i started giving 10% before the government got their hands on it. It just didn’t seem right that the government should be getting more than our God.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Hello Mark
Thanks for writing and for displaying such an open handed nature. We can respond only with the viewpoint of ancient Jewish wisdom while acknowledging many other viewpoints. In Hebrew, the tithe (ma-ahser) is a tenth of your actual income. That means after tax income. This is why the government calls it withholding. It was withheld from you. It wasn’t yours. After tax income is yours. It’s a good idea to keep a full financial statement. For instance, let’s say you’re a baker with a delivery van. It keeps breaking down so you sell it for what you can and buy a new one. Is the income from the sale of the old van subject to tithe? Separate records for you and business will help you see that the answer is no. The argument of why should government get more than God could be extended. Why should you get more than God? So give a 90% tithe and keep 10%. You see how easily one can stray from what is proper. God bless you for your generosity. But like most everything, even generosity has boundaries. Depriving your family of its basic needs in order to be generous to causes, no matter how worthy the causes are is just plain wrong. Not what God asks for at all. I know you’re not doing that of course, but as we see it, there’s no rule that government taxation must be less than a tithe. Sadly, most governments have a voracious appetite for the bread earned by the sweat of citizens’ brows and we have little option but to live with it and try vote in legislators who truly desire to shrink the size, scope, and power of government. But until then, taxes are what they are and charity and tithing are what they are and the two don’t control one another.
Cordially,
RDL

Mary says:

Thank You for your biblical answer. This is why I listen to your podcasts, read your Thought Tools, and enjoy Susan’s Musings. I want the Ancient Jewish Wisdom answer, not a random answer pertaining to various religions which have no actual biblical basis for demanding tithing to only their organization and actually use the Malachi verses (Mal 3:8-10) to coerce giving with the threat of being cursed by our loving Lord!

By reason of this variance of teaching in Christian churches, I learned ancient Greek, because the Christian Bible is written in that language. The word tithing is not once mentioned as a command to Gentile Christians but only generous charitable giving from the heart. (Jewish believers of Jesus / Joshua were never told to forsake Moses, the traditions, or the covenant, fyi). Most churches base their teachings of ‘tithing’ very loosely on Torah. So when a question like tithing comes up, it is to find out what does Ancient Jewish Wisdom teach to find the truth. That’s why I need a rabbi!

Thank You again.

Rev. Sophia Snyder says:

I would rather be obedient to the whole counsel of God in His Word then fall short. I do take His Word seriously and if He said He would rebulke the devourer for my sake and for me not to rob Him then I will willingly give myself over to this principle. In my understanding tithing is to the storehouse (church, temple or fellowship where you are fed and led to have covering and fellowship and accountability) while alms is to the poor and this in my opinion is charity and giving is beyond and it gives us the measurable blessings that is attached to that. We can never out give God and I don’t tithe so I am not to be unselfish, etc. that is watering down the principle of tithing. God blesses us as in rain on the just and unjust a like, however the tithe is for those who are serious about His protection and partnering with Him on earth for His purposes, etc.

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