"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

Question:

Dear Rabbi,

I was watching a television evangelist one Sunday, and something he said really struck me.  According to him, unless people pay tithes they will suffer.  Actually his words were that they would “get their butts kicked by life.”  I was horrified, Rabbi.  Would you tell me what Judaism teaches about tithing and its purpose.

Thank you.

Answer:

It is a mitzvah (commandment) from the Torah for every Jew — whether impoverished or wealthy — to give ten percent of his income to charity.  This act of giving alms to the poor is held in high esteem by the Jewish people.  Moreover, the Bible teaches us that this mitzvah acts as an atonement for sin.  This message is declared to Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel (4:241) and is the central theme of the opening message of the Book of Isaiah.

In the beginning of the Book of Isaiah, the prophet declares how alms to the poor and downtrodden expiates man’s iniquities.  The first chapter of Isaiah begins with a harsh condemnation of the nation of Israel.  Few chapters in the Bible are as brutally critical of the Jewish people as Isaiah is in the beginning of his first chapter.  In the 16th verse, however, the prophet almost unexpectedly soothes his wayward nation by teaching them both the essence of atonement and the way to achieve it.  He assures the nation of Israel that if they turn from their sinful ways and care for the downtrodden, their sins will be forgiven.  Isaiah’s message, like that of the other Jewish prophets, stands in stark contrast to the declaration in the Book of Hebrews that “without the shedding of blood there is no atonement.”2

As an aside, I find this Christian pastor’s message that those who fail to tithe will “suffer” to be rather puzzling.  According to mainline Protestant theology, salvation cannot be achieved through any form of  “works” or deeds.  Tithing would certainly fall into this category of works.  There is little doubt that this church leader is attempting to instill fear within the congregation in order to secure some rather plump offerings.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Tovia Singer


Footnotes:

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1 “Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you.  Atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.”  This verse appears as 4:27 in a Christian Bible.

2 Hebrews 9:22.

 

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