15 million Ukrainian are displaced by Russia's war.
Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


Additional Links

The tenth part of anything, appropriated as tax or sacrifice.

—Biblical Data:

Tithing one's possessions was a very ancient custom, existing as early as the time of the Patriarchs. Abraham gave Melchizedek "tithes of all" (Genesis 14:20); and Jacob made a vow that if he should return to his father's house in safety he would acknowledge Yhwh as his Lord and would give Him a tenth of everything he possessed (ib. 28:20-22). Later the Mosaic law made the tithe obligatory upon the Israelites. The tithe, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, belonged to Yhwh and consequently was holy. It was redeemable by "adding thereto the fifth part thereof." The tithe of cattle, however, was not redeemable; and if one beast was exchanged for another both became holy unto the Lord. The method of levying the tithe of cattle is indicated: they were counted singly; and every tenth one that passed under the rod became the tithe animal (Leviticus 27:30-33).

There is apparently a discrepancy between the Book of Numbers and that of Deuteronomy with regard to the tithe. In Numbers 18:21-26 it is stated that "all the tenth in Israel" is given to the Levites "for an inheritance"; as they had no part in theland, the tithe was to be their principal source of sustenance. On the other hand, the Levites themselves were required to give the priests a tenth of all the tithes received by them. Deuteronomy 14:22-29, however, enjoins the annual tithing of the increase of the field only; this was to be eaten before the Lord, that is to say, in the city in which the Temple was built. But if the distance to such city was so great as to render the transportation of all the tithes impracticable, the people might convert the tithe into money and spend the sum in the city on eatables, etc. ("whatsoever thy soul desireth"; ib. verse 26). Every third year the tithes were not to be carried to the city of the Temple, but were to be stored at home ("within thy gates"), and "the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow" were to "eat and be satisfied" (ib. verse 29). It is to be concluded that, the seventh year being a Sabbatical year and no tithing being permissible therein, the tithe of the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of every cycle of seven years had to be brought to the Temple and eaten by the landowner and his family, while the tithe of the third and sixth years was to be left at home for the poor.

The third year was called the year of tithing; and after the distribution of the tithe among the Levites and others, the landowners were required to announce solemnly before the Lord that they had observed all the laws connected therewith, concluding such declaration with a prayer for God's blessing (ib. 26:12-15). A mourner was not allowed to eat the tithe, nor might one employ it for any unclean use, nor give it for the dead.

Samuel informed the Israelites that they would have to give a tenth of everything to the king (1 Samuel 8:15,17). When the Israelites afterward fell into idolatry, they continued to bring their tithes to the temple of their idols; but they seem to have adopted another system of offering them (comp. Amos 4:4, Hebr. and R. V.). King Hezekiah again imposed the tithe on his subjects; and the people of Judah brought it in abundance, apparently for the use of the Levites. Indeed, the quantity was so great that the king ordered special chambers in the Temple to be prepared for its reception (2 Chronicles 31:6-12). The same arrangement was made later by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 10:39, 13:12).

M. Sel.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

According to the Rabbis, the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy are complementary to each other (see see comp. Tithe, Biblical Data); consequently there can be no contradiction between them. Thus there were three kinds of tithes: (1) that given to the Levites as stated in Numbers 18:21 et seq., and termed "the first tithe" ("ma'aser rishon"); (2) the tithe which was to be taken to Jerusalem and there consumed by the landowner and his family, and which was termed "the second tithe" ("ma'aser sheni"), it being taken from what remained after the first tithe had been appropriated; and (3) that given to the poor ("ma'aser 'ani"). Therefore two tithes were to be taken every year except in the seventh year: Nos. 1 and 2 in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years; Nos. 1 and 3 in the third and sixth years.

The Tithing Year.

The Rabbis inferred from Deuteronomy 14:22 that each tithe was to be taken of every year's produce separately, whether of crops, of cattle, or of anything else subject to tithing (Sifre, Deut. 105; Ter. 1:5; R. H. 8a, 12b). Also they fixed a particular day to mark the beginning of the year for tithing. The first of Elul according to R. Meïr, or the first of Tishri according to R. Eleazar and R. Simeon, is the new year for the tithing of cattle; the first of Tishri, for the produce of the land; the first of Shebaṭ according to the school of Shammai, or the fifteenth of Shebaṭ according to the school of Hillel, for the fruit of the trees (R. H. 1:1). The removal of the tithes and the recitation of the confession (comp. Deuteronomy 26:12 et seq.) must take place on the eve of the Passover festival of the fourth and seventh years of every cycle of seven years. Although the removal is mentioned only with regard to the tithe of the poor, the Rabbis concluded that the other two tithes must also be cleared away at the same time (Sifre, Deut. 109). The Rabbis fixed the following rules by which one might distinguish tithable produce: it must be eatable, the property of an individual, and the product of the soil. Fruit must be ripe enough to be eaten; when one eats untithed fruit in an immature state, he is not guilty of having transgressed the Law (Ma'as. 1:1 et seq.). As appears from the Bible, the law of tithing was originally to be applied in Palestine only; the Prophets, however, ordained that tithing should be observed in Babylonia also, it being near Palestine. The earlier rabbis applied the law of tithing to Egypt and to the lands of Ammon and Moab (Yad. 4:3); and the scribes seem to have instituted tithes in Syria (Dem. 6:11; comp. Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 331, 1 et seq.).

Merit of the Tithe.

The Rabbis emphasize in more than one instance the importance of tithes. Tithing is one of the three things through the merit of which the world was created (Gen. R. 1:6), and by virtue of which the Israelites obtain from God their desire (Pesiḳ. 11:96b; Tan., Re'eh). Through the merit of tithes, also, the Israelites after death escape the punishment which the wicked suffer for twelve months in hell (Pesiḳ. 11:97b-98a; Midr. Mishle ). The Patriarchs observed the law of tithing, concerning which statement there are two different accounts: (1) Abraham offered the first tithe, Isaac brought the heave-offering for the priests ("terumah gedolah"), and Jacob brought the second tithe (Pesiḳ. R. 25 [ed. Friedmann, p. 127b]); (2) Abraham presented the heave-offering, Isaac offered the second tithe, and Jacob brought the first one (Pesiḳ. 11:98a; comp. Gen. R. 64:6; Num. R. 12:13; Pirḳe R. El. , ). He who partakes of fruit that has not been tithed is like one who eats carrion; and Judah ha-Nasi's opinion is that one who eats fruit of which the tithe for the poor has not been appropriated is deserving of death (Pesiḳ. 11:99a, b). One of the interpretations of Proverbs 30:4 is that he who fulfils the duty of tithing causes rain to fall, and that he who fails therein causes drought (Yalḳ., Prov. 962). Non-fulfilment of the law of tithing brings hurricanes (Midr. Teh. to Psalms 18).

The tithe for the poor gave rise to the tithingof one's earnings, with the object of distributing among the needy the sum so appropriated. This is inferred in Sifre (quoted in Tos. to Ta'an. 9a) from Deuteronomy 14:22, and is therefore considered as an obligation imposed by the Mosaic law ("Ṭure Zahab" to Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 249, 1; comp. Isaiah Horwitz, "Shene Luḥot ha-Berit," and Joseph Hahn, "Yosef Omeẓ," p. 176, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1723). Joel Sirkes in his "Bayit Ḥadash" (to Shulḥan 'Aruk, c.), however, thinks that tithing one's earnings is simply a custom and is not obligatory either under the Mosaic or under the rabbinical law. The whole of the tithe must be given to the poor; and no part of it may be appropriated to any other religious purpose (Shulḥan 'Aruk, c., Isserles' gloss).

W. B.
M. Sel.

—Critical View:

There are evidently two conflicting sources with regard to tithes. D mentions only the tithes of corn, wine, and olive-oil, which were to be levied every year and to be eaten by the landowner in the Holy City in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of every Sabbatical cycle, while in the third and sixth years they were to be distributed among the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows (Deuteronomy 12:16, 14:22 et seq.). P, on the other hand, destines this tithe for the Levites (Numbers 18:21 et seq.); and, in a probably late addition (Leviticus 27:30-33), tithing is extended to the fruit of the trees and to cattle also. It is true that in D the Levites, too, have a share in the tithe (Deuteronomy 12:18; comp. 14:27); but the owner's invitation to the Levite to partake thereof seems to have been voluntary. It may be noticed that in the priestly part of the Book of Ezekiel (44:15 et seq.) there is no mention whatever of a tithe appointed for the Levites. Nehemiah instituted such a tithe; and he directed that the Levites should give a tithe of their portions to the priests (Tithe, Biblical Data). Hence it may be concluded that the passages in Numbers and Leviticus regarding tithes were written under the influence of the Book of Nehemiah.

That the tithe spoken of in D, and which is termed by the Rabbis "the second tithe" (Tithe in Rabbinical Literature), is more ancient has been concluded by W. R. Smith ("Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., pp. 245 et seq.), who, moreover, thinks that in earlier times the tribute was not a fixed amount, but that it took the form of first-fruits, and that at a later period a tithe was fixed to provide the public banquets at sacred festivals. Subsequently the tithe became the prerogative of the king (1 Samuel 8:15,17); but from the Book of Amos (4:4) it appears that in the time of that prophet the Israelites paid tithes for the use of their sanctuaries in the Northern Kingdom, as, similarly, in the Persian period the tithes were converted to the use of the Temple of Yhwh (Malachi 3:8-10). Those instituted by Nehemiah for payment to the Levites were a development of the heave-offering ("terumah") given to the priests. Not only do the terms "terumah" and "ma'aser" often occur together in the Old Testament, but it is stated in Nehemiah 10:37 et seq. that the Levites were required to collect their tithes under the supervision of a priest. R. Eleazar b. Azariah held that the first tithe might also be paid to the priest (Yeb. 86b).

Comparing verse 30 with verse 32 of Leviticus 27, it may be concluded that the tithe of cattle was to go to the priests or the Levites. This was the opinion of Philo ("De Prœmiis Sacerdotum," § 2 [ed. Mangey, 2:234]); but the Rabbis refer the whole passage to the second tithe (Sifre, Deut. 63; Ḥag. 1:4; Men. 7:5).

M. Sel.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Tithe'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Next Entry