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.
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 (4:24)1 and is the central theme of the opening message of the Book of Isaiah.
In the opening chapter of the Book of Isaiah, the prophet declares how the act of feeding the poor and downtrodden expiates man’s iniquities.
The prophet 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 16 verse, however, the prophet unexpectedly soothes his wayward nation. He explores both the essence of atonement and the way to achieve it. Isaiah assures his wayward people that if they turn from their sinful ways by caring for the 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.
Rabbi Tovia Singer