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The Tithe in the Bible

Section 8

The Talmud's Teaching
on First and Second Tithe

From the Jewish Talmud we get not only fuller and more detailed ideas of tithing during the period between the Old and New Testaments, but we learn also how this tithe practice was affecting the daily life of a religious Jew when Christianity appeared.

The Talmud contains the spoken or traditional law of the Jews, as distinguished from their law written. It is said by the Jews, that when God gave the written law on Mount Sinai, He delivered also to Moses, a number of precepts and explanations thereon, which were handed down by word of mouth to Joshua, to the seventy elders, to the men of the great synagogue, and so on to the great rabbis of a later period.

Whatever of truth there may be in this tradition, it is well known that much activity was manifested in collecting precepts and decisions about the law, with comments thereon by the rabbis, in the days of the Maccabees, or, say, the second century before the Christian era, though it was not until the second century after Christ, that the rabbinical rules, interpretations, and decisions, some four thousand in number, were codified, and arranged according to subjects, as we have them now.

The Talmud consists of a text called the Mishna, with comments called Gemara. The first division of the Mishna is on "Seeds," or matters relating to agriculture, of which the third, seventh, and eighth books respectively treat of doubtful matters connected with tithing; with the first or tithe proper, and with the second tithe. [The Mishna has been translated into Latin by Surenhusius, and into French by Schwab. Both are before me; but I shall attempt to translate, or in some cases to give the gist of, such sections only as are likely to serve our purpose in illustrating Jewish opinion and practice concerning tithe-paying.]

In Book 7 (chapter 1, section 1) on Maaseroth, or the first tithe, we find it stated as follows:

"This general rule has been handed down about the tithe: whatever serves for food, is worth keeping, and grows out of the ground, is subject to tithe: and another rule handed down is, that whatever is eatable at the beginning, as well as when fully grown, although customarily kept till it is mature, is subject to tithes, be it small or grown large. But when, in its early stages it is not an ordinary article of food, but becomes so later, it is not subject to tithe until fit to be eaten."

Section 2 determines from what time fruit becomes subject to tithe: for instance, figs, when they begin to ripen; grapes, when transparent; and mulberries, when they turn red, etc. The next section settles similar questions respecting black fruit generally; whilst section 4 names the time for tithing green vegetables, such as gourds, cucumbers, melons, etc.

Section 5-7 determine at what moment fruits are considered as gathered or harvested, and so tithable. For gourds and cucumbers it is when the down, or bloom, has gone off; or, this indication failing, when they are collected in heaps. Vegetables which are sold in bundles are tithable when packed and covered up. Dried pomegranates and raisins are tithable when heaped up; onions when they peel; corn when gathered; and wine when the froth of fermentation has risen.

Chapter 2 (sections 1-3) lays down, that if a man suspected of not paying his tithes offer figs in a public place, one may eat them; but if brought to the house, they must be tithed. Again, if persons seated before a door or shop offer figs, they may be eaten without scruple; but the proprietor himself, seated at home, must pay tithe for what he has gathered. Also, if one is carrying fruits from Galilee to Judea, for instance, or if one is going up to Jerusalem, he may eat of them on the road up to his destination, or on his return; and hawkers who sell in the towns may eat of their fruits up to the place where they spend the night, but then they must pay tithe.

Sections 4-8 set forth that when one says to another, "Take this penny [or Roman as] and give me five figs," they must not be eaten unless tithed; but that a man, if giving a penny to be allowed to select ten figs, may choose and consume them one by one without tithing. In the case of workmen employed in the field, it is a general rule that when the law allows eating, the tithe is waived, but not otherwise. Again, if figs for different purposes are exchanged for each other, tithe must be paid. Rabbi Judah says, however, if they exchange figs that can be readily eaten, they must be tithed, but not if they are under process of drying.

Chapter 12 (sections 1, 3, 7-10) provides that when figs are placed in a court-yard to dry, all the owner's family and his servants not on board wages, may eat without tithing; but if food is part of the servants' wages, they are not to eat (without tithing). So, if a man working amongst olive-trees eat olives one by one, he need not tithe; but must do so if he collects a number of olives. Similarly, if engaged to weed onions, and the workman bargain that he may eat the green leaves, he may pluck them singly and eat; but if he gather them into a bundle, he must pay tithe.

Products placed on watch-towers, sheds, and summer-houses are exempted from paying tithes.

If a fig-tree is planted in a court-yard, one may eat now and then without tithing; but if one gather several figs, they must be tithed. So, again, if a fig-tree planted in the yard leans toward the garden, one may eat without restriction; but if the tree stands in the garden and leans toward the courtyard, the figs may be eaten one by one not tithed, though not when several are gathered together. As for towns on the borders of Palestine, this question (of overhanging branches) is decided by the position of the trunk of the tree; but in the cities of refuge and at Jerusalem, by the direction of the branches.

The six sections of chapter IV provide, among other things, that he who preserves, cooks, or salts, fruits, must pay tithe; whilst he who places them underground (to keep) may eat without tithing. If children have buried figs in the field, to eat on the Sabbath, having omitted the tithe, they cannot, even on the evening after the Sabbath, eat them before the tithe is paid.

Again, if a man take olives from a basket and dip them one by one in salt, he may eat without tithing, but not if the olives have been salted already. Similarly, when leaning over a wine-press, one may drink the wine without tithing, whether mixed with warm water or cold; though some rabbis say that in either case the tithe should be paid.

By way of illustrating the minuteness to which these practices were regulated, it may be added that Rabbi Simeon, son of Gamaliel, lays it down that even little buds or sprays of fennel, mustard, and white beans, are liable to tithe.

Chapter 5 (sections 2-4, 7-8) states that if one pull turnips or radishes to transplant in the same field, or for the purpose of gathering or taking out seed, he owes the tithe.

Moreover, as soon as the products of the land have reached the period for tithing, they may not be sold to any one suspected of keeping back the tithe; nor, in the seventh year, to one suspected of non-observance of the Sabbatical year. Neither, again, ought one to sell straw in which grains of corn may be left, nor dregs of oil, nor grape-skins (for extraction of juice), to any one suspected of withholding tithes. If, notwithstanding, it should be done, tithe ought to be paid.

Even the holes of ants which may have passed a night near a heap of tithable produce are equally liable to the tithe, because it is well known that all through the night they are carrying it away to their nests.

Once more, strong garlic that makes the eyes water, the onion of Rikhta, peas of Cilicia, and lentils of Egypt; also the seeds of the slender leek, of watercress, onions, beet, and radishes -- in fact, seeds that are not eaten as such, are exempt from tithe.

This may suffice for extracts from Book V2of the Mishna concerning the first tithe, which contains in all forty sections; but of these I have alluded to about thirty only, thinking this well be enough to give an idea of Talmudic teaching on this part of our subject.

Let us now proceed to deal similarly with the book Maaser Sheni, or the Second Tithe, which has also five chapters and contains fifty-four sections. We read of the second tithe in Deuteronomy 14:22-27. It consisted of the yearly increase of the land, which was to be eaten with firstlings of herd and flock at the ecclesiastical metropolis; but if this place were too far from a man's home, he might turn his increase into money, and take the money to this central place of worship, and there spend it at the religious festivals.

Accordingly Chapter 1 begins: They do not sell the second tithes, nor pledge them, nor exchange, nor weigh anything against them as an equivalent; neither does any one say to his neighbor at Jerusalem, "Take of my wine and give me of your oil," or the like with other products. Men may, however, give to each other reciprocal presents.

Sections 2-4 and 7 lay down that it is not permissible to sell the tithe of living cattle nor to employ the price for betrothing a wife. Also, that it is not lawful to change the second tithe for defaced money or obsolete coins, nor for money not yet in possession.

If with the price of the second tithe a man purchase a beast to serve for a peace offering, or a wild animal for a banquet, the skin is to be considered profane. Moreover, that there is not to be bought with the price of the second tithe slaves, servants, lands, nor unclean animals. If notwithstanding, this should be done, the equivalent in value ought to be consumed at Jerusalem. So also, as a general rule, that there ought to be restored, by consuming the equivalent at Jerusalem, everything not serving for food, drink or anointing, which has been taken from the money of the second tithe.

Chapter 2 in its nine sections sets forth, among other things, that the second tithe ought to serve for food, drink, and anointing, the oil being perfumed at pleasure, but not the wine. Rabbi Simeon, however, as opposed to other rabbis, was of opinion that a man ought not to anoint himself at Jerusalem with oil of the second tithe.

With regard to money, if one should drop at the same moment ordinary coins and other coins representing the proceeds of the second tithe, what is gathered should first of all make up the amount of the tithe, and the rest should be applied to the other amount. Again, he who converts small coins of the second tithe into a shekel (for convenience of carriage) ought so to convert the whole; and if at Jerusalem one should convert a silver shekel into small money, the whole shekel should be changed into copper.

Chapter 12 (section 1) sets for that a man ought not to bid his neighbor carry fruits of the second tithe to Jerusalem, offering him as a recompense a part of the fruit; but that he should say, "Carry these to Jerusalem in order that we may eat and drink together." People might, however, make reciprocal presents.

Fruit having been brought to Jerusalem as second tithe might not be taken away again, though the money of the second tithe might. Again, fruit bought with the money of the second tithe, and which had become unclean, might be redeemed; though, according to Rabbi Judah, unclean fruit ought to be buried. Similarly, when a deer purchased with money of the second tithe had died, it should be buried in its skin. Rabbi Simeon, however, is of opinion that a man may redeem the carcass.

Chapter 4 provides that if one has brought fruits of the second tithe from a locality where they are dear, to a place where they are cheap, or vice versa, a man may redeem them at their price in the place of arrival, the profit, if any, going to the tithe. When one desires to redeem the second tithe at a low rate, the rate must be fixed at the cost price to a shopkeeper. When this price is well known, the valuation of a single person suffices; but if unknown, the estimates of three persons should be taken -- as, for instance, in the case of wine that has begun to turn sour, deteriorated fruit, or imperfect coins.

When a man redeems his second tithe he must add one-fifth to its value. Artifice, or evasion, is so far permitted in regard to the second tithe, that a man may give money to his adult son and daughter or his Hebrew servants, engaging them for that sum to redeem the second tithe (without adding the fifth); but he may not do so by his younger children or by Gentile slaves, because their hands are, as it were, his own.

Money that is found, no matter where, is considered profane, even if one find a piece of gold among silver and copper coins; but if one find among them a fragment, even of earthenware, whereon is written the word "tithe," the whole is sacred; or, again, if one find a vase with any of the Hebrew letters K, M, D. [These letters indicated, in times of persecution, the Hebrew words for sacrifice, tithe, doubtful tithe, etc.] inscribed, the vase may be considered profane.

The fifth chapter of the book on the second tithe has fifteen sections. Taking one here and there by way of illustration, we learn (section 1) that pious and conscientious persons deposited money during the Sabbatical year to redeem the four-year-old vines, declaring that all fruit gathered therefrom should be considered, by this money, redeemed. Also, (section 2) that the produce of vines of the fourth year was to be carried to Jerusalem from all suburbs within a day's journey.

Section 6 mentions that, on the eve of the Feast of the Passover, they proceed to the removing or bring away of all legal dues. Also (section 10) towards the hour of the evening sacrifice, on the last day of the feast, the declaration is made:

"I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house," Deuteronomy 26:13, (which, says the Mishna, means the second tithe); "and also have given them unto the Levite" (which applies to the Levitical tithe), "and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and the widow: (which comprises poor's tithe, gleanings, forgotten sheaves, and corners of the field)."

The Mishna adds that the not having carried out these precepts ought not to be an obstacle to the recitation of the formula. If, however, the second tithe has been levied before the first, the declaration ought not to be recited; nor if a person has infringed the commandment, "I have not eaten thereof in my mourning," Deuteronomy 26:14. Neither, again, should the declaration be made by proselytes or freed slaves, who have no share in the land.

The Mishna also observes that John Hyrcanus (high-priest B.C. 135) abolished the recitation of the declaration which accompanied the offering of the tithes; adding, too, that under him none had need to seek information on the demai (tithe) or doubtful points of tithing.


The Tithe in Scripture
by Henry Lansdell
Section 1
Cain and Abel
Section 4
Mosaic Offerings
Section 7
Tithing in
the Apocrypha
Section 10
Christ's Attitude
on Tithing
 
Section 2
Abraham and Jacob
Section 5
The tithe from
Joshua to Solomon
Section 8
Talmudic Teaching
on First and Second Tithe
Section 11
Christ's Teaching
on the Tithe
 
Section 3
The Three Tithes of Israel
Section 6
Tithing before
and after Captivity
Section 9
The Demai or
Doubtful Tithe
Section 12
Early Giving
by Christians
 
Section 13
Apostle Paul's Teaching


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