June 24, 2010
Tithing: Not Less, Not More
Rabban Gamliel taught:
“Make for yourself a teacher, remove yourself from doubt, and do not tithe more through estimation.” Avot 1:16.
In other words, Rabbi Gamliel is saying that tithing (giving a one tenth portion, e.g., of certain foods) as a charitable offering is an exact duty, and one should not estimate even if one is errs on the side of giving more.
This is strange – why shouldn’t one give more? Isn’t more charity better? But it seems that this is not a free will offering of the heart, but an obligation, and is therefore best done with precision. Perhaps Gamliel is concerned that if one gives too much for a required giving, he will come to resent the requirement, and resent G-d.
Elsewhere, the Talmud teaches that there are other things that have no measure: leaving unharvested the corners of the field (and anything harvested that falls out of your hands) for the poor to harvest, the giving of the first-fruits, the pilgrimage, acts of kindness, and Torah study. Mishnah Peah 1:1. These are forms of giving that are unmeasured and unlimited.
Ayin Tove is a contributing writer for Gather The Jews and is an attorney for the federal government.