Friday, April 3, 2015

Fact-Checking the Torah -- What tithes?

For this week you were supposed to read Deuteronomy 8:8, Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 24:19, Deuteronomy 14:23-29, and Numbers 18:21, 26.  These are the verses that discuss tithes other than animals.
The first urban legend to bust is that tithes were due to the priests from everything a person owned.  I apologize if that’s a strawman argument. Tithes were owed from whatever grew from the ground – fruit, grain, vegetables – and was food for people – unlike weeds, thistles, thorns – and was harvested all at once – unlike dark leafy greens which you pick as they ripen – and could be stored up – again, unlike greens which rot.  Mishnah clarified: the seven famous products of the Holy Land – wheat, barley, figs, dates, grapes (wine), olives, and pomegranates – plus spelt, oats, rye, carob, and nuts.
The second urban legend to bust is that the priests stalked the fields waiting for their tithes to be handed to them.  Mishnah gives the specification: the tithes for the priests were not due to them until “the pile was smoothed over,” that is, at the end of harvest.
I guess there’s really a third urban legend here, which is that the priests got their tithes first.  The first things to ripen are bikkurim and they don’t really count as tithes, they count as the firstlings of plants.
Jewish law counted as tithe things given to the poor: the corners of the fields that they reaped for themselves; the forgotten sheaves of grain or fruit on the trees; the gleanings from what the reapers dropped; the poor clusters of grapes.  Respectively these are called peah, shichkah, leqet, and olelot. These can account for up to 5% of grain and beans, fruit and vegetables, and 2.5% of grapes.
The priests and Levites get 10% of the remainder, and the poor get another 10% in years 3 and 6 of the seven-year shemittah cycle.  In years 1, 2, 4, and 5 the owner takes 10% to Jerusalem to eat.
Finally, and this goes with something I pointed out last week, if the priest claimed that somebody hadn’t given tithes, he had to prove it in court. 
The only sanctions for not taking tithes were a drop in sales.  If a person bought from somebody who wasn’t trustworthy about tithes, the buyer had to take out the tithes based on the quantity purchased.  Who is going to spend money and then have to give away part of what they buy? 
I guess that's enough of the specifics, now let's look at the philosophy behind laws.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights  Reserved  

No comments:

Post a Comment