Orthodox Jews consider God the ultimate benefactor. Everything comes from God. The initial laws regarding taking a tenth of all a person earns are derived from Biblical times when tithing was done on crops, herds and money. Until the rebuilding of the final Holy Temple tithing is done with money a person earns and is considered a pivotal mitzvah -commandment- in Jewish life.
Derivation of Tithing
Titihing in the Jewish religion is called giving maaser. The mitzvah -commandment- is described in every one of the Five Books of Moses and the Writings as a way to show gratitude to God for crops, herds and money received. A person who benefited from the crops, animals or money would bring one tenth or one twentieth of everything to the Holy Temple. The offerings were sacrificed to show gratitude to God and most given to the priests and teachers so they could continue to teach and spiritually care for the rest of the Jews. After the two Temples were destroyed the equivalent of tithing began to be done on money. This is donated to people and institutions that help the less fortunate.
What is Considered Tithing
Orthodox Jews recognize God as the Creator and Dispenser of all, they regard the obligation to tithe as distributing that which God has allowed them to use in this world. Giving between ten and twenty percent of all after tax income to those who are in need is considered appropriate. Ten percent is the minimum required by Jewish law with twenty percent being the more appropriate amount. The complex laws pertaining to tithing are in the Books of Moses, the Talmud as well as the Ethics of the Fathers. In every Orthodox home there will be an array of charity boxes into which money is placed for various organisations. It is customary to add something to the charity boxes before lighting the Sabbath candles.
Most commandments are done without regard to reward in this world. However Torah sages state that God will reward us in this life if we do particular deeds of kindness. Orthodox Jews understand that correctly giving of tzedukah -charity- can reverse heavenly decrees (such as illness or loss of wages) against a person or his family. It can even reverse the fate of an entire community. In fact, the prophet Malakai states the following; "Bring all the tithes into the treasury so that there may be nourishment in My House. Test Me, if you will, with this, says the Lord, [see] if I will not open for you the windows of the heavens and pour down for you blessing until there be no room to suffice for it." In other words if a Jewish person tends to those less fortunate and honors those studying the Torah he will be rewarded in this life as well as in the afterlife.
How to Give Charity
Parents, children and siblings in the family who are in need have first priority. Torah scholars, especially those studying in Israel, are important. Community members who are less fortunate also have priority. Community organisations such as free loan societies or those institutions that teach Torah are next on the list. If a pay check is $300.00 after taxes the amount of the tithe would be between $30.00 and $60.00. This would then be divided amongst the people and organisations to which you want to support. The way tzrduakh is given is also very important especially when given to individuals. Care must be taken not to embarrass the recipient. If it can be given through a third party that is the most optimal way of giving so that the person does not know who the donor is. You could pay a person's electric or grocery bill. If the person has a family you could arrange to have food delivered to the house. If you explain the situation to the butcher or grocer most people in the Orthodox community will be willing to add something to help a family in need. A person could give the money to an organisation such as Tomchei Shabbos which makes sure that people having a difficult time have food for the week as well as the Sabbath.
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