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Mitt Romney’s Tithes

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons; Feb 5, 2012 at 03:43:36 AM

Mitt contributor Yvette Alt Miller notes that with the release of Mitt Romney's income tax records, a spotlight has been thrown onto the whole concept of “tithing.” In a world where charitable giving is low (3.1% of people's income, on average, in the U.S.), Romney donating 10% of his income was big news.

Though donating 10% is also a widespread Jewish practice, it seems that nobody bothered to tell the media.

"Tithing is an ancient practice in the Hebrew Bible," the New York Times reported, "but is rarely observed now" outside of the Mormon community.

The Los Angeles Times went further, offering a pseudo-scientific overview of religious views of charity, and – at least in the case of Judaism – getting it utterly wrong. "Jews have no fixed amount of giving to charity, and usually make their major offerings to synagogues to buy seats for the High Holy Days," wrote the Times, suggesting that Jews pay to recite prayers in synagogue!

The view that Judaism doesn't emphasize charity is inside-out. The original concept of Ma'aser (literally "one tenth," hence the English word "tithe") comes straight from the Hebrew Bible, based on Leviticus 25:35, Deut. 14:22 and Deut. 15:7-8 which implores us to “Open your hand generously.”

The Bible is filled with examples: Abraham gave Malki-Tzedek one-tenth of all his possessions (Genesis 14:20); Jacob vowed to give one-tenth of all his future acquisitions (Genesis 29:22); and tithes are mandated to support the Levites (Numbers 18:21, 24) and the poor (Deut. 26:12).

These guidelines are practiced by Jews all over the world. Studies show that Jews have significantly higher rates of charitable giving than the general population, and rates of giving increase among those Jews who are more traditionally affiliated.

U.S. President Herbert Hoover said in 1923:

"I have frequently had cause to comment upon the extraordinary generosity and liberality of the American Jews in their charitable contributions. Indeed, their voluntary contributions exceed that of any other American group, and range from the stinted savings of the poorest workman to the full outpouring of those in more fortunate positions." (cited in Ada Sterling, The Jew and Civilization, 1924)

So the question remains: Who should we give to, and what’s the best way of doing so? For an excellent overview of the guidelines to Jewish charitable giving, see Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s “World Repairs” on

So you see, it's not only Mitt Romney who tithes. A little credit to the Jewish originators!

February 5, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Anonymous, February 7, 2012 4:48 AM


There is more tithing....if we read the bible, and want to practice what we learn, we ten years one year salary... giving to the is an honor and becomes easier as you unto Ha Shem, but you need His wisdom where to give to...anna

(1) Jeff Misrahi, February 6, 2012 6:07 PM

Maimonides & the 8 levels of Charity 8. When donations are given grudgingly. 7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully. 6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked. 5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked. 4. When the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor does not know the identity of the recipient. 3. When the donor is aware of the recipient's identity, but the recipient is unaware of the source. 2. When the donor and recipient are unknown to each other. 1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

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