The poor tithe, or poor man's tithe (Hebrew: מַעְשַׂר עָנִי ma'sar ani), also referred to as the pauper's tithe or the third tithe, reflects an obligation to set aside one tenth of produce grown in the third and sixth years of the seven-year sabbatical cycle for the benefit of the Levites and the poor, in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem.
In the Hebrew Bible
The poor tithe is discussed in the Book of Deuteronomy:
- At the end of three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall lay it up inside your gates; And the Levite, because he has no part nor inheritance with you, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are inside your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” (Deuteronomy 14:28)
- When you have finished tithing all the tithes of your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give them to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, so that they can eat to satiety in your cities. (Deuteronomy 26:12)
The early rabbis, the Tannaim and Amoraim, understood these texts as describing two separate tithes: the first tithe (Hebrew: מעשר ראשון ma'aser rishon) to be given to the Levites and the second tithe (Hebrew: מעשר שני ma'aser sheni) in Leviticus 27:30 to be kept by its owner and to be eaten in Jerusalem, except in the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle, when instead of separating the second tithe, the poor tithe (ma'sar ani) was separated and given to the poor. The medieval commentator Rashi also interprets Deuteronomy 26:12 as referring to the third year, when the first tithe was given to the Levite and the poor tithe was given to "the stranger, the orphan, and the widow".
In the Works of Flavius Josephus
In the writings of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, as referenced in the Antiquities of the Jews, book IV chapter 8, Josephus refers to the first, second, and third tithe. The third tithe was to be brought to the Levites, every third and sixth year of the seven year Sabbath cycle. The distribution of which to be given to those in need or want, especially widow women and orphan children.
In the Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud states in Eruvin 29a:
“The general rule is that the produce [that one sets aside for the Poor Tithe] should be enough to provide two meals”
The Babylonian Talmud also records:
- Come, learn: two brothers; two partners; a father and son; a teacher and his student; can redeem ma'aser sheni one for the other and can feed one another ma'sar ani. But if you say "from the son", this one will be found paying his obligation from the poor... Rabbi Yehudah says, "May a curse befall one who feeds his father out of Paupers' Tithe:” (Kiddushin 32a)
indicating that while the poor man's tithe technically could be used to feed one's father, one should not feed his poor father ma'sar ani, so as not to embarrass one's father. The son should try his best to care for his father out of his other property. The exchange is recorded in the context of a discussion of the commandment of honoring one's parents.
The Jerusalem Talmud Gemara to Tractate Pe'ah 1:1 (which does not have a Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud) discusses the maximum amount of one's income/money one can give to the poor and determines that one should not give more than one fifth of his possessions so he does not become poor himself. This Gemara and a discussion in Sifrei are quoted extensively by later Jewish sages who discussed an ancient custom of tithing 10% of one's income for charity. This tithe, known as ma'sar kesafim, has become a universal obligation in Jewish Law.
In Orthodox Judaism
There was no mechanism for collection of the poor tithe after 135 A.D., but Orthodox Judaism still regards tithe obligations as residing in produce grown in the Land of Israel. Contemporary practice is to set aside terumah, separate first tithe (ma'aser rishon), separate terumat ma'aser, then redeem second tithe (ma'aser sheni) with a coin (on years that do not coincide with ma'sar ani). The coin can be a minimal amount capable of purchasing food and need not be the value of the produce. When the value of the coin is "filled", the coin can be redeemed on a coin of higher value or discarded in a way that prevents its future use. Terumah and terumat ma'aser must be discarded in a manner consistent with their sanctity.
Orthodox Judaism regards it as meritorious to discharge one's poor tithe obligation additionally by giving a portion of one's income, ideally a tenth, to charity.
- Tithes in Judaism
- Heave offering: Teruma gedola
- First tithe: Ma'aser rishon
- Second tithe: Ma'aser sheni
- Terumat hamaaser
- Zakat: alms and tithing in Islam
- Sirach, scrolls, and sages p185 ed. T. Muraoka, John F. Elwolde - 1999 "and honouring God was expressed, inter alia, by paying one's dues to the priesthood and by setting aside the 'pauper's tithe'"
- David Instone-Brewer Traditions of the Rabbis from the Era of the New Testament Page 321 2004 "The rabbis understood these texts as describing two separate tithes: the first tithe (maaser rishon) which was for the Levites and the second tithe (maaser sheni) which was for eating in Jerusalem except every third year when it became the poor tithe (maaser ani). The passage in Leviticus 27 is traditionally interpreted as referring to second tithe because it speaks about redeeming the tithed produce, which was necessary only for second tithe."
- Rashi (in Hebrew). Commentary on Deuteronomy 26:12. Wikisource.
- Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Wikisource.
- Talmud of Babylonia: An American translation : Volume XXIV ed. Jacob Neusner - 1992 "... not been removed, from which poor tithe also had not been removed, is flogged."
- Imperialism and Jewish society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. p228 Seth Schwartz - 2004 "That there was any mechanism for the collection and distribution of the poor tithe after 135, for instance,"