Here is what I mean…
As concerns obligation, Judaism acknowledges that the tithe laws of the Torah are partially inapplicable today. The laws as given concern Israel in the land supporting the Temple and priesthood.
But there is no functional priesthood now and no Temple to support.
Thus, Judaism has adapted the second tithe to fulfill the highest ideal of Torah. Whereas in Temple times, the second tithe was for a communal meal in years one, two, four, and five, and set aside for the poor in years three and six, it is now the case that the tithe is to be given to the poor in every year. But what about the seventh year? Since our modern lives involve income in every year, as opposed to the system in agricultural Israel where the seventh year had no harvest, the obligation to give a tithe is every year. Additionally, the shmittah (Sabbath year) and yovel (Jubilee year) legislation assumes the people of Israel living in the land, and they are based on the idea of God blessing the land to miraculously provide for the fallow fields. So any application of the second tithe (for the poor) cannot be combined with a practice of Sabbath years outside of the land.
Thus, in Judaism, the tithe law is applied as giving to the poor at all times and giving between a tenth and a fifth. It is considered an obligation to give a tenth to charity. And charity is prioritized, first to family in need, then to local needs, then to needs in Israel, and last to organizations and charities.
In Protestant Christianity, however, there is a rule that a tithe is given to the local church. This rule, for most denominations, is not written or enforced. Few actually follow the rule.
Protestants are intelligent people. It is not hard to see the difference between a local church and the Temple of Israel, between a pastor and the Levitical priest.
Protestants are intelligent people. It is not hard to see the inequity in the claim that the Law is abolished in contrast to the preaching from the pulpit that one law, at least, is sacrosanct: the law of tithing to the local church. Sermons insisting that the rigorous application of the law from Malachi should be applied in slightly changed form (storehouse now equals the church bank account) fall largely on deaf ears.
Protestants are intelligent people who realize that many of the laws of Torah were given for Israel and not for Gentiles. This is not only good interpretation of the books of Moses, but is in the New Testament too, in Paul’s letters and in Acts 15. How is it that churches make an exception for the tithe law?
Support for the Congregation and Clergy
The actual law that most religious people follow is not a strict application of the tithe re-applied to the church or synagogue.
Rather, it is that we need to support our congregation and clergy. We benefit from having teachers who inspire and motivate us. We benefit from buildings and personnel and all the trapping that make community possible.
One of the weaknesses of alternative forms of community (house churches, cell groups, alternative minyans, havurot) is that they do not provide for several things: serious research and teaching, an enduring tradition, continuity and perpetuity, and more. A group meeting in a home and led by lay-people has the advantage of freedom and spontaneity. But if everyone adopts these alternative forms, theological study will come to a standstill. Religion will devolve into the least common denominator in terms of intelligence and attractiveness to moderns. The sheep will be left with gleanings instead of a rich harvest.
Who hasn’t been part of an informal group where the level of learning was less than satisfying because “everyone here is equal”? So uninformed people come together to discuss a text and everyone leaves just as ignorant as they came.
And as much as we distrust institutions, synagogues and churches are here for the long-haul. Informal groups come and go. If we ignore our urges to worship God for a time, we know the church or synagogue will be there if we ever decide we need them. Will we find the living room liturgy group when we have a need? Will some lay-leader be available when we experience the death of a loved one and want an experience of divine comfort?
In Judaism, the actual rule followed is simple: pay your synagogue dues and give to fundraising programs to keep the community strong.
In Protestant Christianity, the actual rule followed is reflected in the New Testament:
–the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop (1 Cor. 9:10).
–Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
Giving to the congregation is based on need, not on a rule of ten percent. Giving is to keep our community strong and to have the benefits of inspiration, challenge, comfort, faith, friends, and hope.
Should we be afraid that people will give less if they do it out of free-will and in order to keep the blessing of congregational life alive? Not at all. But if in Christian and Messianic Jewish circles we will remove the false guilt of a law that does not exist, we may see people more excited to give now they do not feel like failures from the get-go.