The demai, or doubtful tithe -- Its exemptions, differences, and minute requirements -- Its bearing on the uneducated, on buying and selling, exchange of corn, payment of rent, and acceptance of hospitality -- Four tithes recognized in the Talmud, and their application to all classes -- Antiquity of Talmudic by-laws, and their influence when Christianity appeared.
THERE is a book in the Mishna called Demai, which in point of order comes before the books on the first and second tithes, but which for our present purpose has been reserved till now. [Demai, according to Maimonides (Surenhusius, vol. i. p. 76, col. 2) is a word signifying that about which there is a doubt whether from it should be offered gifts to God; and he adds that it was an obligation to render 1 percent, or a tenth of a tenth, to the priest, after which they separated the second tithe, which the owner consumed at Jerusalem.]
Chapter I begins by naming certain things, which by reason of their trifling value are exempted from the Demai tithe, such as inferior figs, artichokes, service-berries, shriveled dates, late grapes, wild grapes, and buds of capers, coriander, etc.
After this it is pointed out that the demai tithe differs from the other tithes, because among other things, when redeeming it, a fifth need not be added, nor need it be brought out of the house as prescribed in Deuteronomy 26:13. Again, persons in mourning might eat thereof, Deuteronomy 26:13, it might not only be brought to Jerusalem, but carried away again; a small quantity left on the road was treated as lost; it might be given to a non-tithe payer or "a man of the land" (that is an ignorant or uninstructed person); and, once more, the money received therefore might be used for profane purposes.
Chapter II (section 2) says, that he who undertakes (before witnesses) to deserve universal confidence with regard to tithes ought to be careful not only to pay the tithe upon what he eats, but also on what he sells, or buys to sell again to others; and he ought not to accept hospitality at the house of a person uninstructed in rabbinical tithe-paying (lest he should eat of anything not tithed).
Again, he who engages to adopt the pure and scrupulous manner of life of a companion of wise men, ought not to sell to an uninstructed person either soft fruit, or dry; he does not purchase of him green products; he does not accept hospitality of an uninstructed person, neither does he invite such an one to his own house (because of his communicating uncleanness even by his dress).
Retail shopkeepers (section 4) are not authorized to sell products subject to demai, but wholesale dealers may do so (it being taken for granted that owing to the larger quantity, the purchaser will have paid the proper dues).
Chapter III (sections 2-3, 6) directs that he who wishes to cut the green leaves from bundles of vegetables, to lighten what he has to carry, ought not to throw the leaves away before levying the tithe thereon (so that no one, finding them, may eat unlawfully). Again, he who buys green vegetables, and then, changing his mind, wishes to return them, must tithe them before so doing. Also, fruit found on the road may be eaten at once, but not put aside to be kept, before paying the tithe. Even he who delivers to his mother-in-law fruits to cook or prepare, ought to levy the (demai) tithe on what he gives to and receives from her.
In Chapter IV (sections 2, 7-8) we read that if an "uninstructed" person adjure his companion by vow to eat with him, the companion, though not sure about his host paying tithe, may eat with him for one week, provided the host assures his guest that the demai tithe has been paid; but that in the second week he must not eat with him unless the guest has paid the tithe.
Again, if a man commissions a person untrustworthy in the matter of tithes to buy fruits from some one worthy of confidence, he must not, for all that, rely on his messenger; but if the employer orders him to go definitely to such and such a person, he may then believe the messenger. Nevertheless, if after going to the person mentioned he says on his return, "Not having met the individual to whom I was sent, I went to another equally worthy of confidence," the messenger's opinion is not to be regarded as sufficient.
So also, if a traveler enter a town wherein he knows no one, and inquires, "Who is trustworthy? Who pays tithes?" and if a man reply, "I am not considered trustworthy, but such and such a one is," the stranger may believe him.
Section 7 states: If two donkey-drivers enter a town and one of them says, "My fruits have not been tithed, but my companion's have," one ought not take his word (because his testimony may be given by collusion).
Chapter V (sections 4, 5, 8) says that he who buys bread from a retail bread-seller ought to tithe each loaf. Again, he who buys from a poor man, or even a poor man himself who shall have received pieces of bread or fragments of fig-cake, ought to tithe each piece separately; but in the case of dates or figs the portion due may be taken collectively.
He who buys from two places different products which have been declared untithed may levy from one purchase so much as will suffice for the other; but notwithstanding this, it is well understood that a man ought not to sell untithed products, except in case of urgent necessity.
A man (section 9) may use corn bought from an Israelite to redeem corn purchased from a Gentile; or even corn from an Ethiopian to redeem that of an Israelite; or corn of an Israelite to redeem that of a Samaritan; and similarly that of one Samaritan, though Rabbi Eliezer condemns this last case.
Chapter VI (sections 1, 4, 8, 11) lays down, that he who farms a field for a percentage of the crop, be it from an Israelite, Samaritan, or Gentile, should divide the harvest in the presence of the landlord (without tithing); but the tenant who farms under an Israelite ought to levy, before everything, the priestly portion. Again, if any one sell fruits in Syria, saying that they come from Palestine, the buyer pays tithe.
It would be easy to continue these curious and interesting extracts from others of the fifty-three sections into which the seven chapters of the book on the demai tithe is divided, and the inquiry might be extended (with a view to considering rabbinic beneficence generally) to such books as that on peah, or the corners of the field to be left for the poor; on terumoth, or tribute from the crop due to the priests; and on bikkurim, or first fruits; but enough, perhaps, has now been presented from the Talmud to illustrate the character of its by-laws, and to afford us various items of information concerning tithe-paying as practiced during the period we are considering.
The Talmud clearly recognizes the first or Levitical tithe; the second or festival tithe; the third or poor's tithe; and also appears to add a fourth or supplementary tithe of a tithe -- that is, a levy of 1 per cent, for the priests in certain cases which the Pentateuch left open to doubt.
The minuteness with which these by-laws are elaborated, indicates the standard set before religious Jews who desired to live up to the traditional requirements of their law; from which requirements, moreover, no class of society seems to have been held exempt, tithe-paying being thereby brought to bear on the daily life not only of the affluent and well-to-do, but of the laborer who weeded onions, the errand-boy sent to market, and the man who asked his mother-in-law to cook fruit.
Of course, it may be urged that some of the minute requirements previously mentioned are of a later date, because internal evidence connected with certain of the rules points to their belonging to the time of the Roman domination of Palestine; but it is highly probable that a larger number of the rules were of very ancient usage.
When we consider that the whole of what is written in the Pentateuch concerning tithes is comprised in a few verses, it will be seen at once that so soon as the law on tithe came to be put in force, a number of questions would be immediately raised as to how the law was to be carried out; such, for instance, as to what particular seeds, fruits, or animals were to be tithed; the age at which animals and products were to become tithable; how far products of trifling value were to be disregarded, to what extent products of the second tithe might be consumed on the way to the ecclesiastical capital; and many others.
Unless we are to imagine that every man was left to do as he pleased (which would mean confusion), it is reasonable to suppose that such questions would in the first place be referred for determination to Joshua, to the seventy elders, or to other competent authority. Such decisions, with other additions as time went on, would naturally be handed down by the priests and Levites, who, if only because their bread partly depended thereon, would be interested in preserving them; and thus many of the decrees and traditions embodied in the Mishna may well have passed down as unwritten rules to the days not long before the Christian era, when these traditions were committed to writing, thus serving as the basis for their arrangement in the form we have them now.
These extracts, at all events, may suffice to show that during the period between the Old and New Testaments the practice of tithe-paying was in full force, and carried out by many with a minuteness and conscientiousness such as cannot be traced in the Pentateuch or in the after history of Israel as exhibited in the remaining books of the Old Testament.
There is, moreover, another and more important consideration to Christians, which adds greatly to the value of the evidence here collected, in that we trace in the Talmud what was considered the standard of tithe-paying and religious beneficence, and what was received and practiced among the Jews in Palestine when Christianity appeared; and consequently what probably was thought and practiced by most, if not all, of those Jews who became the first heralds of the Cross.
Table of Contents Chapter 10