Every month I take 10% of my gross income and put it into my savings account. However, when someone asks me about my savings and survival plans (should I lose my job, or end up in a bad situation), I shrug and say I have none.

As far as I’m concerned, these funds aren’t mine: I’m just holding them for someone else. I tithe. According to wikipedia, tradition Jews call this ma’aser kesafim. In fact, a lot of religions have a version of a tithe (a 10% tax). I don’t do this out of some sense of traditional Jewish identity. I do it because I think it’s a good thing [for me] to do.

I don’t -have- to live month to month, but I choose to. Inspired by the parents of a friend, I chose “personal tithing” as a good way to help others.

Housemate M has a cavity. While talking about it, I offered to pay for him to go get it filled. He said no, and I thought he was saying this because he knows I live month to month. I explained to him my personal tithing system. We ended up having a conversation that well mirrored one I had with R when we first talked about this.

The argument I come up against is this: It is better to pay off my loans more quickly. I will then be paying less into a damaging financial complex that perpetuates a form of indentured servitude, which results in little more than the inhibited growth of individuals and our culture and a deeper divide between classes. I would better serve the world by paying off my loans as quickly as possible and then, with my increased income, I would be able to help more people later.

My response: People need help now.

People will need help in the future–that’s the state of the world we live in–but choosing to focus on helping people (or other causes) in the future, shows a disregard of the suffering and problems that occur now. I also believe in preventative work. If I can fix someone’s cavity now, they won’t need to have a tooth pulled later. If getting the cavity fixed leads to a discussion with their dentist about dental care, maybe they won’t need to have all their teeth pulled and then dentures or no teeth at all. Regardless of trying to stave off potential futures, I find it personally unconscionable to allow others to suffer when I can help them.

But there is this really good point about trying to give less to the student loan business–that that in and of itself would make a difference. By the end of the year, my 10% tithe could pay off half of a loan I have with an interest rate of 10%. I would have less worries, which would help my health and give me more time to do other things that could help people. Additionally, I would, in general, have more resources to give to individuals or causes in the future.

In the spirit of moderation, I will say that neither is right, or wrong, but they are simply different approaches to one particular way of helping others. It doesn’t really matter what you do to help others, as long as you’re aware of what’s happening and you do something. Even if it’s just to blog or sign your name on a letter.


2 thoughts on “Tithe

  1. I agree with R. While your level of charity, and especially the personal nature of it is rare, it is by no means unique. The are people out there right now who took the time to build up a lifetime of capital before they started giving away what they didn’t need. Giving your life a stronger foundation isn’t disregarding suffering and problems that happen now, it is having faith that you are not alone in your desire to help. You mentioned you learned of personal tithing from a friend’s parents, so you should have some concrete evidence that you aren’t alone, if faith is not enough for you. If you are attached to the 10% number, keep a record of how much you would have set aside if you still followed the rule, until you can, and make it 15%, or 20%, until you are caught up.

  2. In the past year I’ve spent several thousand dollars getting a homeless woman off the street; she has a full-time job now (stocking grocery shelves) which pays her rent but not medical expenses (chronic tooth and kidney problems from her time homeless, health insurance kicks in next month which should help a lot, and she’s applied for food stamps).

    I’ve sent money to a friend in arkansas who lives in a trailer and was in a bad motorcycle accident. I give money to the unemployed daughter of a retired friend living on a fixed income, I’ve sent money to a number of webcomic artists I know are living near (or under) the poverty level. I’ve given money to my sister (who is raising 4 kids) for internet, and sent them 4 netbooks, and flew them to florida at christmas to see my grandparents. This morning I sent $50 to http://www.saladinahmed.com/wordpress/pulp-pastiche-and-a-plea-for-patrons/ who I don’t even really know but is friends of friends.

    I really _should_ be saving more, but I keep seeing people who currently need it more than I do. I know a number of people to whom a sudden extra $50 is a _big_deal_, and makes a bigger difference in their quality of life than it would in mine.

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