Tithes, Church

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TITHES, CHURCH , customary institution or article of canon law according to which one tenth of the income from buildings of every category was to be paid to the parish church. The theorists of canon law claim that the ecclesiastic tithe was derived from the tax instituted in the Bible (Lev. 23:30ff.; Deut. 14:22ff.). The real estate owned by Jews in Western Europe during the tenth and eleventh centuries, particularly the agricultural land and vineyards, was substantial. From the second half of the 11th century, there was a migration of Jews from the countryside to the towns and a consequent voluntary and progressive abandonment of agricultural occupations, Jews increasingly restricting themselves in this sphere to occupations of a ritual interest (particularly those connected with vineyards for the production of kasher wine). It was precisely at that time that the obligation to surrender the tithe on the produce of their lands to the local church was first imposed on the Jews. The Church Council of Gerona of 1067 (or 1068) restricted this obligation to the lands purchased from Christians. In 1078 another Council of Gerona extended the obligation of the ecclesiastic tithe to all the land in the possession of the Jews. The Fourth Lateran Council held in 1215 (canon 67) declared that this decision was applicable in all the lands of Christendom, with respect to estates formerly owned by Christians that were in the possession of Jews at the time. It appears to have been enforced with considerable severity in southern France. In Spain, however, the Jews were supported by Alfonso viii, king of Castile, in their refusal to make the payment; in 1205, Pope Innocent iii intervened in connection with this.

When the payment of the tithe was first imposed, the Jews adopted a subterfuge in the case of houses: they destroyed the old houses acquired from Christians and erected new ones. In 1219 Honorius iii intervened in this matter, at least where the diocese of Toledo was concerned. In 1233 Gregory ix once more enforced the prescription laid down by the Council of Gerona of 1078; even with respect to Jewish land in formerly Muslim regions, where there was no reason to assume that it had been purchased from Christians, the tithe obligation was fully applied. In England, and in the Germanic countries, the tithe appears to have been exacted from the Jews with severity. In England the problem was solved from the second half of the 13th century by the general prohibition on the owning of land by Jews. When the Jews returned to France during the 14th century, they could no longer own any lands, while in the German countries, the prohibition was applied only from the first half of the 14th century. The problem could have arisen again in France from the time the Revolution granted the Jews the rights of citizenship, which included the right of owning land, had not the Revolution already abolished ecclesiastic tithes, by a law of April 4, 1789.


J.B. Saegmueler, Lehrbuch des katholischen Kirchenrechts (19143), 442–4; J. Parkes, Jew in the Medieval Community (1938); G. Lepointe, in: Dictionnaire de droit canon, 4 (1949), 1231–44; B. Blumenkranz, Juifs et chrétiens… (1960), 349; S. Grayzel, Church and the Jews… (19662), index.

[Bernhard Blumenkranz]