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The practice regulated by the Pentateuch of giving a tenth part of one's possessions as a tax to a superior. Abraham paid such a tax to Melchizedech (Genesis 14). The Levites, however, did not inherit the prescribed amount of land given to the other tribes, but rather received, as representatives of the Lord, a tenth part of all that the land produced--including flocks and cattle--from all the other tribes of Israel. They in turn were to offer to the priest a tenth part of all they received. Another kind of tithe taken from this yearly produce was to be consumed at the sanctuary (Deuteronomy 14), and the produce of every third year was to be distributed among the Levites and the poor. Tithes were offerings acknowledging the Lord's dominion and expressions of thanksgiving for blessings received from God. The sense of strong obligation to pay tithes is made clear in Leviticus (Leviticus 27:30-33).
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.