The Tithe in Old Palestine

I recently came across a fascinating book entitled The Handbook of Palestine by H.C. Luke and E. Keith-Roach.  Produced in 1922 by the British Mandate government which had just taken control of the country after a long Ottoman Turkish rule, it’s a fascinating snapshot of the Holy Land beginning its transition to the State of Israel and the other claimants of the land.  I plan to reproduce some of the more interesting parts of the book on a sporadic basis.

This post takes a look at the tithe, a subject of long-running interest on this blog.  It’s interesting that the tithe, originally a Hebrew institution, was taken over so readily by the Muslims; such will come as a shock to many Christians, who regard the tithe as a Christian institution.  It’s also interesting how the British administration became involved so quickly in the collection of taxes for Muslim religious endowments.

Moslem religious endowments (waqfs), that is, property appropriated or dedicated (by a document called a waqfiah) to charitable uses and the service of God…

The chief source of revenue of Moslem endowments is the tithe. Tithe was dedicated as waqf by the Sultans or, with their permission, by feudal chiefs, from the earliest times of the Islamic conquests. It forms 55 per cent, of the revenue of the Moslem religious endowments in Palestine, and the waqf tithe is approximately 12.75 per cent.of the total tithe revenue of the country. The revenue department collects the waqf share of the dedicated tithes, handing over the proceeds to the Supreme Moslem Council. For the financial year ended 31st March, 1921, the collections on behalf of Moslem endowments amounted to LE.27,649 ; and for the financial year 1921-22 have considerably exceeded this sum owing to the restitution of the Khasqi Sultan Waqf by the Government to the Waqf authorities. This famous waqf, which was founded by the mother of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1547, was seized by Ibrahim Pasha when he occupied Palestine and Syria in 1831 (see Part I., § 6) and was retained by the Ottoman Government when it resumed control of the country in 1841. The return of its revenue, which amounts to c. LE. 10,400 per annum, to the objects of dedication has demonstrated the impartiality of the present Administration, and has favourably influenced Moslem opinion throughout Palestine.

One of the oldest Mulhaqa waqfs in Palestine is the Tamimi waqf at Hebron. This waqf, it is claimed, was dedicated to the Tamimi family by the Prophet Mohammed himself. Another important (tithe) waqf, also connected with Hebron, is one attached to the Mosque of Abraham mentioned above. Its average annual revenue amounts to LE. 15,000.

A little later the tithe is explained in more detail:

The system of tithe dates from earliest times. Originally one-tenth of the crop was taken in kind. Ottoman legislation, through financial necessity, has increased this rate to one-eighth or 12 1/2%, viz. 1 1/2% by Decree of 1302 (1886) and 1% by Decree of 13 13 (1897). Tithes were farmed out to contractors at the time of the British Occupation, and were often a source of abuse and imposition upon the peasantry.

Since the Occupation the system of tithing has been continued, but the contractor has been eliminated, and direct assessment and collection of tithes inaugurated. The tithe of one-eighth, formerly taken in kind, is now collected in money, and assessed in kilogrammes. The list of prices is fixed and a statement of assessment is posted in each village. Appeals against the redemption price are heard by a special committee, whose decision is final. Such appeals must be lodged within ten days from the publication of the redemption price.

Redemption prices are fixed by the Department of Revenue after consultation with Governors, who, in turn, obtain the opinions of local councils, mukhtars, notables,
big farmers, etc., fixing the redemption price slightly below the local market price.

Comparison of Redemption Prices :

 1919 P.T. 1920 P.T.  1921 P.T.
Wheat per kilo  2.2  2.25  1.4
 Barley  1.2  1.3  0.7
 Durra  1.2  1.2  0.75
 Simsin  4.8  5  3.2
 Oranges per case  12  10  14
 Olive oil per kilo  12  9  7

The collection of the redemption price is not made from each individual cultivator, but from the mukhtar, who undertakes to collect the entire amount due from his village against a rebate of 2% of the amount collected.  The amount may be settled in three monthly and equal instalments.  Arrears due after this period are subject to 9% interest.

Tithe is taken on cereals, fruits and vegetables.  The produce of mulk lands, which are of the freehold category, is exempted when enclosed to the extent of less than one donum.  Other mulk lands in the vicinity of towns also enjoy immunity from tithe, but they are subject to a higher rate for land tax, i.e. 10 per mille, with additions amounting to 56% of the original tax.

Seasonal variations in crops necessitate two separate annual assessments, the first, during the months of April, May and June, known as the ” Winter Tithe,” and the second, during July and August, known as the ” Summer Tithe.” Separate estimations are carried out on fruits and vegetables.

An estimating commission is composed of two Government representatives, a clerk and a village elder, the two former being salaried officials of the Government. Control is exercised by special control commissions, which are again further controlled by officials of the District Administration.

The estimation of crops is carried out in some instances by assessing the standing crops ; in others, crops are assessed on the thrashing floor, the choice of either method being left to the Governors’ discretion. The assessment for tithe amounted in 1919 to £E. 273,000, in 1920 to £E. 488,600, and in 1921 to £E. 292,000.

The above figures include tithes which are assigned to Moslem religious endowments (awqaf).

The Government continues to carry out the provisions of the Ottoman Tithe Laws of 1889 and 1891, which in so far as the theory of tithing is concerned are adequate. Vineyards planted with American stock are exempted from tithes for a period of ten years from the date of planting (Public Notice of the 25th September, 1920).

Cotton is exempted from the payment of tithe for a period of two years (Public Notice of the 15th February, 1921). Lands which are leased by or through the Department of Agriculture for crop experimentation are immune from the payment of tithe.

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