The Ma’sar Kesafim (Income Tithe) Ledger

Jay Rovner


The Ma’sar Kesafim (Income Tithe) Ledger of Mordecai Zeev Ehrenpreis of Lvov.

With an Examination of the Practice and its Meanung for the Donor.

Ma´sar kesafim (income tithing) is a long-standing Jewish practice. First mentioned in a midrash of a third/fourth-century scholar, it was popularized in the Middle Ages among Ashkenazic Jewry, who not only designated communal tax obligations as ma´aser, but also developed ma´sar kesafim as a practice of individuals desirous of habituating themselves to give to charity in a disciplined and ongoing fashion. Individual Jews dedicate themselves to this personal practice to the present day. Although Pinkese ma´sar kesafim (income tithe ledgers) are mentioned here and there in the literature, none have yet been found and published. Fortunately, Mordecai Zeev Ehrenpreis, a kind-hearted Jew in mid-nineteenth century Lvov (Lemberg), took a vow to practice ma´sar kesafim one year before he married, kept a detailed record of the income and disbursements of this fund, and eventually bequeathed us his Pinkas. This most informative and fascinating document is edited and published herein. Ehrenpreis commences with a detailed protocol enumerating the nature and conditions of his vow; he also intersperses his accounts with eloquent meditations on his uncertain financial state and on dangers confronting his family, providing the reader a full image of his world. A comprehensive introduction examines the history and practice of ma´sar kesafim, tracing the stages in its development as well as the meaning it held for Ehrenpreis. Jay Rovner holds a Ph.D. in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he serves as the Manuscript Bibliographer of its library. He has published studies of the development of the Talmud and the nature of the Stammaitic component of its text, and on Jewish liturgy and its development.


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