Real & Personal: Leviticus 27:14-33

Hekdesh continues in the case of consecration of land to God. Imagine putting land in a charitable trust, to redistribute benefit and burden, control and ownership, between state, charity and private owners, in our world. Imagine the avoidance of creditors by such alienation of part of one’s title, or encumbering property.

The first discussion is about tying up one’s patrimony, one’s own land, between jubilees (since at jubilee, it is all assumed to revert to the pool for redistribution to the clan). The second discussion, 22-25, is about tying up land one has bought beyond the original homestead.

We have developed a range of constructive trusts in our generation, to restrain private property with obligations such as family law or environmental concerns, or pensions or charities. They interact with laws of private debts and ranking of creditors, and with the claims of tax authorities. Something analogous is going on here, lost in the gulf of social and economic realities.

Given that firstlings are already God’s, you can’t then also give it to God in a special vow. It’s a bit like people who give lots of money to charity from money they already owe in taxes or to creditors. You can’t have your cake, eat your cake, and sell your cake to others.

Finally, there is a category of give called cheretz, from v28, which has to do with alienating something altogether, banishing it from one’s control or benefit or obligation, not in priestly sacrifice, but in surrender to God. In the case of cheretz humans, later tradition reads cheretz as banishment, cutting a person off from family ties or clan obligations – like a religious vow of poverty.

Finally, and this may be the best clue for you – you owe a tithe of everything. If you don’t want to pay up the 10% firstborn and so on, just give 12% of the value in cash to the priests. There. Social moral obligations met.

Leviticus 27:14-33

14 If a person consecrates a house to the LORD, the priest shall assess it: whether good or bad, as the priest assesses it, so it shall stand.

15 And if the one who consecrates the house wishes to redeem it, one-fifth shall be added to its assessed value, and it shall revert to the original owner.

16 If a person consecrates to the LORD any inherited land-holding, its assessment shall be in accordance with its seed requirements: fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed.

17 If the person consecrates the field as of the year of jubilee, that assessment shall stand;

18 but if the field is consecrated after the jubilee, the priest shall compute the price for it according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and the assessment shall be reduced.

19 And if the one who consecrates the field wishes to redeem it, then one-fifth shall be added to its assessed value, and it shall revert to the original owner;

20 but if the field is not redeemed, or if it has been sold to someone else, it shall no longer be redeemable.

21 But when the field is released in the jubilee, it shall be holy to the LORD as a devoted field; it becomes the priest’s holding.

22 If someone consecrates to the LORD a field that has been purchased, which is not a part of the inherited land-holding,

23 the priest shall compute for it the proportionate assessment up to the year of jubilee, and the assessment shall be paid as of that day, a sacred donation to the LORD.

24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to the one from whom it was bought, whose holding the land is.

25 All assessments shall be by the sanctuary shekel: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel.

26 A firstling of animals, however, which as a firstling belongs to the LORD, cannot be consecrated by anyone; whether ox or sheep, it is the LORD’s.

27 If it is an unclean animal, it shall be ransomed at its assessment, with one-fifth added; if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at its assessment.

28 Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the LORD, be it human or animal, or inherited land-holding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD.

29 No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death.

30 All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the LORD’s; they are holy to the LORD.

31 If persons wish to redeem any of their tithes, they must add one-fifth to them.

32 All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD.

33 Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad, or make substitution for it; if one makes substitution for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy and cannot be redeemed.

34 These are the commandments that the LORD gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.