To Turn In a Thief

Two prominent rabbis in Israel have recently made statements about tax evasion and turning in those who cheat.

Here’s the article from Arutz Sheva:

Rabbi of HaShimshoni Community in Modi’in Haim Navon is of the opinion that it is permissible to report cases of excessive tax evasion to prevent theft of the public. “Minor tax evasion should not be disclosed, to prevent unnecessary divisive suspicion among friends.”

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed ruled earlier that disclosure of any tax evasion is strongly castigated by the Prophet in the Name of G-d. “The Authorities should enforce the law”, says the Rabbi, but encouraging tax evasion disclosure threatens to ruin society. Strife among Jews destroyed the second Temple and cast them from their Land into the Diaspora.

I must note that I know nothing about the background of these statements. Also, I’ve only seen them in this English-language report and have not seen the original statements.

Having said that, I must say that I find these statements troubling. Both rabbis imply that tax evasion is not so serious.

My Opinion

I beg to differ.

Here’s a bit of what Rabbi Nachum Amsel writes on page 32 of his book The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues:

Stealing is more than merely violating a Torah precept, although it is that as well. It is also a statement on nonbelief in God as an active force in the world. … it was because people stole that the world was destroyed. Rashi, quoting the Talmud, says that although there were many sins and crimes committed during that generation [before the Flood], the one sin that sealed the world’s destruction was stealing.

Chillul Hashem

Rabbi Amsel writes towards the end of his analysis:

In addition to all the other reasons for a Jew not to steal (according to our definition), there is another, more important reason that relates to all parts of Jewish life. This is the concept of Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem. Each time a Jew steals and it is known that he or she is Jewish, God’s name is somehow lowered in the mind of people who know about the theft.

I would add, that there is probably a greater Chillul Hashem when the perpetrator is identified as a religous Jew.

It’s clear to me that evading taxes in Israel is stealing from the Jewish people. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about income tax, bituach leumi, VAT, or arnona. Everyone else ends up paying more tax due to those who cheat and evade their taxes.

The article quoted above only addressed the issue of added strife in a community if evaders are reported to the tax authorities.

I think it’s a mistake to overlook the strife caused by high taxes being made even higher when people flout the tax laws.

Your Turn

Please share your thoughts about tax evasion in the comments.

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Aaron

I completely agree that tax evasion is a problem and causes needy people to not get their complete government aid.

1. But, is the passive act of evading taxes equal to the active act of outright stealing? (Of course, this question is being asked from the halachic perspective. I’m not asking from the perspective of secular ethics.)

2. Is not paying taxes a passive act, where an individual doesn’t do an act? Or, is tax evasion an active act, whereby the individual has taxes to pay, and his refraining from paying is an active act?

    Shlomo Skinner

    Hi Aaron.

    Thanks for you comments.

    It seems to me that many times a person who wants to evade tax liabilities will need to act.

    Here’s some ideas just off the top of my head.

    - To get an undeserved discount on Arnona a person will file a false report.

    - A service provider will tell a potential customer that they can get a lower price for a cash payment. Of course, what they are saying is that the transaction will be “off the books” and there will be no VAT paid.

    - A company may keep two sets of books. One showing the real business activity for the owners and one for the tax authorities.

    - One prevalent practice is to pay employees partly on the books and partly in cash. In extreme cases, the employee is comnpletely off the books. This minimizes payments of income tax, bituach leiumi, and health insurance.

    - Many times when tax reports are filed it is necessary to sign a declaration that the statements on the form are correct.

    In all of these situations there was active tax avoidance.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been aware of most these happening, even in Jerusalem. :-(

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