To Turn In a Thief

The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues

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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