Progressively Speaking: After Trump controversy, what does Judaism say about paying tax?

Citing the recent example of Donald Trump’s returns, how we pay our taxes and how much we pay is often at the top of political and news agendas.

Judaism expects everyone to contribute a fair share. It’s a recurring theme in the Torah and Rabbinic literature, with the longstanding Talmudic principle of dina malchuta dina (“the law of the land is the law”).

But Progressive Judaism also offers two more reasons why paying tax is so important, even if you are president of the United States.

The first is historical. Our movement was founded in the first decade of the 19th century in Germany out of the intellectual milieu of the Enlightenment and the political environment of the French Revolution.

At that time, the Jews were moving from being a pariah people, restricted from the norms of life to being part of the new national state.

Progressive Judaism offered an opportunity to be both Jewish and a citizen of the modern state, and it  follows that if Jews were to claim rights, they also had responsibilities.

These obligations, in my view, include voting and participating in public life and paying any tax levied by a democratically elected government.

The second reason is ethical. Progressive Judaism has sought to reclaim the Hebrew Prophetic idea that the performance of ritual obligations is acceptable to God only from Jews whose ethical behaviour accords with the core teachings of Judaism.

Progressive Judaism declares the ethical mitzvot of a higher order than the ritual ones.

Ethical mitzvot (support for the widow and the orphan, for example) are obligatory but some of that activity today is carried out by the state, utilising the taxes of citizens.

The evasion of taxes is therefore both a major breach of Jewish ethics and an attack on the modern, democratic state.

υ Danny Rich is senior rabbi and chief executive of Liberal Judaism

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