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Paying Israeli Taxes


Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 4, 5781
How can I pay Israeli taxes? I am aware that our Sages paid taxes and encouraged everyone to do so. But we live in a different time. 1) These taxes did not go towards other Jews, and 2) no one actually knew exactly where their money went. That is not the case today. We know that the government takes our money and provides it to Christians to build churches (Avodah Zara - Shlomo Hamelech made this mistake when trying to help bring the redemption! ) and does many other things that aren’t permissible. If I KNOW my money is going to these programs by paying taxes, then how can I and how could any religious Jew in Israel?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. There is much to write about the ideological basis of it – but let me answer you in a very practical way. You ask “how can I and how could any religious Jew in Israel?” – I assume you mean how can you pay taxes? Let me ask you – “do you have a choice?” That is, it is the law, which is quite well enforced in Israel – so, you have no choice. So, on a practical level, the simple answer to your question is that one must pay taxes. Even if this were to involve some level of sin (which I do not believe is the case), one would apply the rule “ones rachmana patrai” (that actions done against one’s will are not counted as sins). Also, on a practical level – why is your question directed to paying Israeli taxes? Does the question not apply to Jews who live anywhere in the world? They know that their tax money is used for things that are considered as sins in Jewish belief (idol worship, inappropriate “cultural” activities, etc.). So, your question applies to Jews who pay tax in nearly every single country. Now, as to the issue itself. I question your assumption that in the times of the Talmud that they did not know where their money went. They knew very well that it went to the rulers, who certainly were involved in much sin. As to what you write that “1) These taxes did not go towards other Jews” – it is not clear to me why this makes a difference. A sin is a sin, no matter who is doing it. So, why is it permitted to play taxes (apart from the answer we gave above, about being forced)? Firstly, most of our tax money is in truth just payment for services we receive. We get lighting in the street, and rather than collecting payment for that under each street lamp (what a hassle!) we pay for yearly in taxes. According to Jewish law, this is not even a “tax” but rather payment for services, that if one avoids, they are considered as stealing. Next, when one pays taxes, the money then goes to a collective “basket” from which the government decides what to do with it. By the time it gets to “sinful” purposes, the link back to the individual who paid the taxes is to far removed so as to consider them as “partners in crime”. It is more similar to you buying something from a shop, then the shop owner taking some of his profits and using them for something sinful – we would not fault you for having purchased at the shop. Moreover, there is room to say that a person could consider that their taxes were the monies used for the good deeds of the government. That is, your small tax payment (after you deduct the amount you owe for using the street lighting etc!) could well be the money the government used to buy the covid vaccines. Then you would (according to your question) be part of the mitzvah. Perhaps the money used for sins comes from sinners who pay their tax, and not the righteous who pay tax. Now, while we are on the topic, let us point out that the Government of Israel uses our taxes for a great many mitzvot. To support the army (an incredible mitzvah perhaps unequalled in all Jewish history – saving millions of Jewish lives, and allowing the granting of sovereignty of the land to the Jewish people (see the Ramban’s addendum 4 to the Sefer HaMitzvot); to support Torah learning (the government gives support to more than 150,000 full time Torah students) more than any other donor in the world; to build mikva’ot and synagogues; to support Jews to be able to do the mitzvah of Aliyah and living in the land…. I could go on and on. In short, there is no greater funder of mitzvot in the world than the Israeli government (this is true even of the most secular of Israeli government’s we have ever had). With that in mind – we could ask “If I know my money is going to these programs by paying taxes, then how can I, and how could any religious Jew in Israel, NOT pat taxes?” Blessings.
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