Parshat Noach - 5761
and U.S. Presidential Politics
There is a
principle in Jewish Law called
"Dina D'Malchuta Dina," meaning that the laws
of one's country are to be obeyed. It
is this principle that requires us to pay taxes, in the amount determined by
the government. In this
country, the U.S.A., we have a role in determining the taxes, but it is
limited to our role as conscientious voters.
That is, we have the right to decide which candidate espouses ideas
that correspond to our own most closely, and vote him or her "in." Hopefully the focus of each is the common good, but no
secular law forces us to operate in that manner; indeed, we may focus
entirely on our own perceived "good."
the Rabbis of the Talmud, advise us to pray for the welfare of our
government, whatever the nature of the government.
The reason given is that "without fear of the government, one
person would swallow another!" Complete
breakdown of society would occur and indeed, one of the "Sheva
Mitzvot Bnei Noach," the
Seven Noahide Laws incumbent upon
all human beings by virtue of the fact that he has been granted a
conscience, is to establish a System of Laws and Courts.
Let us look
at various cases for one that matches most closely the case of a government
engaged in allocating tax relief. As
is the case in our country, where a booming economy has resulted in a budget
surplus, so that the government has more than it thought that it would need
to cover anticipated expenses, including maintenance of the military, of
roads and airports, of scientific research, of prisons, of education, of
providing basic medical care to the elderly, etc..
before us is what "Halachah," Jewish Law, has to say, or what the
Biblical principle of "And
you shall do that which is fair and good in the eyes of G-d
6:18), which sometimes requires us to go above and beyond the strict
requirements of "Halachah," has to say about the following
question: Whether the
multi-millionaire, who has paid "more than his share" of the
income tax, should receive the benefits of a tax-cut in proportion to his
tax-payment, that would appear to reflect the position of Governor Bush, or
a lower percentage, with a larger amount going to the lower middle class, or
the poor, that would seem to reflect the position of Vice-President Gore?
case of a "swindler," who has obtained amounts of money from
victims in proportion, let's say, to their income.
In that case, there is no doubt that the perpetrator of the crime
should do "hashavat gezelah," return of the amounts that he stole,
in exact proportion to the amounts that he stole from various individuals.
But the case of taxes in no
way corresponds to swindled funds!
On the contrary, their payment is required
by "Halachah," based on the principle of "Dina D'Malchuta
next the case of a poverty-stricken individual, who received "Tzedakah,"
"Charity," again in proportion to the incomes of a group of
kind-hearted individuals. Then
the poor man wins the lottery, which makes him far wealthier than any of his
previous benefactors. He
probably has no obligation to
return the funds given him. But
if he is a "mensch," a decent fellow, and has kept careful
records, here too he should return to each benefactor according to the
amounts they gave him.
But again, a
government's acquisition of taxes is
not as a result of charity. The
fact is, I believe, that one should regard his payment of taxes, certainly
as an obligation, but also as terminating
his relationship to the wealth that he has transferred to the
government. After all, the
Torah says that the Jew's attitude towards his wealth should be that it
doesn't come only by his own effort. "And
you would say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hands have gotten
me this wealth.' But
rather, you shall remember the L-rd your G-d, for it is He that gives you
power to get wealth
" (Devarim 8:17-18) With his remaining
wealth, he should give "Tzedakah," as required by "Halachah."
There are a
number of possibilities for what a government might do with an unanticipated
surplus. It could determine
that its members could use nicer cars or fancier vacation homes.
That would probably be, if not illegal, certainly immoral.
It might decide that it now has more money to allocate to another
area of expense, perhaps the military, to deal with an increasingly
Or it might
determine to return some of the money that it has collected in taxes.
Hopefully, it has kept good records.
But I don't think either Secular Law or Religious Law requires it to
return the money in proportion to the amounts obtained from each individual.
Rather, they may choose to return the money guided by the principle
of "who needs it
So that if Multi-Millionaire A sacrificed, when he paid his taxes, the ability to buy a personal jet, and had to settle for a speedboat instead, and Lower Middle Class Taxpayer B had to sacrifice sending his child to "Yeshiva," and sent him or her to Public School instead, a benevolent government would, out of a spirit of "fairness and goodness" opt to help the Lower Middle Class person by granting a higher percentage allocation, while rendering to the Multi-Millionaire enough so that he could at least upgrade his boat.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel