What is More Virtuous? Paying Taxes or Giving Charity?

September 16, 2012 2:56 pm 2 comments

Dr. Miriam and Mr. Sheldon Edelson at the 2011 AIPAC "Better Together" policy Conference. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

David Axelrod was manhandled across cyberspace for tweeting an attack against Republican donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson on the morning of September 11th. Let’s be charitable here and forgive Axelrod his breech of etiquette given that campaigns have become so intense you can easily get carried away without meaning to. Whatever the case, Axelrod was reacting to a report in the Huffington Post that if Mitt Romney won the election people like the Adelsons could save billions in taxes. The report also said that a repeal of the estate tax could save billions more.

As the Adelsons are arguably the world’s foremost supporters of Jewish causes and charities, this raises for a Rabbi who is also a congressional candidate the question of what is a bigger mitzvah: paying taxes or giving charity. Surely even Axelrod, or other critics of the Adelsons, are not suggesting the couple have a problem parting with their money, as they regularly contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to charity. Rather, the argument is that they should be paying higher taxes, and the payment of higher taxes on the part of the super-rich has been a constant campaign theme. Mind you, even Obama and Axelrod have their limits. They are not advocating confiscatory taxation as is, say, France’s new President Francois Hollande, whose plans to tax those making more than a million euros per annum at a rate of 75% is already leading to an exodus of the rich. No, President Obama wants the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year leading to a federal tax rate of 39% for those in the highest bracket.

But since America came into being as a protest against unfair taxation, what rate is fair, even for the super-rich? For example, in my home state of New Jersey a millionaire will pay, at present, 35% of his income to the Federal government and then nearly 10% percent to the state, and New Jersey was changed by Democrat Jon Corzine to a net income state, meaning you cannot deduct what you pay in Federal Taxes from your state tax bill. That means about half your income goes to taxation, and that’s before real estate tax (in New Jersey it’s arguably the highest in the nation), sales tax, and the myriad other taxes we each pay on a daily basis (take a look at your monthly cell phone bill to see if you can even count how many taxes there are). Still we are told that America’s taxes ought to be higher. In New Jersey it hasn’t worked. People are leaving the state because they’re tired of being ripped off. So while we lost a Congressional seat, leading to a terribly bitter Democratic primary here in the 9th district, Florida and Texas, which have no state income tax, added a bunch. When I meet people campaigning, they tell me that taxes are the number one issue for them.

Are American citizens really expected to feel guilty about not paying enough tax? When we see such incredible government waste, should we be eager to fork over more money to see it so much of it squandered?

Take President Obama’s trillion dollar stimulus that seemed to have stimulated only greater American resentment at paying taxes. Nearly a trillion dollars was poured down a sinkhole but produced no jobs or greater economic performance. I even remember reading a story after the package passed in February 2008 of a public school that was sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend. The school responded they didn’t need the money. They had good facilities and new equipment. No matter. They were told they had to spend the stimulus funds.

I remember being deeply upset. I’m an orthodox Jew. I have a right to educate my children in the Jewish tradition, just as Catholic, Islamic, and Christian parents. I send my kids to a Jewish day school. But not a dollar of my hard-earned tax dollars is allowed to pay a single expense at my children’s Yeshivas and Jewish day schools, even for completely secular subjects. Religious parents throughout the country are having fewer children as they struggle to keep up with insanely high taxes and insanely high tuition. Yet here was a school having our tax dollars being shoved down its throat when it didn’t want or need the money.

And please, hold the arguments that more money in education means a better education. In my hometown of Englewood the school board spends approximately $23,000 per student, which is about double what the Jewish day schools in the area charge per child. Yet the failure rate in the public schools is much higher than the private schools.

I would much rather see philanthropists like the Adelsons, or Democratic mega-donors like George Soros, have a lower, fairer tax bill and give more money to education, medical research, and private initiatives to support the families of our troops. Charities usually spend their funds a lot more carefully than government and I salute the efforts that President Bush made to create greater synergy between government and faith-based initiatives. Say what you want about George Soros (whom Axelrod neglected to mention would likewise save a bundle on lower taxes)  but he has donated hundreds of millions to Eastern European nations struggling to birth new democracies. Likewise, the Adelsons biggest critics never fail to acknowledge the hundreds of millions they have invested in holocaust education, medical research, Jewish education, and support for a tiny fledgling democracy called Israel which just happens to be America’s most stalwart ally in a region where America is increasingly despised and loathed.

Why David Axelrod would feel it’s such a mitzvah to pay higher and higher taxes is beyond me. The goal is to make taxes fair, equitable, and effective in addressing the nation’s needs. And that means controlling spending, not just raising taxes.

And here in America we have an incredibly proud and quite frankly humbling history of massive charitable giving. A few names, I am sure come quickly to your mind as they did me. Andrew Carnegie, for example founded an internationally respected institution of higher learning – Carnegie Mellon University. He set up at least four entities of giving that are still operating today – the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY); The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP); the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching(CFAT); The Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs (CCEIA). This was a man who’s giving was so monumental and historic that a prehistoric dinosaur was actually named after him - Diplodocus carnegiei.

J.D. Rockefeller gave countless dollars to promote education at all levels and for all people. He provided major founding to the Spelman College in Atlanta for African-American women in 1884.  He created the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913 giving  nearly $250 million to the foundation – truly a staggering amount of money for the times – which focused on public health, medical training, and the arts. It helped to create Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. It also reinforced and expanded the Peking Union Medical College in China into a credible institution of note. As this is not a history lesson I will only mention a few more captains of industry that have left their mark on history and gave selflessly to better the world for all; Simon Guggenheim, and more recently Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Great philanthropy is what we should require of the super-rich rather than confiscatory taxation like the estate tax. This is just a short list of amazing giving and great men and women, but the list of people whose lives have been changed is beyond doubt countless.

Those who want to pay more taxes are welcome to. It’s a free country. But all of us need to push ourselves to give a lot more charity. Being forced to pay taxes does not make us more virtuous people. If it did, our founding fathers would have thanked George III for his coercion. But voluntarily giving more charity makes us more righteous, more noble, more caring, and more generous.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Republican Candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. The international best-selling author of 28 books, his newest work is “Kosher Jesus”. Next month he will publish “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

2 Comments

  • Why would paying a tax, which is required under penalty of law and possible prison time if not paid, be considered the same as charity? Why should lefties like Axelrod get to feel good about themselves for making OTHERS pay involuntary taxes? Where in scripture is forcing your neighbor to fund charities even mentioned?

    Modern Liberalism is simply a way to feel good about yourself at no cost to yourself.

  • All good points, for sure, but the statistics and conversations with Americans at all levels reflect that most people do NOT make charitable gifts because of tax incentives. They are encouraged by other, less materialistic, motivations, including an understanding and appreciation for helping others as a basic concept that has characterized the U.S. from our earliest days.

    Offering tax assistance to encourage philanthyropy is an extra “goodie” that sweetens the pie a bit. On the other hand, the Obama administration’s perspective on all taxation is creating and accelerating “class warfare” . . . a phenomenon that goes contrary to what has made America so great.

    The mandate should be: encourage investments, be entreprenurial, and try to make a better living. Let’s remove barriers and offer incentives to all to be more successful in their professions and work-a-day life rather than to reward mediocrity and retard working harder to make more.

    Happy and healthy New Year!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Education Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    Haredim and Bedouin: A Tale of Two Communities Transformed by Vocational Education

    JNS.org – Low enlistment rates in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). High rates of poverty. Communal resistance to traditional schooling. Difficulty finding employment or a lack of motivation to be employed. These conditions are shared by two sectors of the Israeli population that the casual observer likely wouldn’t group together: haredi Jews and Bedouin. Through its operation of schools for each population, however, the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network seeks to give haredim and Bedouin a brighter future in the Jewish [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.