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December 28, 2012 11:26 am

Should the Jewish Laws on Charity Change with the New Tax Laws?

avatar by Ronn Torossian

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A Tzedakah (charity) box. Photo: WMPearl.

If one accepts that Jewish law is immutable and applicable at all times, than surely one should also believe that those charged with overseeing and safeguarding those laws (Halacha) must constantly review and analyze Halacha in order to be sure that it’s interpretations account for modern advancements and the norms of the age. With this in mind, perhaps the laws on charity (Tzedakah) need a second look, and possibly an overhaul.

Tzedakah is a fundamental mitzvah (commandment) within Judaism – the requirement to tithe one’s after-tax income.   However, in light of changes in tax laws perhaps adjustments should be made to the tithing formula. At what point should (even the wealthy) be given a break on the 10 percent?

France’s affluent have recently been hit with a new 75 percent income tax.  Should Jews who meet that criteria then be expected to give another 10 percent? Is the intent of Tzedakah for one to work hard, sacrifice, succeed and be left with just 20 percent of their income after taxes?

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Tzedakah does not mean charity, it is a word derived from the Hebrew word Tzedek, justice. Is only being allowed to keep but a small percentage of one’s income justice?

A New York resident who makes more than $250,000 is paying somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of his income in taxes to the City, State and Federal governments.  After all those taxes, should one be expected to give more money away? Perhaps specified requirements should be established for Jews who live in states with low or no income taxes to give Tzedakah at a different rate than those who already have the government as a majority partner in their income.

To maintain Jewish life and to help preserve continuity, many Jews believe that sending their children to a Jewish school is not a luxury, but a necessity.  Yet, at $25,000 per child each year, plus the cost of camps, kosher food and for many, living in a Jewish community which carries higher property values and taxes (as is often the case), preserving Jewish life is expensive. Can people then give away another 10 percent? Should they be expected to?

My company 5WPR employs over 100 people.  A few years ago I created the Ronn Torossian family foundation through which charity is given. Due to the death tax, upon my passing one day my family will have to pay more than 50% in estate taxes. The foundation was established to make giving easier, and as way of preserving my values and affirming the importance I place on giving Tzedakah. But when is enough enough?

While charity is fundamentally an obligation, as a very hard-working entrepreneur, my motivation is drained by the government’s constant taxes. I wonder how much my family and children should benefit from my hard work. Is the number 40%? 30%?

In the meantime there are many important charities with very real and important needs. America (and many other countries today) penalizes people for being successful through higher taxes. People deserve to benefit from their hard work, sacrifices and success.

There has to be a new understanding of the successful and their charity, with an accommodation for the beast that is never satisfied – the taxman. The current way certainly isn’t justice.

Food for thought.

Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur, author and philanthropist.

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  • Besides, the question is what percentage of the income tax and other taxes can be rendered as ‘Tzedakah’ or social justice. ‘Tzedakah’ is not “Charity”, it’s root word comes from ‘Tzedek’, meaning Justice. ‘Tzedakah’ is a feminine attribute of justice, meaning “receivable justice” or “distributive justice”. The correct word for “Charity” is ‘Chesed’, which is a voluntary attribute, not ‘Tzedakah’.

  • France had a “projet de loi” in congress and it was never hit with a new 75 percent income tax. That’s bad journalism, calumny and lashon harra.