Guest post by Rabbi Eli D. Clark
Does Halakha permit one to cheat the U.S. government? The intuitive answer is no. Shemuel ruled, “Dina de-malkhuta dina” the law of the government is binding law.” This rule has limitations. The government must enjoy the consent of the governed. Some limit the principle to laws relating to land, because the authority of the government derives from its ownership of the territory of the state. This rationale also underlies the view that in Eretz Yisrael, where the land belongs to all of the people, the principle of dina de-malkhuta does not apply.
Based on this principle, the Gemara affirms the government’s right to levy taxes. Rambam holds that a tax is not legitimate unless it is calculated objectively. Semag states that tax evasion is theft. Similarly, the Arukh ha-Shulhan writes regarding taxes that “every single Jew is obligated to follow the laws of the state in which resides.” Nevertheless, some modern posekim disagree.
The Ungvarer Rav, R. Menashe Klein, rules that tax evasion does not constitute theft, but is rather like non-payment of a debt to a gentile (hafka’at halva’ato) which is permissible. As proof, he cites Rashi, who says that non-payment of a debt is permitted in the absence of a hillul Hashem. But R. Klein also cites the view of Rabbenu Yonah, who advised that one should not evade taxes, because it can lead a person to lose all of his possessions [i.e. if he gets caught].
R. Menashe Klein’s ruling has been embraced in practice by many kollelim in Israel. The context is a cash rebate awarded by the Internal Revenue Service known as the “additional child tax credit.” One can receive up to $1,000 per child, but only if he earns income, meaning he is paid for working in some capacity.
The problem is that most kollel students in Israel don’t work and don’t get paid. Does this mean that they are ineligible for the $1,000 credit per child? Not necessarily.
A few days ago I received a phone call from an American who teaches in an Israeli yeshiva. He pays taxes in Israel, but also files U.S. tax returns and receives the credit for his children. Recently, he was audited by the IRS. To prove that he earns a salary, he submitted copies of his pay slips and a form filed by his yeshiva with the Israeli Tax Authority summarizing his annual income and the amount of Israeli income tax withheld from his salary.
These documents were rejected by the IRS examiner. “We do not accept these forms if they come from a yeshiva,” they told him. In other words, there is now a hazaka at the Internal Revenue Service that employment information provided by Israeli yeshivot are fabrications. If you are employed by an Israeli gas station, the IRS believes you; if you are employed by a yeshiva, they don’t.
Apparently motivated by a desire to support Torah study, frum Jews and Torah institutions have engaged in dishonesty on a wide scale. This in itself is a serious violation of Halakha, according to most authorities. Worse, the IRS has caught on to the fraud, causing a major hillul Hashem. (Even R. Menashe Klein prohibits cheating the government where it results in a hillul Hashem.) Finally, because so many “benei Torah” have lied and cheated, honest marbitzei Torah are being suspected of deceit.
As we approach Tisha be-Av, we need to consider that sinat hinam may not be the only sin delaying the geula.
Rabbi Eli D. Clark lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel. He served as Halakha editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur and also practices international tax law.
 Gittin 10b; Nedarim 28a; Bava Kama 113a-b; Bava Batra 54b-55a.
 Rambam, Gezela ve-Aveda 5:18.
 R. Eliezer of Metz, in Or Zarua, Bava Kama 447.
 Ibid.; Ran, Nedarim 28a, s.v be-mokhes.
 Bava Batra 55a.
 Rambam, Gezela ve-Aveda 5:11. But see Terumat ha-Deshen, No. 341.
 Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, Esin, 73.
 Arukh ha-Shulhan, Hoshen Mishpat 128:6.
 Mishneh Halakhot, Mahadura Tinyana, Vol. 2, no. 445.
 Bava Kama 113a-b.