God's Income Tax: What Jewish Tithing Practices Can Teach Us About Tax Reform
68 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2006
Date Written: March 10, 2006
Tax reform and religion were two of the hot button issues during the last election. While at first glance these issues seem unrelated, a number of scholars have argued that religious values should guide our decisions regarding tax reform. This article posits that the relationship between religion and taxes is even stronger than has previously been suggested. People have been tithing for thousands of years. When they determine the amount of the tithe based on their income, the practice amounts to a religious income tax, or, more precisely, God's income tax.
This article explores the Jewish traditions of tithing, looking at both agricultural tithing, which is described in the Bible, and the practice of maaser kesafim, which involves tithing from all types of income, a practice that derives from the Bible but which developed more recently. Over the centuries, religious authorities have developed a sophisticated tax jurisprudence that holds lessons for us as we struggle with the questions of whether to reform our current income tax or replace it entirely with some form of consumption tax.
In comparing Jewish tithing traditions and Federal income tax, this article (1) tests claims that Judeo-Christian values require a progressive tax system; (2) examines the ways in which culture and context affect income definition (and are likely to do so in the future); and (3) explores whether a flat-rate income tax or consumption tax will be less complex than our current tax system, as proponents for such systems claim.
Keywords: tithe, tithing, tax,taxation, consumption tax, income tax, tax reform, Jewish law, tax simplification, comparative law
JEL Classification: H20, H24, H26, H29, K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation