Monday, April 06, 2009

Rabbi, Heal Thyself...

Honestly Frum recounts an event that happened when a prominent Rav gave a Q&A session in his neighborhood.

he said that all things being equal and as long as there is no chance for chillul hashem, it is mutar to cheat on ones taxes. After pushed on the answer and asked about the shulchan aruch where it says it's asur and that one has to follow dina d' malchusa he said that the shulchan aruch only wrote what it did because he was "affraid of the authorities".

Looking beyond the blatant disregard for honesty and being responsible members of the community, I thought the following was interesting:

Apparently, if there is a danger of chillul HaShem*, then cheating on your taxes is forbidden. But if chillul HaShem is such an overriding concern, how about the chillul HaShem that results from making the statement in the first place resulting in thousands (if not more) of non-frum Jews (and non-Jews) who hear that Orthodox Jews believe it's fundamentally okay to cheat on taxes?

The Wolf

* Isn't there *always* a danger of being caught by the IRS?


Shlomo said...

See Ramban on VeAsisa HaYashar VeHaTov. This "rabbi" is not worthy of the title.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Sadly, I had a similar conversation with an old friend years ago.
The halacha generally looks down on idol worshippers and allows us to treat them poorly when we can get away with it. But are people nowadays idol worshippers? Chrisians and Muslims generally don't fit the classical definition of "akum". But only the Meiri has the guts to say so and conclude that we have to be decent to non-Jews because prohibitions like "Lo techanem" (thou shalt show them no favour) don't apply.
Sensible Jews follow the Meiri but this old friend say: Well, he's a daas yachid so here's the question: if I see a goy behind me as I go through the door, do I have an obligation NOT to hold it open for them? Or do I say that it would be a chilul HaShem not to and that's why I should? And if I do say that but I'm wearing a hat and the goy doesn't recognize me as being Jewish, do I now once again have an unquestioned obligation to not help them?
It's thinking like that which gets us into trouble over and over and over...

BrooklynWolf said...


I agree, it's very sad and sadly, I wonder if it plays right into the conception that Christians have of Jesus denouncing the Jews of his time for following the letter of the law more than the spirit.

BTW, I *really* like what you said over at Honestly Frum about this.

The Wolf

micha berger said...

I'm missing something. Which rishon says that a fairly applied tax is not included in dina demalkhusa dina?

In any case, the same rabbi (when in a very different context) may be retelling this story from the life of the Chofeitz Chaim. One messenger with whom he sent a letter testified that he saw the CC tear up the stamp he would have used to mail it. The use of a messenger shouldn't deprive the Czar's gov't of its kopek.

Or how R' Aharon Kotler would buy two seats on the bus from Brooklyn to Lakewood. Even though he knew the bus would be barely occupied, Rav Aharon wasn't going to fall asleep and possibly lean over into a second chair without paying for that chair.

A basic disconnect between values as relayed in story (aggadita) and halachic recommended practice.

But in this case, the halachic position requires a collection of leniencies piled atop each other. Ver inconsistent to how many in the same community are going to treat their obligation to eat matzah later this week.

AND ALL THAT SAID... Is that my problem? My job should be to observe this rabbi, and take that irritation I feel as a motivation to do better myself in my responses. Why rile against that which I can't change?

(My email is currently down, so if I lose track of this comment trail, I apologize. promises AishDas will be back up and running "any hour now"...)

ProfK said...

I've a feeling that some of this "swindle the authorities/government" shtuss that surfaces is a carryover from Europe where, in many cases it was a question of sakonos nefoshos. European governments routinely drafted by force frum young men into the military who were never seen or heard from again. There was, however, a certain grudging respect for Jewish clergy, who would not get drafted. Amazing how many boys got letters to the government that they were rabbanim, clearly not true. Some European governments had extra heavy taxes on things the Jews produced or monies they earned. Underreporting was allowed so that these people could at least keep some of what they earned to live on. In some areas the Jews were taxed heavier than the rest of the population.

We can hardly claim sakonoh in the US nor are the Jews taxed separately or differently than the rest of the population.

Let me be realllly cynical and posit a reason why such cheating would be encouraged by this rabbi--the less the government gets the more the person has for yeshivas and tzedakas.

Anonymous said...

In answer to your last question ziyuf hatorah (falsifying the torah) outranks chillul hashem - see baba kamma 38a and story of 2 roman emissaries sent to learn torah -why didn't the Rabbis lie to them?
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

It was Rabbi Dovid Cohen. Everyone should know that. Covering up his name is aiding and abetting his attitude.

BrooklynWolf said...


I agree with you that there is a disconnect between what we preach and what we practice. I've even commented on this in the past.

I'm not sure, however, what you mean by your last paragraph. Can you please explain?


The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


Of course, that assumes that the Torah actually states that it's muttar to cheat on one's taxes, but let's assume, for the sake of argument, that he's correct.

The rav could have always refused to answer the question. Or replied that he will discuss it in private with the person. Or, at the very least, highly qualified his answer in a way to make it clear that one should not cheat on his taxes, even if it's technically within the letter of the law.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

When I hear stories like this I think of what I heard in a drasha one day from local Agudah rabbi. He had received a call from a woman who said that the local non-kosher supermarket had mistakenly delivered a load of groceries to her. Was she permitted to keep the groceries? The rabbi's response was "According to the letter of the Shulchan Aruch it is permitted to keep the groceries but I couldn't pronounce a bracha over that food."

micha berger said...


(Just in case by "last paragraph" you meant the bit about my email address: I'm not getting alerts from Haloscan about additions to comment threads that I participated in because DreamHost is having major email issues., which is on DreamHost, is impacted. But more likely you meant this...)

Do I really need to worry about everyone I can't fix?

Remember what the Chafetz Chaim said at the Agudath Israel Convention, Vienna 1923. (I think this is paraphrased):
"When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried but the world
did not change.
"Then I decided to change my town, but my town didn't change.
"Then I tried to change my family, but my family didn't change.
"Then I realized that first I must change myself."
Of course, once Yisrael Meir Kagan turned himself into the Chafetz Chaim, he did indeed change the world.

So, the community has many problems. We all know that. Why sit around and blog a list of them? Let's stick to focusing on the problems we can address. Which means that I have to start with my own.

I'm not a talmid of this rabbi -- why is his position my problem? I am not impacted by it (much), I can't fix it, let's get on with life.