Saturday, June 15th 2024   |



Albert Einstein observed: “The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.”  With  tax returns due soon, many Americans would agree!

The long history of taxation is evident in Jewish sacred texts.  Consider the half shekel tax first imposed in conjunction with the Israelite census (Exodus 30:13-16).  A vestige of this practice is our pre-Purim payment of machatzit ha-shekel (customarily three fifty-cent pieces).

Esther 10:1 suggests that taxation was standard operating procedure for Achashverosh, who levied a tax “on the mainland and the islands.”

Ezra 7:24 mentions a variety of taxes: “It is not permissible to impose tribute, poll tax, or land tax on any priest, Levite, singer, gatekeeper, Temple functionary, or other servant of the House of God.”

In the Talmudic Era, Jews bore oppressive Roman tax obligations.  “Arnona” refers either to a dreaded tax on crops and livestock… or to communal obligations to provide food for occupying Roman legions (see, e.g., Pesachim 6a).

Baba Batra 54b discusses the “Taska” – another duty levied by Rome. “Taska” may (like “taxes”) derive from the Latin verb taxare: to assess, to burden, to charge.

Satirist H. L. Mencken looked on the bright side: “Unquestionably, there is progress. The average American now pays out twice as much in taxes as he formerly got in wages.”

Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the editor of “Masorti: The New Journal of Conservative Judaism.


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