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September 27, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776
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What is More Virtuous: Paying Taxes or Giving Charity?

Being forced to pay taxes does not make us more virtuous people. If it did, our founding fathers would have thanked George III for his coercion.
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And please, hold the arguments that more money in education means a better education. In my hometown of Englewood the school board spends approximately $23,000 per student, which is about double what the Jewish day schools in the area charge per child. Yet the failure rate in the public schools is much higher than the private schools.

I would much rather see philanthropists like the Adelsons, or Democratic mega-donors like George Soros, have a lower, fairer tax bill and give more money to education, medical research, and private initiatives to support the families of our troops. Charities usually spend their funds a lot more carefully than government and I salute the efforts that President Bush made to create greater synergy between government and faith-based initiatives.

Say what you want about George Soros (whom Axelrod neglected to mention would likewise save a bundle on lower taxes)  but he has donated hundreds of millions to Eastern European nations struggling to birth new democracies. Likewise, the Adelsons biggest critics never fail to acknowledge the hundreds of millions they have invested in holocaust education, medical research, Jewish education, and support for a tiny fledgling democracy called Israel which just happens to be America’s most stalwart ally in a region where America is increasingly despised and loathed.

Why David Axelrod would feel it’s such a mitzvah to pay higher and higher taxes is beyond me. The goal is to make taxes fair, equitable, and effective in addressing the nation’s needs. And that means controlling spending, not just raising taxes.

And here in America we have an incredibly proud and quite frankly humbling history of massive charitable giving. A few names, I am sure come quickly to your mind as they did me. Andrew Carnegie, for example founded an internationally respected institution of higher learning – Carnegie Mellon University. He set up at least four entities of giving that are still operating today – the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY); The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP); the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching(CFAT); The Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs (CCEIA). This was a man who’s giving was so monumental and historic that a prehistoric dinosaur was actually named after him – Diplodocus carnegiei.

J.D. Rockefeller gave countless dollars to promote education at all levels and for all people. He provided major founding to the Spelman College in Atlanta for African-American women in 1884.  He created the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913 giving  nearly $250 million to the foundation – truly a staggering amount of money for the times – which focused on public health, medical training, and the arts. It helped to create Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. It also reinforced and expanded the Peking Union Medical College in China into a credible institution of note.

As this is not a history lesson I will only mention a few more captains of industry that have left their mark on history and gave selflessly to better the world for all; Simon Guggenheim, and more recently Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Great philanthropy is what we should require of the super-rich rather than confiscatory taxation like the estate tax. This is just a short list of amazing giving and great men and women, but the list of people whose lives have been changed is beyond doubt countless.

Those who want to pay more taxes are welcome to. It’s a free country. But all of us need to push ourselves to give a lot more charity. Being forced to pay taxes does not make us more virtuous people. If it did, our founding fathers would have thanked George III for his coercion. But voluntarily giving more charity makes us more righteous, more noble, more caring, and more generous.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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