Jewish Ethics and the New Tax Bill

Image: A person with red fingernails uses a laptop and a calculator. (Firmbee/Pixabay)

The Tax Cut and Reform Bill has been passed by Congress, and presumably the President will sign it.  It’s a done deal. Now what?

I was one of the people who opposed the bill as immoral, because of the damage I anticipated to the poor, the working class, and the middle class. I hope and pray I was wrong about the bill. Certainly the Republicans who passed it are trumpeting all the good it will do for every American.  I hope they are right.

Some observations about Jewish ethical responsibilities as I contemplate this bill:

  1. Our obligation to give tzedakah remains a constant. The commandment is to give for the relief of suffering and deprivation. The commandment to contribute is not dependent on “deductions.” Even those who have very little are obligated to give something to tzedakah.
  2. Support organizations that help people in trouble. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that 13 million people will lose their health insurance. Any of them who get sick will suffer financially.  Who are those organizations? Jewish Family and Children’s Services is one option. Most large communities have one (the link I gave is to my local one.) Check the Google for your local option. Don’t forget the community food bank!  Their business is likely to increase, too, not least because of the effects of the bill on low income families, who lose in several ways.  Your rabbi’s discretionary fund may also help people in immediate emergencies in your community.
  3. We need to watch over the elderly in our lives, because of automatic cuts to Medicare. Again, this will generate more demand for tzedakah funds. The bill leaves elders more vulnerable financially and medically. It will also generate a whole new wave of financial scams, to which elders are particularly vulnerable.
  4. We need to safeguard the dignity of those who apply for help. If you are a supporter of a charity that serves people in trouble, ask them how they go about saying “no” to people. Maimonides is insistent that the dignity of the applicant is important; in his Laws of Gifts to the Poor, he makes a point of the fact that kindness is especially important when we have to say “no.” We must protect the privacy of requests, and also protect the dignity of anyone applying.
  5. Those who do benefit from the new law will have more money in their pockets. If we benefit, we might consider putting some of our windfall into increases in our tzedakah budgets.
  6. Our congregations will also be impacted if people have less money to spend, because more will require dues relief. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who was on a congregational board during the Great Recession in 2008. That recession caused layoffs in staff, delayed maintenance, and other painful disruptions. So again, if you have shekels to give, consider supporting your congregation, even if you aren’t able to deduct your gift. If we don’t have the shekels, then we can still volunteer, and critically, we can be kind and patient with staff.
  7. Support organizations that advocate for those who are suffering. When CNN reported that seven words, including the word “transgender” had been banned by the Trump Administration for use in CDC reports, a young transwoman I know contacted me, messaging me: “I’m truly scared by this…” The need to advocate for the vulnerable will only increase, if 2016 is any guide. Who we identify as “vulnerable” will depend on our politics, but if the only people you know who are vulnerable are yourself and your family, I recommend the words of Hillel, “If I am only for myself, who am I?”

That’s all I’ve been able to come up with so far. We’ll know more about the challenges ahead as lawyers and accountants study the bill.

As I said above, I hope I’m wrong. I hope that this new tax bill is everything Speaker Ryan and the President say that it is, a benefit to all Americans. But on the off chance that the naysayers were right, I’m also looking at my responsibilities as a Jew in a new and difficult economic landscape.

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rabbiadar

Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

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