A major Jewish legal debate is shaping up over the permissibility of “snitching” to the tax authorities, submitting names of suspected tax evaders. A recent government campaign urges Israelis to turn in suspected cheats, providing a phone number and web site where individuals can submit anonymous information about tax cheats.
The government established the program several weeks ago, in a near-desperate attempt by the government to collect some of the billions of outstanding tax shelters that are owed by citizens from all walks of life. The government needs to find about NIS 10 billion ($3.7 billion) in order to balance the next state budget, and collecting money owed by Israelis is one of its most important strategies.
However, there is a major aversion in Jewish culture to “snitching.” In previous generations, especially in Europe, governments would collect confiscatory taxes from Jews, driving many into extreme poverty. Thus, many Jews living in ghettos and isolated villages would try to avoid paying taxes. Some unscrupulous residents of these communities would blackmail victims, demanding payoffs or favors, without which they would “report” them. Jewish lawbooks of the medieval and later period contain many rulings by rabbis ostracizing snitches, preventing them from marrying into the community or even being buried in its cemetery.
That cultural aversion still exists among Israelis, although no one would argue that the state “persecutes” people with taxes. Nevertheless, the aversion is so strong that no less an authority than Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat and son of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu z”tl ruled that it was forbidden to report fellow Jews to the tax authorities. “The authorities can find those who owe themselves, that is their job,” he said.
But other rabbis are not so sure. Rabbi Haim Navon of the Shimshoni Community in Modi'in said this week that it was permissible for Jews to report tax cheats. On his Facebook page, Rabbi Navon wrote that the issues regarding tax collection from Jews in Europe do not apply in Israel. “Nevertheless it would be best to do this only in cases where the tax evasion is of a large sum, in order not to poison relations between ordinary people.” In order to avoid unpleasantness, he added, everyone should demand a receipt when buying a product or service, thus ensuring that the vendor reports the transaction to the authorities.