Monday, February 3, 2020

A Jewish Income Tax?

On February 3, 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Prior to the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, the U.S. government received revenue only from tariffs and excise taxes, but not from income. Congress had imposed a temporary income tax to fund the Civil War when it passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which was a flat 3% tax on incomes over $800 annually. A year later, the “Revenue Act of 1862” levied a 3% - 5% tax on incomes above $600 and included a sunset provision that the levy would end in 1866. In 1894, an amendment attached to the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act provided for a 2% tax on annual incomes over $4,000 (equal to about $119,000 in 2019 dollars). The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the income tax component of the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act as an un-apportioned direct tax (Pollock vs. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company, 157 U.S. 429 (1895)). The Sixteenth Amendment established a Federal income tax as the law of the land.

Maimonides (Laws of Kings 4:4-6) rules that a king has the right to levy a tax upon the nation for his needs, or for a war, and the king alone can set the rate of the tax. The king can also establish a punishment for non-compliance, which may even include execution.

While the king has the power to tax, there is a debate if the Jews are required to appoint a king, or if a king is merely permitted to serve with conditions. When the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they were led by Joshua, the Judges, and then the prophet Samuel. When Samuel grew old and it became clear that his sons were not going to follow in his footsteps, the nation approached Samuel with the request for a king. Although Samuel was distressed by the request, God instructed Samuel to listen to the people (Samuel I 8:6-7) and comforted him that the nation’s desire was a rejection not of Samuel, but rather, of God Himself. Samuel even warns the nation of the unbridled and capricious power their requested king would have. He warns the people about the future king commandeering their sons and taking their fields, yet the nation doubled down and insisted on a king.

Although there is currently no king of Israel, for thousands of years Jews have prayed for the Messiah (anointed one – i.e. king) to reign over the nation of Israel.

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