A most fundamental Halacha in which Jews should relate to the surrounding society is Dina D’malchuta Dina (Bava Batra 54b). Literally translated this means the law of the land is the law. A fuller explanation is that Halacha demands obedience to the laws promulgated by the local civil authorities. There is much discussion as to the precise parameters of this Halacha which is summarized by the Encyclopedia Talmudit 7:295-308. In this essay we shall elucidate a responsum authored by Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 5:64) regarding the Halachic obligation for Israeli citizens to pay income tax to the State of Israel treasury.
Dina D’malchuta Dina – A Torah Obligation
Rav Yosef cites Beit Shmuel (Even Haezer 28:3) who rules that Dina D’malchuta Dina is merely a rabbinic obligation. However, Rav Ovadia cites Avnei Milu’im (28:2) and Teshuvot Chatam Sofer (Yoreh Deah 314) who vigorously dispute Beit Shmuel and rule that it is a Torah obligation to honor civil laws. Indeed, Rav Yosef marshals evidence to this ruling from the Rashba’s commentary to Nedarim 28a and concludes “from the words of the Rishonim (authorities of the Middle Ages) it is evident that they subscribe to the opinion of the Chatam Sofer”.
Dina D’Malchuta Dina in Eretz Yisrael
Rav Ovadia begins his discussion by citing the celebrated opinion of the Ran (Nedarim 28a s.v. B’Mocheis Ha’Omeid, citing Tosafot) that Dina D’Malchuta Dina regarding taxes does not apply in Eretz Yisrael. He argues that this rule applies only outside of Eretz Yisrael where the lands belong to the kings and they enjoy the right to tell those who reside in their lands, that if you do not obey our orders you will be banished from the land (for alternative theories for why we must observe the law of the land, see Encyclopedia Talmudit 7:295-297). However, this does not apply to Jewish kings since all Jews are partners in Eretz Yisrael and the king does not own Eretz Yisrael more than any other Jew.
Rav Yosef, however, notes that the Rambam (Hilchot Gezeilah Va’Aveidah 5:11 and in his commentary to the Mishnah Nedarim 3:4) specifically mentions that Dina D’Malchuta Dina applies both to Jewish and non-Jewish kings. The Rashba (Teshuvot 2:134) and the Meiri (Nedarim 28a) agree as well. The Beit Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 369 s.v. U’Mah She’hu Amar Bein She’hu Melech) marshals evidence to this opinion from the Gemara (Bava Kama 113a). This passage seeks to interpret a Mishnah in Nedarim (3:4) which seems to imply that we do not follow the rule of Dina D’malchuta Dina. The Gemara answers that the Mishnah applies to unjust tax collection. The Beit Yosef observes, however, that the Gemara does not answer that Dina D’malchuta Dina does not apply to Jewish kings in Eretz Yisrael, and that this is what the Mishnah in Nedarim speaks about.
Indeed, both the Tur (C.M. 369) and the Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 369:6) rule that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies both to Jewish and non-Jewish kings. Indeed, none of the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch challenge this ruling. Rav Ovadia notes that we do not enjoy the right to follow Halachic authorities whose opinions are not cited in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. Thus, the opinion that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies even in Eretz Yisrael constitutes normative Halacha.
Dina D’malchuta Dina in a Democracy
Even though the Rishonim and Shulchan Aruch speak of “kings”, Rav Ovadia Yosef rules that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies to a democracy. He marshals two proofs to this assertion. He cites Bava Kama 113a, as did the Beit Yosef, which does not simply resolve the problematic Mishnah of Nedarim 3:4 by stating that it speaks of a country that is not ruled by a king. Indeed, Rav Yosef notes that Chazal were aware of countries that were not ruled by a king, most famously Rome (as noted by Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 10b s.v. Kol Nesi’eha).
His second proof is from Rava’s (Bava Kama 113b) support of the principle of Dina D’malchuta Dina from the fact the government “takes trees, cuts them down, makes bridges from them and we utilize the bridges”. This reasoning surely applies in a democracy as well as a monarchy and thus Dina D’malchuta Dina applies to a democracy as well. One could add that it is certainly the case that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies in a democracy since the government does not collect taxes to enrich the leadership, as is the case in a monarchy. However, a democratic government that is (in the famous words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address) “of the people, by the people and for the people” collects taxes to pay for the vital services it provides such as the military, police, roads etc. One pays taxes in a democracy for the services rendered, as Halacha requires from one who has been provided with a service (Bava Kama 55b, Bava Metzia 76a and 101a and Bava Batra 4b).
Rav Ovadia even cites a celebrated ruling of Rav Kook (Teshuvot Mishpat Kohen 144:14) “Even in a time that a king does not reign in Israel, all the rules of a king revert in regards to all that applies to the public needs of the residents of Eretz Yisrael to the nation that resides within it, and all of the rules of a king apply to the government chosen by it”.
Dina D’malchuta Dina in a Government Composed of Many Non-Observant Jews
Rav Ovadia notes that there are some who wish to argue that Dina D’malchuta Dina does not apply to the Israeli government since many of its members of Jews who do not observe Torah and some are even are against Torah observance. Rav Yosef swiftly responds by noting that Tosafot (Sanhedrin 20b s.v. Melech Muttar) and the Zohar (Parashat Vayeishev) rule that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies even to an evil king such as Achav.
Indeed, at a convention of leading Religious Zionist rabbinic court judges who arbitrate monetary disputes held in 2008 they confirmed that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies in the State of Israel. In a joint statement signed by leading luminaries such as Rav Yaakov Ariel and Rav Dov Lior (published in Techumin 29:144) they cite as proof to this assertion in addition to the aforementioned responsum of Rav Ovadia Yosef rulings of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:87), Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Teshuvot 4:28), Rav Ovadia Hadaya (Teshuvot Yaskil Avdi 6:28:2) and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (Techumin 3:242).
In this statement they cite yet another reason to uphold civil laws. They cite Teshuvot Chatam Sofer (C.M. 44) who confirms the Halachic validity of civil laws in which “had they come before us, we would have also instituted such laws”. As an example, the joint statement specifically mentions the distance automobiles must observe while driving.
Dina D’malchuta Dina in the United States
Based on the above it is obvious that Dina D’malchuta Dina undoubtedly applies in the United States, as in addition to the aforementioned authorities the Ran would also agree that outside of Israel the land of the land must be respected. Indeed, Rav Hershel Schachter (Nefesh Harav p. 269) records the following practices of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik:
“Our master was very scrupulous about paying government taxes, and I heard reported in Rav Soloveitchik’s name that if one has specific knowledge about a particular store that does not pay sales taxes to the government, that it is forbidden to make purchases there, as it violates Lifnei Iveir (the prohibition to cause others to sin)”.
I have similarly heard reported that Rav Soloveitchik was asked by an organization devoted to reaching out to less observant youngsters, if they were permitted to retain staff and not pay them “on the books” (i.e., paying them in cash to avoid taxes). Rav Soloveichik replied that it is forbidden. They told Rav Soloveitchik that they did not have sufficient funds to operate the office if the staff would be paid “on the books”. Rav Soloveitchik told them that if that it is the case then they should close the office despite its noble work.
Rav Moshe Feinstein also rules that Dina D’malchuta Dina applies in the United States as is evident from many of his Teshuvot (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe C.M. 1:88 – where he specifically rules that one must pay taxes, C.M. 2:29, 2:30 and 2:55). He writes the following in a responsum where he forbids defrauding the United States government (which he calls a “government of kindness”) to receive more student aid than deserved (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe 2:29): “There exists no manner in which to proclaim such behavior as permissible, and just as Hashem hates sacrifices offered from theft so too Hashem hates support of Torah and those who study Torah by means of theft….The Roshei Yeshivot and directors, who are God fearing individuals, are not God forbid suspected of violating the prohibitions of theft, lying, deception and violation of Dina D’malchuta Dina by any possible proclamation of permissibility, because they are aware of the severity and the heavenly punishments in this world and in the next, and that it contravenes the very purpose of the establishment of Yeshivot - the study is for the students to develop into authentic God fearing individuals and to be exceptionally careful to refrain from any prohibitions regarding financial matters”.
It is shameful and a disgraceful to disregard the Halacha of Dina D’malchuta Dina both in Israel and in the United States (and in any other just jurisdiction). In the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein (ibid.) “Besides the prohibitions of theft, there are other terrible sins such as lying, deception and Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) and disgracing Torah and those who study it…and there is also great harm done to the great Torah scholars and their students who scrupulously avoid any trace of concern for theft and the like”. In recent decades many Jews who become exceptionally meticulous about Halachot such as Kashrut and Shabbat even beyond which the letter of the law requires. May we also be fastidiously observant of Dina D’malchuta Dina, which constitutes a Torah obligation according to the Chatam Sofer and Rav Ovadia Yosef.