The law of the state is law? What?

OK, so having already concluded that the governments we live under normally work against the Seven Commandments, I come up against a strange teaching. It is the statement that seems to come from only one rabbi, yet it is repeated in the name of that rabbi when spoken of in the Talmud. What is this statement?

“Dina d’malchuta dina” or “Dina d’malchusa dina”

This is translated to mean “the law of the kingdom/state is law”.

Now it is interpreted by Jews as meaning that as long as Jews are in foreign lands they have to keep the laws of the land as part of their Torah obligations unless those laws conflict with other Torah Laws. They use this reason to tell other Jews to pay their taxes and obey the king or ruling class that they may have to live under.

But there are some that teach that this principle is somehow part of the Seven Commandments, the law of Dinim, and that if a Gentile breaks a law in our Gentile lands, that we are breaking the law of Dinim. I will add that the people who make this claim say that it is not a core commandment, and that it is wrong to a lesser extent.

The teachers who make this claim are much respected teachers of the Seven Commandments. Some Gentiles even see the rabbi who wrote an epic edition on the Noahide Code as their rabbi, as their authority who they go to for rulings. So we are not talking about a rabbi who isn’t worth his weight in gold and more, or an organisation that seeks to pollute the waters with regards to the Seven Laws. But from this Seven Law teaching organisation we have statements that in essence say that God wants us Gentiles to obey our governments and their laws.

But I must add a statement here. That same group and the rabbi in the group had the kindness to let me question that approach and he explained in a way that shed more light to me. At first I disagreed with his approach, and now I believe that there may not be that much of a difference in how we both think about this issue, at least in theory. In practice, I don’t know. But I still feel a desire to share my thoughts. So here we go.

The current situation

What is the current situation in our Gentile lands when it comes to God’s law, the Seven Commandments?

The governments and ruling parties in most, if not all, countries of the world have policies that contradict the basic laws in one way or another. It has been this way for some time. It doesn’t matter which country you live in, in some way the government works against the seven commandments. I don’t mind giving examples at all.

In the name of religious freedom, idolatry is not just tolerated, it is protected. In the name of freedom of speech, cursing God’s name is a protected right. In the name of personal liberties, murder is made legal via abortion and is peddled freely at hospitals. Some places legalised euthanasia. Its police force gets away with murder too often. The theft of children is part of the job of government and in some countries is totally fine for the sake of marriage. Too many times the government over-reaches and unjustifiably takes people’s finances and property through their police force or policy enforcers. Adultery is ignored and homosexuality is protected as an alternative lifestyle. Eating meat taken from a living animal can be a delicacy in some countries or a ritual in others. And at the foundation of it all, we have the beautiful law regarding the prohibition against injustice which has been the over-used toilet paper of all governments. It is a struggle at times to see the courts in our countries as defending justice as opposed to ensuring funds are coming into their pockets. Lawyers are not there to protect justice, but to win cases and get their fees, to make sure things look better for their side. Police mishandle evidence, doctor reports, and lie on the stand. The legal systems in many countries prohibit the death penalty even for premeditated murder, even for serial killers or serial rapists. Citizens are not responsible anymore for the upkeep of justice, it is left to the powers-that-be and look how that’s turned out! This does not exhaust the list of the crimes of government.

Now I’m not putting all the blame on politicians and government leaders, because, unfortunately, in some ways they reflect the culture and the populace. Let’s be realistic. Our modern culture perpetuates notions of personal liberty above human responsibility and obligation, and destroys any objective standard of morality for the sake of personal satisfaction and tastes. To actually enforce God’s law would be unbearable on a people that reject it. Principles that undermine the basic obligations we have are part and parcel of our culture, so we are not in the place to enforce them. And it is the government institutions that help promote the status quo and make sure that it is indoctrinated into its serfs/citizens with its “education” system and media. But this article is about the ruling class about what some have been teaching is our obligation to them. And the degenerate state of society doesn’t absolve us of all culpability. In fact, in some ways it highlights the issues further.

So let’s be clear and blunt about our current situation. The ruling powers do not uphold the Seven Commandments, they commit acts that are against the Seven Commandments, they promote the undermining of the Seven Commandments, and they enact laws that go against the Seven Commandments and against the justice they propose.

Now my previous paragraph may go over the heads of those that ain’t fully plugged into the Seven Commandments philosophy, so let me say it in a different way, explaining myself along the way. The Seven Commandments reflect the most basic objective standard of morality for humanity, the basic standard for continued life. The fact that the Seven Commandments reflect this basic morality is seen also in the fact that people who don’t even know of the Seven still can see that governments these days are fundamentally immoral. The ruling class, the governments of most, if not all, countries go against the basic standard of morality in one way or another. In one way or another, they are immoral and unjust, and thus undermine their own reason to continue existing.

Working against the purpose – Partial Observance

Another thing that the Seven Laws reflect is the purpose for Gentiles, i.e., to make the world decent and habitable, a basically wholesome place to live and grow. When the governments then rule in ways that go against the Seven Commandments, they abolish our very purpose, the reason we are here, alive. They are working against our very purpose.

Now those that teach that this concept of dina d’malchusa dina or “the law of the state is law” teach that it reflects an underlying logical (not divine) principle: that the laws of a government are supposed to be for the good of society, to help the cohesive working of a group of people that normally live in the same place according to the standard of good. When the government then make laws that legalise what the Seven Laws say is forbidden, it is no longer for the good of society. When the government uses the funds it extorts from its subjects for immoral warfare and for the promoting of an agenda that conflicts with the Seven Commandments, then it is not for the good of the society to continue to fund that unjust organisation, even if it is passed as law by that same government. Why? Because it endangers the continued existence of that society and the society becomes complicit in the immoral acts of its government. This is even worse for a society that believes it has a democratic system of government. Living in the UK, this belief in some sort of democratic power of the people is simply that: a belief. It’s illusory, not real or true. But either way, the populace become complicit in the acts of its government by supporting its rise to power through voting (whether you vote for the party that wins or a party that loses, you still support the system that gives it power) and funding it through it extortion racket called taxation. I’ll deal with taxation later.

Some may argue that the governments retain some validity in the way they partially keep the Seven Laws, and the law of Justice or Dinim, as they still act as some deterrent against crime with their establishment of courts.

Some would quote ancient Jewish sages with statements like the following:

Rabbi Chanina the deputy [High] Priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for if not for the fear of it, a person would swallow his fellow live. (From the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 2)

But each of these points lack potency and strength when you look closer at them.

So there are those that say there is a partial fulfilment of the law of Dinim by the fact that the government or courts have a legal system, that courts have at least been set up. But as can be easily seen, the existence of courts mean nothing if the laws they uphold are unjust laws, or they allow criminals to walk free. So it’s not simply their existence that matter but also the way they are run and what laws they uphold. Courts should decide on different issues, both with regards to money and damages, and also with regards to the basic laws of morality, the Seven Commandments. According to certain teachings, our Gentile laws should reflect and/or parallel the Torah law with regards to civil matters, but not as strict. So in whatever way the courts act or the ruling powers act, they are supposed to reflect a justice based on or reflecting the basic divine standards, the basic standard of morality. It should be apparent that too often this is not the case. On all levels of legislation, the making, enacting, and enforcing of it, it is driven fundamentally not on morality but on legality. It is not about what is just and right, but what is in the totally human based, Torah-rejecting legislation, legislation that at times seeks only to appease the masses and at other times seeks to generate more revenue. This is not to say that it is totally without any good law, but with the amount of loopholes built into the system, murderers and thieves and rapists could keep their freedom due to a legal technicality or with the right solicitor\lawyer, and other parts of the basic code of the Seven Laws are more or less totally ignored and not enforced.

So it could be argued that the notion of this partial fulfilment is at best questionable, and at worst a significant mistake. The “law of the state” is not necessarily about reflecting a basic morality in too many cases, and thus cannot be said to be for the good of society.

Also when it comes to the notion that we, as Gentiles, must pray for the welfare of the state because without it people would eat each other alive, then there are a number of issues with this.

Firstly, the statement seems to be directed to the Jews as they are commanded to pray anyway. Such a commandment is not part of the Seven Commandments. So it may not even be applicable to Gentiles. Secondly, the question must be raised as to when this statement is applicable, or whether such a statement can be made for all governments even immoral ones. Thirdly, the statement only says to pray due to the good that the government is supposed to do. When the government no longer does such good, then it is questionable whether one should still pray for such an entity. Lastly, it only says to pray for it. It doesn’t say to support it in another way. So its scope is limited. Prayer may be good for helping a person to have a mature and positive personal view on the situation of government. So it has a personal impact. But practically, it is of no use for a Gentile if his government spits on the Seven Commandments with the sorts of laws it enacts. So the statement may be of personal value, but of no practical values where the Seven Commandments are concerned.

As has been said before, our modern governments and political systems work actively against the purpose of Gentiles. So this would lead to the conclusion that a Gentile has no responsibility to God to obey his government or its laws if it works against the Seven Commandments. Later I’ll deal with what this means practically.

God told you to do it!

There are those that will claim that Gentiles are just as bound to the principle of “the law of the state is law” as Jews are. Some would state that it’s part of the Gentile commandment of Dinim and that it is very important that Gentiles fall in line with their government’s policy just as Jews do (unless it breaks their divine law). Sometimes such people will say “God wants you to follow the law of the land.”

Let’s deal with the fact. The principle of “the law of the state is law” when mentioned in the Talmud is only used in describing how a Jew should act in Gentile lands. It is clearly an obligation on Jews. It is never stated as being part of the Seven Commandments. So it is not just as binding upon Gentiles as it is on Jews. It is explicitly directed to Jews with no clear and explicit obligation on Gentiles as if it is part of a divine commandment or divine obligation. There is no literal “God wants you to do diddly squat” when it comes to “the law of the state is law” when it comes to Gentiles. As far as it goes, the core principle for a Gentile is a logical one that is linked (only rationally, not by divine precept) to Dinim, Justice, and the core purpose for humanity to be here, to create a civilised society, a world for wholesome habitation. Essentially it is decent and good for a person to do what is best for those around him, his community. But for a Gentile it remains a question as to whether observing the laws of the state is for the good of his community and whether it conflicts with the Seven Commandments, basic morality.

It was told to me once that God gave the state, the ruling powers, the right/power to lay down laws for their subjects. I’ve never received any evidence for this claim. Again, I understand the logic, that there may be a logical argument that there is a need for the state or some sort of government. This entity seems different than a court and a judge and the enforcement of the judgements and decision of the judge, which is commanded. A court deals with justice. A government deals with politics (what an ambiguous term). I’ll have to think about that arena more. But although God did speak of the institution of courts, thus giving them their necessary powers, I see no evidence for the institution of government and God giving that power. And those that approach me with statements about the power of government seem to use arguments more logical in content rather than some sort of commandment.

So did God command this to Gentiles, this principle of “the law of the state is law”, that a Gentile is divinely obligated to follow whatever the government tells them, even if such authority is limited to monetary matters? No. I see no evidence of this. Jews may be obligated due to what the oral tradition tells them. But I see no strong evidence that this obligation stretches to Gentiles, other than to be wise and do what is best for the community in the eyes of the community as long as the Seven Commandments are obeyed and basic morality is observed. But once that line is crossed, I don’t believe the laws of the state have any more legitimacy.

Tax – paying for our own destruction

In this section I’m going to attempt to be as blunt as possible. I’m not going to make my words nicer or talk around the issues in order to get anyone to like my opinion more.

It has been said that the principle of “the law of the state is law” is mostly focused on monetary issues such as taxation, that it is necessary for anyone to pay tax as if doing so is for the good of the community.

What is taxation? It is where the state, the government, will tell its citizens to either pay it money or else anyone who disobeys will be punished to the point of having his life taken away. So it’s essentially robbery and extortion. In many countries it’s where you have no choice, the government will take your earnings, your sweat and labour, before you even get to see it, take what it wants and give you what remains. Again, any attempt to escape from such theft (is there a better word for it?) will be punished on various levels, even to the point of having your life taken. That will be the price of resistance, and I’ll talk about that consequence more in the later chapter. But it doesn’t matter if you’re a flag-loving nationalist who thinks it’s ok for the state to do this, or a person who hates the state for one reason or another and doesn’t wish to be extorted or stolen from in this way, either way, you have to pay … or else!

What happens to the funds that the government snatches from its victims? Essentially, it gets to use it however it wishes. As I’ve learnt recently from Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the state does try to manipulate its laws to make it seem as if it’s working on behalf of its subjects when in fact it is using its blind serfs as “rungs on a ladder” to elevate and sustain itself. So it can make it appear as if these tax laws are for the good of the people. Many a naive person will say that paying tax pays for the public services, like health care, public transport, and national infrastructure. They feel they are doing a civic duty when they allow the state to steal from them and thus feel no way about it.

Again let me be blunt. Paying tax is far from “doing one’s civic duty” and contributing to “the common good” or “helping one’s community” although it may not be totally alien to it (i.e., maybe some fraction of tax goes towards these services in the way that people think they do … maybe). All it does is allow a government to take your money. It is then up to that government to do what it wants with the money. But what are you really supporting when you allow the government to steal from you?

Some may argue that it is not stealing. But the basic definition of theft is taking someone’s property without or against their consent. It would be very foolish to believe that everyone that the state steals or extorts money from does so willingly. So that is what the state does, it must take money either through robbery, extortion or theft. Just because the flag-lover or naive community activist may allow it, doesn’t mean their next door neighbour does, or any or many of the strangers that make up a significant portion of the populace who live under a government’s area of domination.

And remember too, the majority of governments in the world aren’t limited to just protecting the “liberty” of its subjects. It is expansive, intrusive, and expensive.

So again, what do we support when we allow the government to take our money? Apart from the fact that taxation also funds wars (and thus murder) and the national debt … oh don’t get me started on the national debt (paying back the loans, actually the interest on the loans that the government owes yet has its people pay for), taxation pays for the government itself.

Some may say “so what?” But the question has to be, especially for a person concerned about basic morality, what exactly it means to pay for the state itself. That means that taxation keeps politicians in their jobs, it supports the legislation they put into law, it supports the enforcement of laws that go against morality. So essentially, taxation pays for ensuring that an immoral government gets to put laws into place that oppose and undermine basic morality, the Seven Commandments. Every evil war mongerer, every single MP, senator, congressman, politician, prime minister, president, king, ruler, every single one of them that had a hand in corruption, injustice, war crimes, name any crime, all of them laid on a comfy mattress made and fluffed by the funds from their serfs. While some of those citizens were thinking to themselves “I help support the national health service or build the roads”, some of those tax funds went to oiling the gears of a horrible political machinery that ruined lives.

Again, some may say “so what?” But that one I’ll partially ignore. Why? You have to understand we are accountable for what we do in this life. If a person doesn’t understand this, then they will give a glib “so what?” When a person knows Who we are accountable to, then the knowledge that they helped support national slavery or mass murder doesn’t cause such a glib answer to bounce out. Self-justifications to comfort one’s conscience can seem hollow. The fact is that God’s judgement on our countries is very much justified when the populace or a significant portion of it supports injustice and immorality in one way or another. I still remember Rabbi Hirsch’s discussion on Isaiah’s messages about the countries round about him, which also reminds me of Ezekiel’s warnings about Tyre and Egypt and how much of it was linked to the government and the markets. The amount of places ransacked by God’s judgements is scary. The proximity between our governments and societies and those that were destroyed make me very uncomfortable. And taxation may be one of those ways that we are funding our own destruction.

Again, taxation is not about an imaginary social contract. As someone rightly pointed out, a contract without signature or proper knowledge of the terms isn’t valid. But then again, there really is no contract. The laws of countries are never fundamentally described as contracts. The failed constitution of the USA never claims to be a contract. In my experience here in the UK where there is no constitution, the laws that are imposed on people are not contractual and I’ve never been taught that they are. Once you are in the country, the laws apply, without choice, without knowledge. So taxation has nothing to do with contract. It’s not essentially about a person’s wish for their local community. In some ways, it’s not even about public services.

Taxation is about morality and faith. Taxation is about faith in government that it’s going to use the money it takes in a moral way. That can only be classed as “faith” and a blind one at that, because any proper investigation into how government has been in the past will educate you on how baseless that faith is. It’s also about morality in the way that it does impact on each individual’s personal morality since to fund immorality is to become complicit in that immoral activity. Cameron, Blair, Bush or Obama can easily and rightly say to each tax-payer as they press the kill button on each of their victims (“foreign and domestic”), “I couldn’t have done it without you!” And it’s worse for those who puff out their chest and proudly say “I’m a law abiding tax payer” which really just means “I obey the dictates of an immoral government and willingly fund whatever they do, good or evil!” But the fact is all of us, willingly or unwillingly, have a hand in some part of their evil.

The question to ask really is not just “what civic duty do I have to pay tax?” but also “what moral obligation do I have to fund acts and actors criminal to the Seven Commandments and to basic morality?” Personally I would say none. If “the law of the state is law” means that one should willingly obey laws that in one way or another defeat our very purpose for existence, the Seven Commandments, or support those that undermine it, then it only creates a contradiction, setting our responsibility to our Creator on the same level as our subservience to human masters. If “the law of the state is law” principle is really a reflection of doing something for the real objective good of one’s community and society, then no Gentile has the moral or divine obligation to fund the immoral state.

But here comes the challenge. It’s the devil’s advocate side of me coming out.

“David, on principle alone, if a government was righteous, kept the seven laws, including the principle of Dinim, and only did what was right, would then you be obligated to pay taxes?”

To be blunt again, I don’t know what such a government would look like or what taxes would be in that day. It would be much easier to willingly give to such an entity. But the question is whether I would be obligated. If it were the case that the only way I could do good for my community and society would be to financially support the government, then I would be logically and rationally obligated. I still couldn’t say it’s part of the Seven Commandments proper. But if my aim was to be a good person, and a righteous government was the only way I could do good for my community, then there would be a rational obligation and there would be some relation between that obligation and the commandment of Dinim. That doesn’t make it part of the core commandment.

The path of wisdom – Save your own life from the beast

So yes, I’ve said there is no divine obligation for a gentile to obey the government he is under if it an unrighteous and immoral one. The question would then be whether it is ok to therefore disobey this entity. Some may be getting the idea that essentially I’m saying that we should disobey the government. That would be a mistake. I’m arguing against the notion that there is some divine obligation that we are to obey the government, especially the ones we now live under. Whether we are to obey the government and to what extent is another question altogether based on other criteria.

What exactly is the nature of our governments? It has been pointed out that these days it is nothing more than a monopoly of force. People see the government as having powers that normal individuals do not and that these powers are legitimate. Even if a government is unjust, the normal citizen will stand back helplessly and watch as the employees of that government steal your money, your house, your children, your wife, and even you and your life. The fact is that too many people see the government as legitimate force, and the government itself sees its force as legitimate. There is little to distinguish between a government and a terrorist organization or a racist group like the KKK because each believes itself justified in imposing force on its victim regardless of objective morality. But the government has a longer shelf-life than these smaller but like-minded thieves and murderers.

There is a lot of similarity between the power the government has and the movie “The Matrix”. Because there are people so plugged into the system, anyone could be an agent of the system and help make sure you get captured, processed or killed, and they will feel that they’ve done “their civic duty”. And just as with the Matrix where it is said “the Matrix is essentially about control”, in much the same way the government is not about righteousness – it is about control. All you are is a number and a member of the national herd who the government must use as chattel to maintain its own existence and self-importance.

In light of such an oppressive and seemingly irresistible force, the primary reason for a Gentile to obey the government is not out of being a decent person but rather it’s just to save your own life from the aggression and force it will feel justified in using against you. The reason to have money taken from you by force or threat of force is not to support one’s own community, but to save one’s own life and property from the governmental mafia and its protection racket. They have a gun comfortably placed at the side of your head, and as long as it seems as if you are dancing to their tune, their finger won’t touch the trigger against your family, your property, or yourself. The reason to obey certain of its laws is not to express the fact that you are a responsible individual but to ward off its paid thugs who are hired to capture you and trap you in the multiplicity of unknown laws that can be used against you.

Some may say that this is an overly harsh view of government. I would say I’m just stating things as they are. A government without or lacking morality is illegitimate, regardless of whether it steals the throne or fools enough people to vote it into power. Without legitimacy, it is just a band of thieves and murderers, and those that are employed by it are accomplices and hired mercenaries and thugs. Those who willingly support such an entity are immoral fools or purposeful criminals. Again, I am simply cutting to the chase without using “ego-stroke” words. In such a place a time, it is not about “dina d’malchusa dina”. Such an obligation is not part of our Gentile core responsibilities. Leave the Jews to interpret their obligations as they will. They have a different set of laws to look after and in the end they will have to look after themselves. We Gentiles have our responsibilities. Living under such governments as we do is not about an obligation that states “the law of the state is law” but rather “live righteously and wisely and with cunning to save your own life and those you care about.”

But while under such systems of government, do what you can to spread moral awareness around you, either through word or example. We may not be able to change the world enough to get rid of the systems of immorality today, but whatever each person can do can at least make a difference to what is coming. Stand up for morality and the Seven Commandments whenever you can and however you can. But be careful. Thankfully – even I can appreciate this – we do not live a world where every single governmental law stands opposed to morality. Yet strangely enough, I bet that even in Sodom and Gomorrah, or Tyre, or Babylon, or Rome, or the many other places in history that were demolished, not all of their laws stood opposed to the Seven Commandments either. But the core of the system is corrupt and that can only bring about problems and injustices. So stand up for morality and the Seven Commandments as best you can. They are our primary obligations, not the edicts of man. Do what you can to live, but live upright. This system is too much about being legal and less about being moral or just. One of my friends has experienced this the hard way.

Do what you can to live, but live upright.

Conclusion

Does the principle “the law of the state is law” have a divine obligation upon Gentiles? No! I don’t need to beat around the bush about that.

Whatever obligation is upon us is linked to our Seven Commandments and our purpose for existence. The core of the governmental systems we live under works against that purpose as is seen by acts and laws of government that go against the Seven Commandments, and as can be seen by the amount of injustices and immoralities committed by government, by the state. This is not to say that everything the state does is bad or evil. There are some things that are done which coincide with what is good and moral. Yes, there is a link between coincide and things that are just coincidences. I could have spoken more about the motivations of that ancient entity called the state or government, but at least today, I didn’t. I’ve spent long enough on this one blogpost already.

A Gentile is called upon to be the best he can be morally, but he should also do his best to stay alive and well enough to do his best morally. Where government is concerned, interacting with such a beast is more about wisdom and cunning than it is about righteousness, although a person should stay as upright and honourable as possible. Breaking its laws is not breaking God’s law unless the two coincide (and then it doesn’t matter about the government, you’ve got much bigger things to worry about). And I give a big respect to those who try to change in from the inside, no matter how morally dangerous that can be and the amount of morally corrupting forces there may be.

In the end you can only do the best you can. It’s not an easy road. But cling fast to the Seven Commandments, the objective basis of morality, and at least you’ll be working to a much more fulfilling end.

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9 Comments

  1. Shalom! This saying is oft misunderstood and misapplied. In short, it only applies to taxation fairly applied by the government of a land, not to “all laws”. And, what taxation is considered “fair” is strictly defined by halakhah. I’ll try to post more later tonight, along with sources, when I have some more time.

    • Please share. Your input is valued. I hope the sources are easily accessible

      • Sorry it’s taking so long for me to reply. I’m trying to write up a thorough reply that does justice to your exceptionally well-thought-out article, and includes the sources to back up my statements. B’ezrath Hashem, I’ll post it up here this coming Shabbath.

      • Thanks for letting me know. I wait with anticipation. I respect your attempt to give a solid response.

  2. Shalom, David,
    Sorry this has taken so long. With the chag that just came up, and the fact that I’m in process of moving into a new house (B”H!), it’s been hard to find some time to go through all this. But, here’s a quick rundown of some of the points it seems to me you’re wondering about in this article.
    First, what is government? In most halakhic writings, “government” is referred to as “malkhuth”, which literally means “kingdom”. This doesn’t mean to imply that only kingdom-style governments are legitimate – rather, that’s just the language of the times, since that was the standard form all governments took. But, there is no requirement for a government to take that particular form. In essence, though, a government is nothing more than a person (in the case of a “kingdom”) or a group of people (in the form of our more modern forms of government).
    So, if a general person came up to you and said, “Give me 10% of your income on a regular basis, or I will send my hired goons to haul you away and lock you in a cage.” What would we call this? Obviously, this would be nothing more than Robbery!
    But, if a government does this exact same thing, it’s called “taxation”. And, this is what the mishnah “Dina d’malkhutha dina” (the law of the government is law) comes to teach us. Essentially, while the act of taxation would be robbery if an ordinary person does it, when it’s done by a valid government, it’s not considered robbery.
    However, it’s important to also consider the sister mishnah to this one, “Gezel d’malkhutha gezel” (theft by the government is theft). This comes to teach us that the special privilege that a government has to collect money through taxation is not a right to loot and pillage the populace with no restrictions. Rather, there are very specific limitations on this privilege. In a nutshell, the government must codify it’s laws of taxation, and must limit it’s actions to those codified laws, and must also apply it’s powers of taxation evenly and fairly among it’s citizens (meaning, if the government comes in and says, “I’m just going to take your stuff because I don’t like you, personally” – then that’s not taxation, it’s theft).
    How do you determine who is the valid government in a land? Quite simply, you look at their money. According to the halakhah, whoever’s face/insignia/etc. is on the locally accepted currency is considered the valid government of that land, and has the privilege of taxation there.
    So, if a government steps out of line and commits theft, what to do? Quite simply, they are to be taken to the halakhic courts. You see, the government, like any other person or group of people, is answerable to the Torah.
    In the Torah world-view, there are two different systems which handle what we in the West would traditionally think of as “governance”. One is the government (“malkhuth”), which handles issuing money, collecting taxes, undertaking public works projects, and other such “government-y” tasks. And, the other system is the Halakhic Court System, which handles trying cases regarding Torah Law (including things such as theft, murder, idolatry, and even the adjudication of contracts and debts).
    For an example of this, simply look at Israel during her “golden age”. You had the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem with sub-courts in every major city. And, next to that, you had the King who ruled over the land. Two separate, but complementary, systems.
    Now, we Noahides are obligated to set up Courts of Justice. This means we are required to set up courts which are essentially sub-courts of the Halakhic Court System, with the Sanhedrin as their head.
    We are not, however, under any obligation to set up a government (unlike Israel, who has a commandment to choose a King for themselves). If we choose to do so, we are free to set one up in any “form” we desire – whether Kingdom, or Constitutional Republic, or whatever form we can dream up. And, when the people accept it (and it’s currency), then it is considered legitimate. And, of course, if people don’t accept it’s currency, then it doesn’t have the privilege of taxation, and instead is just a nice organization of people doing public works projects on their own dime (which is laudable in its own right).
    So, this mishnah (Dina d’malkhutha dina / Gezel d’malkhutha gezel) applies equally to Jews as well as Noahides. This can be derived from the Kal WaChomer principle (“If the government of a land has the authority to tax Jews who are considered foreigners there, according to halakhah, how much more so do they have the authority to tax native residents of that land?”), and is also evident because it’s just considered part of the laws of Theft & Robbery (i.e. it’s a special exception to the laws of theft that explicitly applies to governments (and, in all applicable discussions, it discusses how the special privilege applies to “Gentile” governments – hence, the Sages are applying it directly to Noahides!).
    So, how do we deal with the fact that our governments are using our tax money to do evil things, or things we don’t agree with? Well, regardless of that, the government has the privilege of taking taxes from you and using them as they see fit. But, the answer to that dilemma shouldn’t be “Oh well” or “So what?” Rather, it should be, “So what are you doing about it?” We live in an age where we have the power to rise up and change the direction of our governments, because they aren’t generally run by kingly fiat (in most places, anyways – although, even if they are, the people can still rise up and change things – remember, the “malkhuth” is chosen by the people – it all comes down to who they choose to accept as their rulers). Making big changes like this surely isn’t an easy task, but it’s one worth undertaking, if you have the time, energy, smarts, and stomach for it.
    Remember, we’re not obligated to set up a government. Conversely, neither are we obligated to accept the one that IS set up (although, they still have the right to tax us while the general populace accepts them). Nor are we forbidden from striving to replace a bad government with a better one, if the situation warrants.
    There’s a lot more to all of these concepts, obviously. And, there are some big issues I left out (like the fact that the government can punish the populace in various ways, in certain cases, to try to turn them back to a proper path, etc.) – but, I didn’t want to write a 10,000 page treatise in a blog comment. 🙂
    What are the sources for all this? Unfortunately, it’s not something I can simply point to a couple of specific verses or chapters to show you. Rather, this understanding is the result of studying the entirety of Sepher Nezikin (which contains the laws of Theft, Robbery, and Property Damage), Sepher Shophetim (which contains the laws of Courts and Witnesses), and Sepher Melakhim (which contains the laws of Kings, Governments, and the differentials for learning the Noahide laws) in the Mishneh Torah, and bringing together many different parts of the Tanakh. I can get sources for a lot of the specifics above, if you’d like them – like how you determine who a valid government is, etc.
    However, to start, I’d recommend checking out the Mishneh Torah, in Hilkhoth Gezelah W’Avedah (Laws of Theft) chapter 5 (http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1088889/jewish/Gezelah-vaAvedah-Chapter-Five.htm), which explains (and pretty much directly quotes) those two mishnayoth above. Although, it’s much clearer in the original Hebrew.
    And, this article does a pretty good break-down of the taxation angle of that principle – http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/payingtaxes.html
    If you’d like, I’d be happy to study these things with you personally, since you seem to have such an interest in them. Contact me and let me know if you’re interested.
    Shalom,
    —Jacob

    • Thanks for the response. I’ll read and reread it and consider your opinion. It’s good that I also have your opinion which disagrees with mine so that in this case, people can see another opinion on this issue. I’ll contact you when I’ve considered things. It may be soon. Hope you don’t mind.

    • I’d just like to give some responses from now, just to clarify and to give my first … well, not first, anyway, here are some of my thoughts on what you’ve shared.

      You said that there were things I was wondering about such as “what is government”. I’m not too confused about that this is now after discussing it with various people. Essentially it is just force that thinks it’s legitimate. I know it’s whatever ruling party there is. The only thing I wonder about is its legitimacy.

      You then said that when the government does the exact same thing as a robber, it’s not robbery. That is both weird and arbitrary. I’ve heard differently regarding what “law of the state is law” teaches us, especially as Gentiles. In fact that whole paragraph is quite horrifying. To quote:

      “But, if a government does this exact same thing, it’s called “taxation”. And, this is what the mishnah “Dina d’malkhutha dina” (the law of the government is law) comes to teach us. Essentially, while the act of taxation would be robbery if an ordinary person does it, when it’s done by a valid government, it’s not considered robbery.”

      Lysander Spooner’s argument applies exactly to that sort of thinking, that any bunch of robbers and murderers could take the throne or fool the people into accepting them (I think these days, people call the robbers and murders names like Conservatives or Democrats or whatever name for political parties there are) and all of a sudden their robbery is ok. Your later statement about the “theft of the state” doesn’t help at all. As long as a state codifies its act of robbery and applies it “fairly” (who decides?) then it’s all good!

      One of my teachers taught me that this principle is not simply about the tyrannical rule (as long as the state makes its robbery law, do it!) but about yishuv olom as described in my next article and about the good of society. Supporting an evil entity isn’t for the good of society.

      You said that “according to halakhah” it depends on the face on the money. Not saying that that is terribly logical (not all governments or ruling powers have their faces on the money). Although I still question this “privilege of taxation”, I still wonder according to whose halakhah. It’s not part of the noahide commandment of Dinim. You more or less said that, that the creation of courts is part of the Gentile obligation to God, but not the creation of government and therefore neither its “privileges” as well. So the kal v’chomer isn’t so strong.

      You mention the Torah worldview when it comes to there are two systems of governance. But then you say that our Torah worldview (the one for Gentiles) only mentions one, the courts, not the government. So I don’t understand how the first Torah worldview applies to Gentiles.

      Then you say, when “the people” accept the government. What exactly do you mean by “the people”? Do you mean a place where the majority makes up the people and the minority must submit? Do you mean like “we the people” in the constitution, which originally was just for white male land owners who thought they could have their opinion of “people” cover people who didn’t even agree with them? Actually no, you define it later as the general populace. So yes, it’s the tyranny of the majority. I guess it’s an illusion of choice. If the government’s currency is all there is, then somehow that means you accept it because you can’t use anything else as currency realistically??? Talked about living with hands tied.

      It’s weird how you say that an entity that is not part of the Seven Commandments can become an exception to the Seven Commandments. This privilege to legitimately take money from people without their consent doesn’t come from God by means of his commandments to Gentiles. So the process of them becoming an exception is still a mystery to me.

      I think again and again about the kal v’chomer argument.

      “If the government of a land has the authority to tax Jews who are considered foreigners there, according to halakhah, how much more so do they have the authority to tax native residents of that land?”

      The question I have in my head seems to counter it: “if the government of a land has the authority to tax Jews who are considered foreigners there, according to THEIR halakhah (no such halakhah for Gentiles), then WHAT gives them authority to tax native resident of that land?”

      As far as I can see, it’s an individual’s acceptance of government that gives them this “privilege”. It’s not from God, as is evident and plain. So if an individual no longer accepts that government, then, without any disobedience to God, if he is able to, he can choose to give absolutely nothing. No one can say “you, Gentile, you’ve broken God’s law”. As my article says, of course, he has to face the consequences but only on a human level (thank God!). But if he fears this dangerous entity called government, a force that feels itself legitimate, this dangerous entity that is given legitimacy by a percentage of the people, then he must do what he must to save his life, as I said. But this is not about God. This is not about Gentile halakhah. It’s about coercion. Thank God we are not held accountable when we are coerced.

      You said:
      “So, how do we deal with the fact that our governments are using our tax money to do evil things, or things we don’t agree with? Well, regardless of that, the government has the privilege of taking taxes from you and using them as they see fit.”

      Since, as I said above, one of our obligations is against the perverting of justice, and our governments have become expert at perverting justice, then this is a serious question. But again, I have to thank God for the fact that we are not held accountable for what we are coerced into doing. It helps even more when the government steals the money and gives what remains. Puts more of the responsibility on them.

      Regardless of what we think about the legitimacy of the power of government, I agree that it needs to be changed.

      I see that you gain a lot of your knowledge about the subject from Rambam. That is both a strength and a weakness. I won’t go into that now. I just appreciate your voice on the subject.

      The article you gave from jlaw I had seen before and only strengthened my conclusion that it is Jewish halakhah. And I had to laugh at the section about stealing from government. But again, let the Jews deal with the Jews.

      I had checked out chapter 5 of the Laws of Theft and it didn’t help. You know Hebrew that well. Fantastic.

      If you can give me those sources or at least references so that I can see just how applicable all this is to Gentiles that would be great. My weakness may be that I don’t know Rambam as well as you.

  3. Johan

    Im legally mentally handicapped and actually totally incapable of working because of it,I have a welfare every month for young handicapped individuals,I don’t know if its a private orginization that gives me this or the government directely,in any case am I liable for theft?I really want a place in olam haba and teHiyat ha mitim and I already broke many of the laws regarding idolatry since im an ex-christian.would it be wiser to convert to yahadut because I would atleast be guaranteed my olam haba wont be taken away for possibily stealing thru welfare and taxation?Im terrified of ceasing to exist.and with judaism even if you break mny of the laws,from what I understand youd be purified in Gehinnom and still attain olam haba or tehiyat metim.

    also Hesediah,I don’t know if you’ve adressed it,but doesn’t the tanakh regard noahides as future servants and slaves to tend flock etc in olam haba?the Black hebrew israelites always preach that the gentiles will be slaves working fields in achirat ha yemim.I dont know how accurate their exegesis of the biblical passages seem to be or not.

    Thanks alot!

    • The prohibition of theft is about knowingly taking or withholding someone’s property without their consent. In what you’ve written, I don’t see any evidence that you personally have done this. You personally did not threaten people to give you money with the threat of coercion so you are not guilty of the core crime of theft.

      You say you’ve done bad things in the past? Then do what Ezekiel 18 advises. Leave the wrongdoing and do what is right. When that is done, past sins are forgotten and things are much better for you.

      I don’t pay much attention to the world to come or the resurrection of the dead. Focusing on what Torah teaches about the here and now, just do you best to do what is right.

      Rather than listening to black people claiming to be Hebrews, find the relevant texts of the Tanakh for yourself, read them a number of times and consider what they have to say. If you have a question after you’ve done this, then feel free to ask, but I can only give my opinion. It may not satisfy you, but it’s all I have. I’m not an authority.

      Just to add, I’m not a Jew. I’m a native English speaker. The language the text you type in is English. So just write to me in English. Using the Hebrew version in this context doesn’t help the flow of the conversation at all. All this “achirat ha yemim” and “tehiyat ha mitim” … I know some Jews like doing it. But I like Hebrew when it’s actually Hebrew, in the Hebrew font and in a Hebrew conversation. We’re not having such a conversation. So please, this is just my request, write in English.

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