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December 15, 2015 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayigash

This week’s portion includes Egyptian tax reform.  Joseph moves Egyptian farmers around the country in exchange for grain, and orders that in the future they  must pay 20 percent of their grain to the state (Gen. 47).

Much has been written about the ethics of Joseph’s conduct.  However, Arama is interested in a very different issue: why is this even in the Torah? What does the Egyptian tax system have to do with the obligations of Jews?

Arama writes that the purpose of this passage is to show the Jews how lenient the Torah is.  While Egyptians had to pay 20 percent of their wealth to support the priesthood and the king, Jews only had to pay 10 percent.  This reminds me of the common right-wing argument today that the Bible only requires a 10 percent tithe so the state should require no more.

There is, I think, a flaw in his argument.  The 10 percent is for the upkeep of the priesthood, Levites, etc. – but when Jews ran the land of Israel, it was not their exclusive obligation.  In the era of the dual monarchy, they also had to support the king’s public works, wars etc. – which presumably meant they paid the 10 percent for religious expenses and an additional amount for the secular expenses of the state.

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