Jewish law lets members of the public inform on suspected tax evaders if the wrongdoers have been warned that they are violating civil and religious law, the Keter Institute for Economics and Torah said Tuesday.
Tax evaders may not be snitched on if the purpose is to seek revenge, the institute said, after the Tax Authority set up an anonymous hotline for reports on tax evasion. If you give your name, you can receive a share of any taxes collected as a result.
Tax avoidance is tantamount to stealing government property, the institute said. But encouraging Israelis to inform on their fellow citizens is a problem, it added. Keter called on the government to shut down the hotline and encourage compliance with the tax laws through other means.
"On the one hand, creating a public atmosphere in which people are afraid of others on the chance that one day, if someone gets angry at them, they will be reported to the Tax Authority undermines social stability and saps the country's strength," the institute said. "Therefore, it would have been proper from the outset not to announce the possibility of reporting to the authorities about tax evasion."
Keter noted that Jewish law, halakha, requires eyewitnesses to seek to remedy injustice and prevent it from happening again. Citizens are therefore allowed and even required to report wrongdoing to the hotline under some circumstances.
Also, the person reporting the tax evasion must have firsthand knowledge of a violation rather than simply hearing about it from a third party. And the facts being reported must be completely accurate and not subject to interpretation, the institute said.
Keter added that members of the public should not report tax evasion by others if they themselves are tax offenders.
In addition, anyone who was in some way a party to tax evasion - for example, by receiving a discount on a transaction in exchange for agreeing not to receive a receipt - may not report tax evasion.
The head of the Keter Institute, Rabbi Shlomo Ishon, said that if the Tax Authority had approached Keter for a halakhic ruling on the hotline in advance, he would have said that it raised a "reasonable fear" that the hotline would be exploited in a way contrary to the spirit of Judaism.
But he added: "We believe there is major importance in underlining the educational message that is in keeping with the spirit of halakha: Everyone is required to pay taxes and not evade them."