Beliefnet
Reprinted from SocialAction.com, a member of the Jewz.com network.

Americans hate to pay taxes. Naturally, many of us are quite happy to be receiving a check for several hundred dollars this summer, a result of President Bush's tax rebate plan. But some see this as a manipulative PR move to garner support for tax cuts benefiting primarily the wealthy, while depriving critical social programs of much-needed funds.

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Why not instead use budget surpluses to improve education, increase access to health care, clean up the environment? A growing movement, spearheaded by United for a Fair Economy is encouraging Americans to "reject the rebate" and to redirect those checks to unmet social needs. Not surprisingly, Jews are well represented among the ranks of the "rebate rejecters."

Many of them are doing so because they believe the rebate is socially and economically unjust. Bill Shorr, of Boston, says, "Society has certain collective responsibilities and we meet them by taxation. Tzedakah, justice, dictates that we do what it takes to [make sure] everybody [has] access and opportunities." He plans to donate his rebate towards an organization working to "respond to the bad policy that created the rebate in the first place," such as advocating for reforming the tax system.

Tzedakah, usually translated as charity, is much closer in meaning to "acts of justice." It is one of Judaism's central commandments. In a society where our taxes are gathered to address social needs and institutions, taxes may well be a form of tzedakah. They pay for an enormous variety of government services, from those that benefit all of us (such as maintaining roads and enforcing environmental laws) to those that protect the most powerless groups in our society (such as food stamps and wage and hour laws).

Taxes might even be understood as a form of communal hesed, covenantal care and responsibility. Just as we use our resources within our individual families to meet our various needs, taxes, when fairly apportioned and distributed, extend to include and protect the entire societal family.

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Stacie Garnett, an organizer with the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, said, "A lot of the Jewish tradition is about supporting the community. I want to put my rebate back into supporting the broadest number of people, especially those who need it, instead of the wealthiest 1%." She is giving part of her rebate to the Fund for Tax Fairness, which organizes for a more equitable tax system. She is doing so because she says "I can't see giving a small percentage of people a huge windfall when the rest of the community would suffer."

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