The new tax reform bill has led to an intense debate over whether it would help or hurt the poor. Tax reform in general raises critical issues about whether the government should redistribute income and promote equality in the first place.
Jews and Christians look to the Bible for guidance about these questions. And while the Bible is clear about aiding the poor, it does not provide easy answers about taxing the rich. But even so, over the centuries biblical principles have provided an understanding on how to help the needy.
The Hebrew Bible and the poor
The Hebrew Bible has extensive regulations that require the wealthy to set aside for the poor a portion of the crops that they grow.
The Bible’s Book of Leviticus states that the needy have a right to the “leftovers” of the harvest. Farmers are also prohibited from reaping the corners of their fields so that the poor can access and use for their own food the crops grown there.
In Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, there is the requirement that every three years, 10 percent of a person’s produce should be given to “foreigners, the fatherless and widows.”
Helping the poor is a way of “paying rent” to God, who is understood to actually own all property and who provides the rain and sun needed to grow crops. In fact, every seventh year, during the sabbatical year, all debts are forgiven and everything that grows in the land is made available freely to all people. Then, in the great jubilee, celebrated every 50 years, property returns to its original owner. This means that, in the biblical model, no one can permanently hold onto something that finally belongs to God.