Does Torah Tell Us to Support the NEA?
This week’s Forward (March 21, 2017) has a wonderful article by Jay Michaelson coming to the defense of the National Endowment for the Arts, a program the Trump/Ryan budget would kill.
Since the Forward is a Jewish newspaper, Jay opens with a reference to Exodus 35:4 where Moses, foreshadowing televangelists like Creflo Dollar who told his flock that God wants them to donate $65 million so he can buy a private jet, claims that God wants the people to donate to the building of the Tabernacle. According to Torah, the gifts are to be freewill donations from those “whose hearts motivate them” to give.
Whatever you think about using God as a fundraising tool, asking people to donate to a Tabernacle or a airplane is very different from using tax monies to support the NEA. Taxes are not donations. You pay them because you must not because you are moved by your heart to send the government money. While Judaism does have a tax system, it has nothing to do with the arts.
Exodus 35 is not the first time the Jews donate their possessions for an art project. Three chapters earlier (Exodus 32) the people freely give their gold to make the Golden Calf. While these two cases may suggest that people should freely give to the arts, it also suggests that some art projects are more appreciated than others. Moses killed 3000 supporters of the Golden Calf project in one day, and God sent a plague to kill more the next day. Even President Trump is going that far.
You may support the NEA and take joy in your tax dollars go to its projects, or you may hate the NEA and hope to see Congress and the President starve it to death—just don’t use the Bible to support either position.