There are two questions here that are somewhat related but not really. The first question has to do with a concept we have in Judaism called Dinei DMalchuta Dina-the law of the land is the law of the Jews. Jews are not permitted to just go doing whatever they want just because they can get away with it according to Jewish law. There is a discussion however to how far we take the discussion. Some limit dinei DMalchuta Dinais limited to financial law ex. taxes, theft in all of its definitions etc... while others say we follow it all the way unless it clearly violates Jewish law (Beit Yosef, Shulhan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 369:7-11). Rabbi Moshe Feinstein seems to say that beyond just a function of Jewish law, it is also an aspect of gratitude toward the country in which we live (Igeret Moshe Choshen Mishpat Aleph Siman 72) In fact, in any monetary agreements with non-Jews, we follow the state legal codes rather than our own. However, there are certain times we are not required to follow the law of the land. For example, if the government were to ban brit milah (ritual circumcision) then we would still do it, even if it means getting hauled off to jail.
There is another aspect of this called Chillul HaShem-desecration of G-d's name. And activity that would reflect negatively on Jews and Judaism. Any action that might cause a Jew to end up on the 6 o'clock news is handcuffs is not okay to do.
The second question addresses what it means to be a religious Jew. In Hebrew, the word for religious is dati. The word dat means law, so someone who is dati is a law abiding citizen. In this case it means being obedient to Jewish law, and as we are discussing by extension to Jewish law. However, there are many details to Judaism and you can't say that someone is not religious if they don't follow all of them ex. keeping kosher in the house and eating vegetarian in restaurants. Therefore, dati really means believing and ideally observing the law. For someone to be dati, they must follow Jewish law and follow it because it was commanded by G-d at Mount Sinai. Even if someone is lax in their observance but this is their intention when they do it, they are dati. Conversely, someone could be following every minute detail (however unlikely) but not doing it because they believe that the Torah and the commandments are the will of G-d as expressed at Mount Sinai is not practicing Judaism, at all. The Shinto priests were a type of talit and tefillin (fringed garment and ritual boxes on the head). Muslims pray five times a day. Jain dietary restrictions are by far stricter than our own. The distinguishing factor is that religious Jews do it because it is the divine imperative.
Now for the issue of religious Jews violating secular law: Should they do it? Absolutely not. Do they do it? Taxes? Hopefully very few. Jaywalking? How can you expect religious Jews to be more stringent that our illustrious mayor Rudolf Guilliani who was busted jaywalking after implementing stricter measures about it himself? No, we really shouldn't do it anyway.
There are three reasons religious Jews might violate secular law:
Hypocrisy-there are hypocrites in all parts of society, and unfortunately we have our share as well.
Cognitive dissonance-the fact is that religious Jews don't necessarily equate following secular law with religious law. In many cases, it just hasn't been pointed out to them that both are obligatory and in the case of secular law they just may act the way they would if they were secular people.
The Evil Inclination (Yetzer Hara)-Religious Jews are people too and they screw up like everyone else. Making a mistake doesn't make you a bad person, just as long as you examine your deeds and try to clean up your act. When G-d wrote on the Ten Commandments "Don't Murder", He was addressing a religious audience that had already accepted Shabbat. Doing the wrong thing is unfortunately part of the human condition.
The Talmud dictates in several places (Bava Batra 54b, Nedarim 28a, Gitin 10b, Bava Kama 113a, and Bava Batra 55a) dina de-malkhuta dina, that the law of the land is the authoritative law for Jews in areas where it does not force Jews to violate Jewish law. In this sense,one may not jaywalk, speed, or cheat on their taxes and simultaneously claim that they are following Jewish law.
This is likely not surprising to most Jews, and is rarely the subject of debate, even in the most fundamentalist of Jewish communities (although there are some people who claim to be religious or observant while simultaneously denigrating the law of the land).
It does, of course, mean that there are conceivably instances when it would be a religious obligation to break the law of the land.For example, Jews in San Francisco would have been Jewishly obligated to violate the anti-circumcision legislation proposed there last year if it had passed.
And there are other instances when the law of the land is more permissive than Jewish law would be. For example, Jewish law has meticulous guidelines for what one may and may not say, whereas American law guarantees free speech. There are likely times when a person’s speech is not illegal under the law of the land, while it would be against Jewish law. In those cases, Jewish law would take precedence.
Additionally complicated is what to do when the law of the land holds up a higher moral standard than traditional Jewish law does. For instance, the major Jewish law codes do not explicitly forbid employment discrimination; in fact, the Torah legislates different rules for the treatment of Jewish and non-Jewish servants, and it suggests Jews may treat Jewish and non-Jewish workers differently. American anti-discrimination laws thus function as stringencies. In these types of cases, Jews should be more punctilious about following the law of the land so as not to give the impression that Jewish law makes Jews less moral than the surrounding culture; such an impression would be a hilul Ha-shem, a desecration of God’s name.
We are all works in progress, and with that in mind, the determinative phrase in the question above becomes "and still be religious?" For if the only pious people are those who have attained perfection, then we are all doomed. Otherwise, we describe a world in which the only people who need religion are people who don't need religion. Not only would I then be "out of business," but also and more seriously, there would be no room in the category of religious for me as I, too, fall short of perfection.
Further, Jewish sources suggest laws should not impose an undue burden, which may be a factor in an often casual attitude to some of the statutes in the query. We also are instructed that immoral laws may be, even more precisely, should be defied. But that is clearly not suggested in the examples above. Whether one jaywalks or relies on the proverbial "10 mph grace speed limit," our behaviors likely suggest we are yet to be models of excellence, but we are certainly able to "still be religious."
A suggestion which I am exceedingly fond of and challenged by comes to mind. What is the definition of a good Jew? Answer: A good Jew is someone who wants to be a better Jew.
And while I see no justification whatsoever for cheating on one's taxes, I leave it to the individual to determine how the other behaviors in the question may impact the effort to be a better Jew.
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