Candle Tax

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CANDLE TAX , tax imposed in the Jewish community in Eastern Europe upon Sabbath, festival, and other candles connected with Jewish ritual or custom. Information about it is found from the beginning of the 18th century, a period of financial deterioration for the Jewish communities of Poland, who imposed this tax upon their members to raise money to repay their many debts. In 1816 an assembly of communal representatives in Minsk levied a candle tax for three years on all the communities in Lithuania in order to support Jewish settlers in southern Russia. In 1797 the candle tax was officially imposed by the Austrian government on the Jews in Galicia, a measure suggested by a Jewish taxfarmer, Solomon Kofler, and recommended by N.H. *Homberg, as a substitute for the "tolerance tax" (Toleranzgebuehr). It was levied upon all candles used for Jewish ritual, including wedding and memorial candles. The tax was raised from time to time and was particularly burdensome to the Jewish poor. Its collection was delegated to Jewish tax farmers, who were hated by the Jewish populace. A special office (Pachtungsgesellschaft des juedischen Lichterzuendungsaufschlags) was set up to deal with its collection. In 1800 tax farmers paid 350,000 gulden for the right to collect the tax. The right of suffrage in communal elections was determined according to the amount of candle tax paid by members. The candle tax was abrogated in Galicia in 1848.

In Russia the candle tax was of a different kind. After the constitution formulating the regulation of the meat tax (1839) explicitly prohibited taxation of any kind on a ritual implement, the candle tax was renewed in 1844 in connection with a government project to establish state schools for the Jews. Collection of the tax was delegated to the ministry of education. The amount was fixed at 230,000 rubles yearly, which was divided among the Jewish communities in proportion to the amount of meat tax paid. In 1855 permission was given to combine collection of the candle and meat taxes, so that in practice the two taxes were amalgamated. In many small communities in Eastern Europe, the rabbi's wife would be granted a kind of monopoly on selling candles for Sabbaths and festivals at an increased price, which served as a kind of consumption tax for the upkeep of the rabbi.


M. Balaban, Dzieje Żydów w Galiciji (1914), 76–81; Gresen, in: ye, 14 (ca. 1910), 83–86; R. Mahler, Divrei Yemei Yisrael, 3 (19602), 40–43; I. Rivkind, Yiddishe Gelt (1960), 192–42; M. Gordon, Opyt izucheniya khozyaystva v Rossii (1918), 161–73.

[Yehuda Slutsky]