Finances, Autonomous Jewish

views updated


Internal Taxation

The public finances of the autonomous Jewish *community in the Middle Ages and early modern times were conditioned by the need to support communal institutions as well as to meet sudden and often huge demands for money in order to defend communities or individuals against attacks and libels (see also *Blood Libel; Desecration of the *Host). The provision of *charity by the communal purse also became urgent following massacres and expulsions. The methods of internal taxation adopted were often influenced, for better or worse, by the fact that the community was held collectively responsible for the collection and apportionment of taxes levied on Jews by the state, this being one of the main features of Jewish communal *autonomy. They were also shaped to a large extent by the methods of taxation of the gentile town where the community was located.

Under the *geonim and *negidim in the eastern countries and in Muslim Spain, up to the end of the 11th century and even beyond, local tax levies and allocations were mostly directed by the central leadership through local appointees. The finances of the Babylonian academies and the court of the *exilarch were regulated and their expenditure was covered by the levy of fixed imposts on the Jewish population, as well as by voluntary donations and income from landed property owned by these institutions.

In countries and periods in which the leadership was less centralistic, various methods of financial management were developed. Takkanot ascribed to *Gershom b. Judah, but in reality drawn up around the 12th century, envisage a case where "if the kahalhas established an ordinance to help the poor… with the agreement of the majority, the minority may not refuse to obey it" (L. Finkelstein, Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages (1924), 132); this is the first overt indication of a local system of taxation for charity within the framework of the medieval community.

In takkanot ofJacob b. Meir *Tam of the 12th century the period of residence before having to contribute to the charity fund is laid down: "to come under the herem to 'bring the tithe to the treasure house' [Mal. 3:10] one must be but one month in the city. Members of a community who cannot give charity may compel others who can afford to give" (op. cit., 185–6; see also 209–10). This concept of the tithe (ma'aser) as a contribution to charity-whether enforced or voluntary-was to be one of the financial pillars of Ashkenazi communities. Thus certain medieval forms of internal Jewish taxes were based on and defined by ancient terminology and ideology.

In Christian Spain the communities largely covered their needs by an indirect consumption tax mainly on wine and meat, but combining this with direct taxation in the cisa system, subject to changes and variations of time and place.

In Poland-Lithuania, the intensive internal taxation and spending (cf. the various takkanot and budgets in the Pinkas Medinat Lita and Pinkas Va'ad Arba Araẓot; and see *Councils of the Lands) were not sufficient to cover needs, in particular as the harsh and irregular exactions of state dignitaries and the despotic nobility mounted. Eventually the Councils of the Lands as well as individual communities had to rely increasingly on loans, As their debts increased, higher interest rates were charged by Christian noblemen and churchmen, as well as by Jews. In several Polish communities of the 18th century the cost of defrayment of debts amounted to 40% of their annual budgets. In some instances these loans were of 150 years' standing. Separate collections were often made for the salaries of rabbis and preachers. The financial problems and methods of expenditure of a large community with a relatively secure

B.D. Weinryb, in pajjr, 19 (1950), 50.
Taxes, etc.12,00037.1
Vice-Palatin's Secretary1500.5
The General1,0003.1
The General's Secretary1500.5
Other officials2500.8
Clergy and monks7852.4
Town taxes and expenses5231.6
Officials in Gnessen2000.6
Other expenses3,80011.8
Various expenses at the fairs1,4004.3
Education (Talmud Torah)692.202.1
The Palestine303.201.0
Poor brides1500.5
Salaries for rabbis, physicians and others1,8925.8

and legal position are shown in the budget of Poznan Jewry for 1637–38. (See Table: Poznan Jewry Budget.)

The much more detailed original Hebrew text of the budget (ibid., no. 138, Heb. pagin. 57–60) shows very interesting items of expenditure. The highest-paid official of the community was the shtadlan who received 300 zlotys a year, while the rabbi was paid only 130 zlotys in salary and an allowance of 100 zlotys for living expenses. The main preacher was paid 156 zlotys while a separate collection for this purpose would bring in "approximately 107 zlotys." Six Jewish guards received 150 zlotys among them, while three Christian guards were paid 108 zlotys for the winter period only. Expenses for water pipes amounted to 400 zlotys. The main Christian dignitaries and the various Christian religious orders not only received fixed amounts of money but also spices and carpets on credit. To its foreseen outlay the community had to expend within the period 1637–38 to 1641–42 two payments on "tumults" and "all this in addition to various expenses amounting to thousands of zlotys given to the wojewoda [provincial governor], the general, and other dignitaries."

From about the middle of the 17th century local communities of Poland-Lithuania developed the *korobka (basket tax), a system of indirect consumption tax frequently collected in dues for sheḥitah. It was later broadened under Russian and Austrian rule mainly in the form of a *candle tax (on candles for Sabbath and the like). Synagogues also gained an income from pew-selling. Scholars and the very poor were exempt in principle from most taxation.

With the advance of emancipation, the power of tax enforcement was gradually removed from communal jurisdiction, and all internal needs had subsequently to be financed on a voluntary basis.

The gap between the medieval kehillah and the modern fund-raising agencies was filled by the *ḥevrah which assumed the function of activating voluntary giving as well as operating the social welfare and other institutions of the community. The most viable among these associations was the *ḥevra kaddisha, the burial society, which by its monopolistic and lucrative ownership of the community's cemetery plots was sufficiently solvent not only to operate many social welfare, cultural, and educational enterprises, but also to help other associations maintain their services, As late as the 20th century, the dues of Central and South American burial societies financed communal activities. Sometimes the ḥevra kaddisha there assumed the functions of a kahal (e.g., in *Buenos Aires), In the 20th century the stupendous needs created by two world wars, the Nazi Holocaust, and the restoration of Israel prompted Jewish communities in Western countries to develop highly efficient fund-raising techniques. Thus the medieval system of compulsory financing was effectively converted into voluntary giving in modern times.

Methods of Tax Collection for the State

When having to act as collectors or farmers of state tax, the individual communities, Councils of the Lands, *federations of communities, *Landesjudenschaften, or government-appointed rabbis (see *Kazionny Ravin) each had to develop their own methods of tax collection and apportionment according to circumstances as well as to try diplomatic means at negotiating an equitable tax load as far as possible, State imposition was usually mechanical. Taxes were generally imposed per capita, or according to the estimated combined wealth of the Jews of the given unit, The communal or other appointees in the Jewish leadership usually tried to calculate a just and equitable distribution of this burden among its members. Thus to assess the means of members they appointed special officers (Heb. shamma'im), and committees whose composition gave rise to class tensions in the larger and socially variegated communities. The assessment of taxes also involved problems of social justice and definitions of services and duties. In Christian Spain and Poland-Lithuania especially, the methods employed and principles involved were frequently called in question. An instructive example of application of these principles in Christian Spain is summed up by Y.F. Baer: The tax statute of the aljama [Jewish community] Huesca of the year 1340 opens with a paragraph dealing with the poll tax and exemptions from it. Among the groups exempted were members of the community whose wealth amounted to less than 50 sueldos, scholars 'who study day and night, having no other occupation,' the poor supported by charity, and servants. The communal leaders were authorized to exempt certain needy members from payment of this tax, provided the total sum involved in these exemptions would not exceed a certain specified figure. Then there followed a complex system of taxes of varying rates, levied upon both property and business transactions. A tax of one-half of one percent (½%) was levied on the value of houses and gardens adjoining them: and another, of one percent (1%) on fields, vineyards, and gardens not adjoining the owner's house. There was a tax of one and one half percent (1½%) on the amounts of direct loans of money and of commercial credits (commendae) in kind-grain, oil, honey, textiles, etc.-extended to Christians and Muslims. The tax on loans to fellow Jews was much lower, only five-twelfths of one percent (5/12%), since these bore no interest. Loans extended to aljamas, servants, and students and the sums involved in betrothal and marriage contracts and in wills went untaxed. There were taxes on mortgaged real estate, on rented homes and stores, on the purchase and sale of land, textiles, grain, foodstuffs, gold and silver, furs and other merchandise, as well as on the purchase of clothes and various other necessities. Finally the daily earnings of an artisan, if they were above a certain amount, were taxed. Teachers and the readers and sextons of the synagogues were exempted (Baer, Spain, 1 (1966), 206–7).


Baron, Social2, index; Baron, Community, index s.v.Financial administration; Baer, Spain, index; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959), 147, 158, 229–32, 239; Roth, England, index s.v.Taxation; Roth, Italy, index; Milano, Italia, 485–514.

[Isaac Levitats]

About this article

Finances, Autonomous Jewish

Updated About content Print Article