Korobka

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KOROBKA

KOROBKA (deriving from Rus. basket, "box"; Yid. takse), a tax imposed on consumption items, mainly on kasher meat. It was introduced among the communities of *Poland-Lithuania in the 17th century to assist individual communities in paying their debts, as well as a means of achieving the independence of the individual community from the hegemony of the *Councils of the Lands. In Russia, from the end of the 18th century, one of the aims of the korobka also was to help cover the taxation quota which the Jewish communities had to pay in continuation of the collective debt of the Councils of the Lands. In the 19th century, the korobka mainly served to pay for the salaries of rabbis and other religious officials and the support of educational and charitable institutions in the individual communities.

The Russian government, however, turned the korobka into an instrument for additional exaction of money from the Jews. It was generally leased for collection for a period of four years to individual Jews, who paid fixed sums to the regional government treasuries. The sums were apportioned according to a list submitted by the municipal council (on which the Jews were seldom consulted). Surpluses were deposited with the State Treasury. Regulations for the korobka were drawn up in 1839. They restricted the tax to meat alone and it became a compulsory tax levied upon all the Jewish communities in the *Pale of Settlement, with the exception of the provinces of Russian Poland. In 1844, when the Jewish *kahal autonomy was officially abolished, new regulations were issued concerning the meat tax. In them, the korobka was allocated for the Jewish communal requirements, in the first place to assure payment of the government taxation quota and of the debts of the community, and the remainder for the maintenance of Jewish schools, the support of Jewish agricultural settlement, and the requirements of charitable enterprises. The apportionment of the taxation tariff, the methods of its collection, and supervision over the funds was assigned to the non-Jewish municipal administration, in consultation with "wealthy Jews and permanent residents." Authority was granted to the tax lessees to prevent the ritual slaughter of animals without paying the tax, and the police were called upon to assist them in this task. Soldiers and graduates of high schools were exempted from the payment of this tax.

In the provinces of Russian Poland, a tax on kasher meat, which was directly transferred to the State Treasury, was introduced in 1809, in addition to the tax on meat for the requirements of the community. The Jews derived no benefit from it; this tax was abolished in 1863.

The system of leasing the meat tax encouraged exploitation and corruption by the lessees, who raised the price of kasher meat in order to increase their incomes. The maskilim condemned such practices in their periodicals and writings, and the ba'al-takse, as the lessee was called, became a frequent target of their attacks. (The comedy by Mendele Mokher Seforim, Di Takse (1869), is based on such incidents in the community of Berdichev.) The korobka system also gave rise to illegal shehitah to evade its payment and make possible cheaper prices for kasher meat.

The meat tax was sharply criticized by governmental as well as Jewish circles. Its opponents argued that it was unjust to impose a tax based on the necessity of carrying out a religious observance (kashrut) and this was a typical indirect tax whose brunt fell on the poorer classes. The exemption of the Jewish intelligentsia from its payment, and the fact that with the spread of Haskalah many Jews (especially in the provinces of southern Russia) did not observe kashrut, only aggravated the burden on the observant Jewish masses. While poverty and dearth were felt throughout the Jewish communities, millions of surplus rubles from the korobka funds were being deposited in the government bank (in January 1887, these surpluses totaled over 3,000,000 rubles, and in the year 1905, for the provinces of Kiev, Podolia, and Volhynia alone, there were reserves of over 1,500,000 rubles). It was only in exceptional cases, such as fire or flood, or to support the establishment of a large institution (a hospital, a school, or the like), that allocations were granted for the communities from these "surpluses." On the other hand, many allocations were granted for state purposes, such as the construction of general schools, to which the admission of Jews was restricted, payments to the special police of various towns, for street paving, road construction, and sanitation purposes. The Jews, who shared the burden of general tax payment, were thus compelled in addition to contribute a special Jewish tax. For continuation of the korobka system, it was argued that the tax was easily collected and that its abolition would remove the financial basis of the Jewish community budgets.

The first public debate in a Jewish forum took place at the conference of Jewish community leaders held at Kovno in 1909. The expert on the korobka, H.B. *Sliozberg considered it a fine for the observance of a religious precept and called for its conversion into a progressive income tax which the government should recognize as compulsory.

The scope of the korobka system is indicated by the annual payments made by the lessees shortly before World War i. The annual payment for the lease then amounted to 370,000 rubles in Odessa, 147,000 in Vilna, 100,000 in Riga, over 50,000 in Berdichev, 42,000 in Dvinsk, 325,000 rubles in the whole of the province of Volhynia, and 108,000 rubles in the whole of the province of Kovno. During this period, several communities introduced a community-sponsored collection of the tax, without the intermediary of lessees. In Vilna, for example, its collection was delegated to a special commission appointed by the community and all profits were handed over to the charitable institutions of the town.

After the outbreak of World War i, when restrictions were introduced against the consumption of meat ("meatless days," etc.) and the price of meat rose, the decline in korobka revenues fell sharply, and the financial resources of many communities collapsed. In a large number of communities, the meat tax was then replaced by a progressively assessed tax which was determined by a variety of data (amount of rent paid, size of living quarters, etc.). Following the 1917 Revolution, the meat tax was abolished with the rest of the anti-Jewish legislation.

bibliography:

M. Morgulis, Voprosy yevreyskoy zhizni (1903); S. Levin, O korobochnom i svechnom sbore (1910); Yu. Hessen, K istorii korobochnago sbora v Rossii (1912); M. Gordon, Opyt izucheniya yevreyskogo finansovogo khozyaystva v Rossii (1918), incl. bibl.

[Yehuda Slutsky]