Jerusalem’s newest luxury hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria, opened for business this spring after a 6-year long period of construction. The project included renovating legendary Palace Hotel and demolishing the neighboring building, a British Mandate-era structure that once housed the Department of Customs and V.A.T Administration as well as a small and unusual collection, the Museum of Taxes.
The Department of Customs and V.A.T was not demolished but simply transferred to new and modern offices. Fortunately, the Museum was also preserved and has moved to a new home near the Machaneh Yehuda market where, under the direction of curator Mira Dror, it continues to carry out the objectives set out for it upon opening in 1964: to centralize a collection about taxes in the ancient world and in Jewish communities of the Diaspora, as well as taxation in Israel throughout its history; to be a showcase for the public to learn about the development of taxes, and about the routine work of the tax department; and to serve as a center for research and study activities on the subject of taxes.
Like it or not, the history of civilization is writ in taxation — as made evident by the Museum’s collection. The permanent exhibit includes artifacts demonstrating tax collection in the ancient world and in Hebrew texts…
Government taxes on Diaspora Jewish communities; taxation in the Land of Israel during the Ottoman Period — including a sword borne by the Kawas, the guard of the Ottoman Customs Administration in Jaffa — and taxation during the British Mandate…
One case is devoted to Kofer Hayishuv (which literally translates as “The community ransom”). Kofer Hayishuv, according to Wikipedia, was “a tax imposed by the Jewish National Council in Mandatory Palestine to finance central security operations and increase the size of the Haganah self-defense force… The tax was formally introduced on 24 June 1938, during the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, and abolished on the foundation of the state of Israel in May 1948.”
And, of course, much is devoted to the topic of tax collection following the establishment of the State of Israel, including the tools of the trade…
There is correspondence from dignitaries — including original letters from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, customs certificates for President Chaim Weizmann, travel permits for luminaries such as Martin Buber, letters of complaint to the tax-man from poet Leah Goldberg and more. More eerily, there is the customs record noting the export of Adolf Eichmann’s cremated remains when they were taken out of the country and buried at sea.
The didactic exhibition presents the three main sources of tax revenue: customs tax, income tax, and value added tax. Instituted in 1976, VAT was the subject of a full-on public relations campaign intended to educate the public about the benefits of VAT. There’s also an award-winning short educational film — starring a totally Eighties teen and a Max Headroom wannabee — about the benefits of paying taxes in a democratic society.
On a more serious note, these pieces of shrapnel from recent shelling of Israeli homes pay tribute to the tax assessors who estimate damages so that citizens can be compensated.
In addition to the items displayed, the museum has a large collection of historical documents, certificates and photographs. These are used in various exhibits in Israel and abroad, for study purposes and in various publications issued by the museum.
There is also a reference library in the museum that includes reports of committees, international comparison materials and research materials in the various professional fields of tax administration. Dror points out that these are unique materials not generally found in public libraries and of the utmost importance to researchers and students. Those interested may study the material at no charge.
The Museum of Taxes is located at 42 Agripas St., Jerusalem. Visiting hours by appointment only. Call: 02-6257597 or 02-5317332