Israeli Taxman Eyes Off-the-Books “Religious Services Industry”

Israel's Tax Authority says it wants its cut of payments traditionally pocketed by practitioners of Jewish ritual circumcisions. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM, Feb 4 – Israel’s Tax Authority says it wants a cut of gratuities traditionally offered to Jewish ritual circumcisers and a slice of the payments that private kosher inspectors usually pocket.

A recent state comptroller’s report said unreported payments for such religious services could account for tens of millions of dollars of income kept off the books while the Israeli state struggles with a large budget deficit and high debt.

In a circular warning rabbis and others in the so-called religious services industry, the Authority said it would seek out this hidden revenue in assessing their tax bills.

“You can’t come later and say you didn’t know about it,” an Authority spokeswoman said.

There is no compulsory fee for circumcision in Israel when performed by a state-certified “mohel” or circumciser. But it is customary for parents of newborn Jewish boys to offer a gratuity up to 1,000 shekels ($255), an amount recommended by the chief rabbinic council.

Tipping is also the norm for rabbis who officiate at weddings as part of a free service underwritten by the state. The Authority spokeswoman said they too will be targeted as part of the new enforcement campaign.

Israel has a national authority to certify that food products are kosher, but some communities – mostly among the ultra-Orthodox—ask their own rabbis to confirm privately that food meets their stricter religious standards. A gratuity would also be in order there.

There are also Kabbalah mystics around the country whom devotees seek out for blessings, personal guidance and even financial advice. A session with them usually ends with a private donation as well. ($1 = 3.9113 shekels)

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