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Jews in Berlin Must Pay Tax to Jewish Community, Court Rules

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The local Administrative Court has in an important decision confirmed that all residents of Berlin who list themselves as Jews are automatically members of the Jewish Community and can be compelled to pay the “religious tax” collected by it.

In contrast to countries of the West with stricter separation of church and state, membership in a church or in the Jewish Community has always been mandatory in Germany for all those born into a particular faith, or who belonged to it prior to moving to another city. Withdrawal is possible only by filing with the clerk of the court a formal declaration that one hereby resigns from a given church or Jewish Community.

In 1938, Hitler stripped all Jewish Communities of their status as corporations under public law. In consequence, and because of the abnormal conditions of the postwar era, it has been disputed whether affiliation to the local Jewish Community is still mandatory for Jews having their habitual residence in a German city. The requirement is in practice often disregarded, but the principle is of importance to the Jewish Communities not only due to its religious and administrative significance, but also because the German tax collector levies a certain surtax on income tax payments, and turns over the proceeds to the Jewish Community of which the taxpayer is a member.

In the present test case, a Jew who had returned to Berlin from a country of emigration refused to pay the “religious tax” on the grounds that he had not registered as a member of the Jewish Community, that the Community had not in any case regained its status as a corporation under public law, that the sociological structure of the Community’s membership had undergone major changes and that mandatory membership was unconstitutional. On all four points, the Administrative Court ruled against him and for the Community.

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