A Dispute Over Property Taxes: IRAC Defends HUC-JIR's Status in Israel From the Israel Religious Action Center Newsletter

Monday, September 1, 2008

In Israel, an institution can apply for a reduced property tax rate if it qualifies under one or more of a variety of categories. Being a religious institution with a seminary, an educational institution with a seminary, and a general institution which serves the benefit of the public are a few of these categories. Despite HUC-JIR's classification as a general institution serving the benefit of the public, the Jerusalem Municipality began to charge HUC-JIR the full property tax in 2005. Without any public notice, the Municipality reorganized its taxing system and therefore it no longer believed that HUC-JIR met the criteria for reduced taxes. For any of you who have been to the HUC-JIR in Jerusalem, you know that this beautiful campus in central Jerusalem would be taxed much more than any non-profit organization could handle. 

IRAC came to HUC-JIR's defense and explained to the municipality that HUC-JIR met the criteria as both an educational and religious institution with a seminary and therefore should qualify for the tax discount, regardless of the new criteria. 

The Municipality disagreed, refusing to change HUC-JIR's status to a religious and educational institution with a seminary. For most of you, this sounds absurd - HUC-JIR describes itself as serving "the educational and intellectual center of Reform Judaism" as well as acting as the seminary for Reform Judaism. There should be no question as to HUC-JIR's status; in Israel, however - it is more complicated because HUC-JIR is part of the Reform Movement which continues to struggle for recognition in Israel. 

As a result of the Municipality's unwillingness to change HUC-JIR's status, IRAC filed a petition to the court to rule on HUC-JIR's status in 2006. IRAC successfully argued that HUC-JIR was, in fact, a religious and educational institution with a seminary. On a lighter note, it turns out that IRAC essentially had to clarify a misunderstanding between the English term "seminary" and its Hebrew counterpart "seminar." The Hebrew term deals more with the general concept of teachers, having nothing to do with training religious leaders, as the English word "seminary" implies. Clearly, something was lost in translation. Three years later, on August 6, 2008, the court, in response to IRAC's petition, ruled in the favor of HUC-JIR: HUC-JIR is officially recognized as a religious and educational institution with a seminary in Israel. 

While this decision will certainly benefit HUC-JIR specifically by removing the unjust tax burden, it is also a victory in the larger sense for Reform Judaism in Israel. In a country where Reform Jews struggle to have equal rights, HUC-JIR, with the help of IRAC, is officially recognized as being a religious institution with a seminary in Israel.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu