When in Rome, or Jerusalem

rome jlem 88 (photo credit: )
rome jlem 88
(photo credit: )
Hidden behind a heavy door in an austere, shadowed wall on Rehov Agron is the Museum of Taxes, run by the Finance Ministry. Inside, the small, one-room museum is well-lit and cheerful. Exhibits documenting the history of taxation in the land of Israel, dating back to Roman times, cram each wall. A friendly representative, fluent in Hebrew and English, is available to explain the exhibits and offer access to the museum's free library. The library offers volumes on the very origins of the word that inspires so much anxiety and aggravation amongst Israelis: "arnona." Annona was a Roman goddess of agricultural produce. She watched over the grain supply upon which the empire was so dependent. In fact, the emperor Antonius Pius Augustus (138-161 CE) established what he called "annona districts" and appointed "annona commissioners" to store wheat and grains in government warehouses. These provisions fed the population in times of drought. The tannaim, the rabbis who contributed material to the Mishna, often mention "arnona" as a compulsory levy imposed by Rome. The money collected provisioned garrison legions and the emperor's civil officials. This tax appears to have been payable in goods and produce. Although the arnona was originally an exceptional tax, collected only in times of need, by the third century under the emperor Diocletian (284-305), it became a fixed levy. In 1934 and 1941, local authorities in Palestine borrowed the name "arnona" for a municipal property tax that they began to impose on real estate owners. After the War of Independence, the name "arnona" was applied also to compulsory government insurance on property that was damaged or liable to be damaged in acts of war. To learn more about the history of different taxes in Israel, visit the Museum of Taxes on 32 Rehov Agron, open Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.