Haifa Messianic congregation wins appeal against city decision to tax
Kehilanews.com, Kehila News Staff, January 18, 2019
A Messianic congregation has won its appeal against the Haifa municipality which wanted to charge property taxes on the portion of the congregational building used for childcare during services.
The precedent-setting case was argued in the District Court of Haifa after Bethesda Messianic Assembly appealed the municipality’s decision to levy the property taxes.
While the city called it a daycare or nursery school, the service provided by the congregation —more commonly known to believers as “Shabbat school” or “children’s church” — is an adjunct to the adult service and takes place at the same time.
The municipality considered it a business, but the District Court ruled in the congregation’s favor that the childcare was an inseparable part of the primary purpose at Bethesda — prayer.
“The Court emphasized that the nursery was active only during the time of prayer and that the care of the infants was handled by volunteers from the congregation, and not by someone who was paid to do so,” attorney Marvin Kramer told KNI. “It held that there was a real connection between the congregation and the nursery, which exempted having to pay arnona (municipal property tax) for that part of the property.”
The congregation gathers regularly on Wednesday and Saturday and uses a community hall upstairs for the main service, while the basement, with a separate entrance, serves as a space for childcare. Despite the separate entrances, the court did not see that as an obstacle to removing the tax exemption.