Language is notoriously ambiguous, especially when it comes to official documents. A hundred years ago, the traitor Sir Roger Casement was hanged on a comma in the English Treason Act of 1351. Just this week, I had a long discussion around an exceptionally poorly worded clause in the Israel Income Tax Ordinance, the various interpretations of which produced wildly differing results. The ancient Egyptians seemingly understood this limitation of language three thousand years ago with their resorting to hieroglyphics, and the Western World is finally catching up with an ever-expanding array of emojis. I just saw something that leads me to believe that the local tax authority may be catching on.
In the dying days of 2022 the Israel Tax Authority issued guidelines for eligibility for tax exemption on the purchase and upkeep of funeral hearses. Although I was not aware the exemption existed, the concept made a lot of sense in a country that doesn’t impose an estate or inheritance tax at death. Given my preference for clients who live long enough to pay my fees, I was willing to ignore the details of this heavenly gesture. My interest was, however, piqued when I noticed there were no fewer than 11 pages. Having once struggled to write 500 words about a black garbage bag, I couldn’t fathom how much more there was to write on this subject. A hearse is surely just a hearse.
Well, it appears not.
It turns out that there must be a lot of sickos out there who have been in the habit of moonlighting with their hearses (even though around here they do bury people at night). The guidelines go into enormous detail about size, layout and fittings . As most local hearses are, like ambulances, tall enough to almost stand up in (a strange feature given the uniformly horizontal nature of their traditional clientele), one can only wonder if some of them have doubled up as ice cream vans, pantechnicons or kindergarten minibuses in the past. It even calls into question the universal validity of Benjamin Franklin’s immortal aphorism about the certainty of death and taxes.
What interested me most, however, was not the length to which the authorities saw it necessary to prevent the fraudulent activity of the, evidently lively, under(taking)world, but the efficient method that – on my late father’s life – I do not recollect seeing used by them before: Photographs – loads of them. It was like an IKEA instruction manual – untouched pictures showing what was acceptable, and many with crosses (X’s as opposed to the other variety) showing what was not.
What a brilliant idea! Virtually no wriggle room for ambiguity. And less than two centuries after the invention of the photograph.
If this visual approach becomes a trend, I could be out of a job. That would be unfortunate, as I am not yet ready to hang up my boots or pop my clogs.