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Ultra-Orthodox community set to double in 16 years

Haredi population growing twice as fast as overall Israeli population — report

Israel Democracy Institute study finds community suffered worse employment setback due to coronavirus than rest of workforce, wage-earners moving from jobs in education to commerce

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at an event in Jerusalem on February 10, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at an event in Jerusalem on February 10, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Israel’s rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox community is expected to double within 16 years, less than half the time it will take for the rest of the population to increase by the same proportion, the Israel Democracy Institute said in a report released Thursday.

In its fifth annual statistical assessment of ultra-Orthodox society, the IDI examined developments in such areas as standard of living, education, employment, social mobility, leisure, and lifestyle.

Based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, government ministries and agencies, and the National Insurance Institute, it found ultra-Orthodox households on average earn less than half of the income of other Jewish households, while identifying trends showing more community members entering higher education and shifting toward higher paying jobs.

The study found that the ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredi, population in Israel numbers around 1.175 million, showing an annual growth rate of 4.2 percent over the past decade, over twice the 1.9% shown by the rest of the Israeli population and over three times that of the rest of the Israeli Jewish population (excluding the Haredi population), 1.2%.

At those rates, the community will double in size every 16 years while the rest of the population is expected to double in size every 37 years. The non-Haredi Jewish population is predicted to double every 50 years at current rates.

The Haredi community’s portion of the general population has grown from 10% in 2009 to 12.6% in 2020, the report said.

However, the report said, “it is highly probable that the future will bring a decline in the ultra-Orthodox growth rate, due to lower fertility rates and rising age of first marriage.” It noted that the fertility rate in the Haredi population is at 6.5 live births per woman, down from approximately 7.5 in 2003.

A group of ultra-Orthodox men wear protective face masks following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, as they walk in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has dealt a bigger blow to ultra-Orthodox employment than to that of the rest of the country’s Jewish population, the IDI found, impacting women more during the first wave, while men suffered worse during the second wave. Overall, in contrast with the rest of the population, women had greater employment stability than men.

Citing Finance Ministry figures, the report said that from March to May 2020 there was an average 35% decline in employment rates among the ultra-Orthodox (34% for men and 37% for women) compared to the same months last year. For the rest of the Jewish population, the figures were 19% for men and 27% for women.

In contrast, from September to October 2020, during the second wave of virus infections, there was a 20.5% drop for men and 15% drop for women compared to the same months in 2019. Among the rest of the country’s Jewish population, the figure for men (10%) was lower but among women (16%) similar to their ultra-Orthodox peers.

Employment among Haredi women has generally risen while remaining at a standstill for men in recent years.

Though between 2003 and 2015 there was a marked increase in employment among men, it leveled off over the past five years. In 2019 it was 52.5%, compared to 52% in 2015. However, among ultra-Orthodox women, employment rose between 2015 and 2019 from 71% to 77%.

“A major reason for this trend may be the cutback of incentives for ultra-Orthodox men to join the workforce and, at the same time, the increase in financial support and subsidies to kollel students,” the IDI said, referring to married men who receive scholarships to study in Talmudic seminaries.

There was also a shift in the type of employment away from education roles and, among men, toward better paid jobs in commerce. From 2009 to 2018 the percentage of men working in education slid from 31% to 27%, while those working in commerce increased their share from 11% to 14%. During the same period, the percentage of ultra-Orthodox women in education dropped from 57% to 39.5%.

“As these trends increase and more and more among the ultra-Orthodox are employed in better-paying occupations, in the long term, we are likely to see a rise in per capita income and, as a result – an enhanced standard of living among ultra-Orthodox households,” the IDI said.

Ultra-Orthodox women work on their computers in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, August 19, 2009. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The average gross monthly income for ultra-Orthodox households in 2018 was NIS 14,745 ($4,587), 58% lower than for other Jewish households, where it was NIS 23,235 ($7,229). The main sources of income were employment (66%) along with stipends and welfare payments (24%). Among other Jewish households the figures were 78% and 9%, respectively.

The per capita income for ultra-Orthodox households is NIS 3,917, less than half that for other Jewish households, where the figure is NIS 7,531. The discrepancy was due to the larger ultra-Orthodox households, a lower average number of income earners, and lower overall income.

“At the same time, the gaps in income may be smaller than would appear, due to higher levels of unreported income in the ultra-Orthodox sector,” the report noted.

Despite have larger families, the average monthly expenditure for a Haredi household in 2018, at NIS 14,651, was 16% lower than for other Jewish households, which averaged NIS 16,936. Also, the average monthly tax expenditure for Haredi households was only around a third of that for other Jewish households, NIS 1,524 compared to NIS 4,461.

Though a breakdown of expenditures showed no substantial differences in the general makeup of where money is spent, there was a significant difference in transportation and communication expenses, which are an average of just 11% in Haredi home compared to 21% in other Jewish homes.

“A possible explanation for this difference is that ultra-Orthodox Israelis rely more on public transport than do other Jews, and are less frequent consumers of internet services, television, and smartphones,” the statement said.

The last decade saw a significant rise in the number of ultra-Orthodox girls taking matriculation exams, growing from 31% to 55%. During the same period there has been a drop among boys in the community taking the exams from 16% to 13%.

“Many young members of the ultra-Orthodox community are discovering the value of academic education and high-quality technological training programs in finding employment,” the IDI said.

In the five years from 2014 to 2019 there was a 38% increase in ultra-Orthodox students in technical training programs, mostly driven by women, whose participation increased by 44%, while among men it went up by 26%.

From 2010 to 2019 the number of Haredi students who obtained an academic degree increased threefold, so that in 2018-2019 there were around 13,100 ultra-Orthodox students in higher education institutions. Women made up a clear majority, representing 67.5% of the total.

There was an even larger jump in advanced degree programs, which in 2019 had 1,630 student, five times as many as in 2010, the IDI said. Just in 2019-2020 there was a 17% increase over the previous year.

Ultra-Orthodox undergraduate students are drawn to study subjects that enable work within their communities, such as education and teaching, which are pursued by 31% of Haredi students compared to just 15% among the general population.

In 2019 there were 140,614 students in ultra-Orthodox yeshivas and kollels, including students from abroad, the IDI said.

Illustrative: an ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple enjoys a sunny afternoon at the Tel Aviv port, February 5, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis have conservative views on family member roles and the division of domestic tasks, the study found.

Less than half, 46%, believe that in a family where both spouses are employed there should be an equal sharing of home chores. This was compared with 81% of other Jews who agree with the statement.

“In practice, ultra-Orthodox women indeed bear most of the responsibility for the majority of household chores, such as laundry (71%), cooking (67%), and cleaning (45%),” the IDI said.

Regarding the success of relationships, only 31% of Haredi respondents agree that love is an important factor, compared to 44% among other Jewish respondents.

Sex also ranks low on the priorities for the ultra-Orthodox in maintaining a successful relationship (6%), while among other Jews 12% feel it is important, the IDI said.

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