46% rise in men studying in yeshivas, kollels since 2014

Haredim are fastest-growing population, will be 16% of Israelis by decade’s end

Group includes 1.28 million people in 2023; Haredi women increasingly joining workforce while men’s numbers stagnate; poverty rate twice as high as in general population

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Students at an ultra-Orthodox school in Jerusalem on August 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Students at an ultra-Orthodox school in Jerusalem on August 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population has risen to 1.28 million, or 13.5 percent of the 9.45 million total national population, according to an annual statistical report released Monday.

The data from the Central Bureau of Statistics data showed that with the ultra-Orthodox population’s current growth rate of 4% — the highest of any group in Israel — by the end of the decade, it will constitute 16% of the total population.

Over 40% of those 1.28 million live in two cities, Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv. Another 7% live in Beit Shemesh, and most of the rest live in predominantly ultra-Orthodox towns and settlements like Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit and Elad, or in small enclaves in big cities like Ashdod, Petah Tikva, Haifa, Rehovot, and Netanya.

The analysis, compiled by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, offers a snapshot of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, population, which it finds to be poor, fast-growing, with exceedingly limited formal secular education, and with a strong sense of community and charity.

The data showed that the poverty rate among ultra-Orthodox is twice as high as among the general population, with nearly half falling below the poverty line.

Though they lag far behind other Israelis, Haredim are increasingly using the internet, largely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to IDI.

“The upheaval created by the pandemic, which led to a dramatic increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox internet users, remains unchanged, and two-thirds of the Haredim today regularly use the internet. We see an increase in the proportion of working women and incomplete data for 2022 indicates an increase in the proportion of working men,” said Lee Cahaner and Gilad Malach, who edited the report.

The IDI analysis found that in 2019 — the last year for which data was available — the poverty rate among Haredi Israelis was 44 percent, while for the overall population it was 22 percent. This represents a slight improvement compared to previous years, when the Haredi poverty was higher, with its peak in 2005, when the Haredi rate was 58% and the overall rate was 21%.

In 2021, the employment rates among Haredi women are slightly lower by roughly the same as the non-Haredi Jewish female population, 78% compared to 82%. At the same time, the unemployment rate among Haredi men is three times that of their non-Haredi Jewish counterparts in 2021: 49% compared to 14%.

According to IDI, initial statistics from 2022 indicate a slight decrease in Haredi male unemployment to 46.5%, though that is still roughly three times higher than non-Haredi Jewish men.

The incoming government has proposed a broad range of measures to benefit the Haredi population, including increasing stipends for seminary students, which may disincentivize Haredi men from entering the workforce.

United Torah Judaism chair MK Moshe Gafni and other party members at an election campaign tour in Beit Shemesh, March 14, 2021. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The numbers do represent a dramatic change in Haredi employment from 20 years ago, when just over half of Haredi women and roughly a third of Haredi were employed. Though the number of Haredi women entering the workforce has steadily grown since then, the male employment rates have stagnated in recent years, hovering at just over 50% since 2015, according to IDI figures.

The average monthly salaries of Haredi households — NIS 14,121 ($4,003) — were also far lower than their non-Haredi counterparts, who earned NIS 21,843 ($6,191).

Despite being far poorer, Haredi Israelis are significantly more likely to give money to charity and to volunteer than other Jewish Israelis, according to CBS data.

A CBS survey found that in 2021, 86% of Haredi Israelis over the age of 20 said they’d donated to charity, compared to 58% of non-Haredi Jewish Israelis. This has largely held steady for Haredi Israelis, as the number of non-Haredi Israelis saying they donated to charity has dropped over the years, from 72% in 2008 to its current level.

Haredi Israelis were also nearly twice as likely to say they volunteered in their community, with 40% of Haredim saying they’d done so, compared to 23% of non-Haredi Jewish Israelis.

At the same time, Haredi Israelis generally do not volunteer to perform national service, with just 4% of Haredi women doing so in 2021 — compared to 22% of non-Haredi Jewish women. Haredi men also do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces in significant numbers, with roughly 1,200 doing so in 2020 — nearly half as many as in 2015.

Illustrative: A religious IDF Israeli soldier prays during training near the city of Beit Shemesh, September 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Due to high birthrates, Haredi children represent nearly 20% of all students and more than a quarter of all Hebrew-speaking students.

The majority — 74% — study in “unofficial but recognized” schools, which are meant to follow the majority of the secular core curriculum (though most do not) in exchange for 75% funding, another 22.5% study in “exempt” schools that teach a smaller portion of the core curriculum and receive a commensurate amount of state funding, while just 3.5% learn in fully state-run Haredi schools that teach the full core curriculum.

Haredi girls are increasingly being taught the state core curriculum — as they are being directed more to the workforce — with nearly 60% taking state matriculation exams in 2019/2020, almost double the number who did so in 2008-2009, according to IDI.

Boys, however, were far less likely to take — let alone pass — the state matriculation exams, and there was almost no change in the past 13 years, with 15% taking the tests in 2019-2020, compared to 16% in 2008-2009.

Overall, just 14% of Haredi students passed the matriculation exams in 2019-2020, compared to the 83% of non-Haredi Jewish students who did.

This number is not likely to rise going forward, as the incoming government has in principle agreed to fund Haredi schools without requiring any of the core curriculum to be taught.

The number of Haredi students in institutions of higher learning remains disproportionately low, constituting 10.5% of all students in Israel, though it has risen dramatically in the past 13 years. More than 90% of these students attend colleges, which generally have lower entrance requirements than universities, according to IDI data.

Between 2014-2021, the IDI found, the number of men studying in yeshivas and kollels (full-time Talmudic study institutions) grew by 46%, to a total of 138,367 such students.

Most Popular
read more: