Nearly two-thirds of Haredim are online, COVID driving them to tech training – poll

Israel Democracy Institute survey finds 64% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis use the internet — compared with 28% in 2008 — albeit with a different focus from other Jewish Israelis

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

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men work at a high tech start-up in an office in Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men work at a high tech start-up in an office in Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

Two-thirds of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox are now online and half use social media, according to a poll published Thursday by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).

“Members of the ultra-Orthodox community are gradually integrating internet use into their lifestyle,” the IDI said in a statement about its “2021 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel.”

The survey examines recent trends in the community, including the standard of living, education, employment, social mobility, leisure and lifestyle, the IDI said. The report, edited by Lee Cahaner and Gilad Malach, placed a particular focus on internet usage within the ultra-Orthodox community.

“Online behavior patterns among ultra-Orthodox users differ from how the internet is used by non-Haredi users,” the editors said. “The internet is used primarily for pragmatic needs and not for social interactions, the users’ technical skills are relatively poor and appreciation for technical skills is low as well.”

In 2021, 64 percent of Haredim used the internet, whereas in 2008 that figure was just 28%, the survey shows. The current rate is still low compared to other Jewish Israelis, 93% of whom use the internet. The ultra-Orthodox also tend to connect more via their home computers (42%) than via smartphones (30%). Most Haredim (62%) said they would prefer to connect via a home computer even if they had access through both means, while among other Jewish Israelis, 72% said they prefer to use their phones.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of Haredim said they have a computer at home, compared with 88% of other Jewish Israelis. Haredi use of the internet is more functional than social, with e-mail the most-used application (88%), then search engines (73%), digital banking (62%), work (58%), and obtaining services from government ministries (56%). Just 36% used the internet to pay bills or shop online. Other Jewish Israelis reported that 94% use search engines, and more than half (53%) use the internet to pay bills and shop online.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Toldot Aharon community attend a computer and Internet lecture in Ramat Gan, after receiving authorization from their rabbis (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Members of the ultra-Orthodox Toldot Aharon community attend a computer and Internet lecture in Ramat Gan, after receiving authorization from their rabbis. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Though social media use is lower among Haredim than other Jewish Israelis, half do use the internet to surf social networks, with 46% using the WhatsApp messaging app — compared with 97% of the rest of the Jewish population.

The IDI report noted that although “in the information age digital literacy is considered an essential skill that affects one’s ability to integrate into the labor market,” only 60% of Haredim see such skills as a basic need, compared with 92% among other Jewish Israelis.

“The gaps may also be due to the fact that ultra-Orthodox report less that digital skills are required of them in daily life,” the report noted, with just 37% of Haredim needing such skills for work, compared with 57% of other Jewish Israelis.

The ultra-Orthodox also feel less confident using the internet, with just 35% feeling they possess “great skill in using new digital technologies on the internet in daily life” — nearly half the rate among other Jewish Israelis (63%). Only 13% of Haredim below the age of 18 use the internet, compared to 75% among other Jewish Israelis.

The survey found a significant gap between how Haredim and other Jewish Israelis maintain relationships. Whereas two-thirds of other Jewish Israelis keep in touch using messaging apps such as WhatsApp, only 11% of ultra-Orthodox do the same. A very small percentage (4%) use online dating apps compared with 19% among other Jewish Israelis.

Researchers found that the ultra-Orthodox are divided into three main groups, with conservative, pragmatic and modern attitudes regarding the internet. The conservative group tends to “ignore digital innovation and continues to boycott online usage.” The second, pragmatic group sees the need for internet usage and embraces it for communication and work needs, while the modern group adopts most online innovations, researchers said.

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

Higher education

There was a marked increase detected in the number of male ultra-Orthodox students studying in technological training tracks, with a 26.5% jump between 2020 and 2021. Nonetheless, the ultra-Orthodox — who make up 13% of Israel’s population — only make up about 7% of all students in technological training professions.

“The appearance of COVID-19 in 2020 led to an increase in the number of applicants for professional and academic training, especially among ultra-Orthodox men,” editors wrote. “In the coming years, we will we know if this signifies a change in trend or an isolated incident.”

Nearly half of ultra-Orthodox students studied software engineering (49%) with other popular subjects being architecture and interior design (18%) and civil engineering (9%).

Only 3% of ultra-Orthodox men are employed in the hi-tech industry, compared with 14% for other Jewish men. However, whereas 7% of other Jewish women work in the industry, among ultra-Orthodox women the figure is 5%. By contrast, 39% of ultra-Orthodox Jewish women are employed in education, compared with just 17% among other Jewish women.

Among ultra-Orthodox men, 29% work in education, compared with just 5% for other Jewish Israeli men.

“The reason for this is first and foremost the large number of children in the ultra-Orthodox population, and the convenient working hours and the possibility of working within the community,” the IDI explained.

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