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The total fertility rate in the country's ultra-Orthodox community has dropped sharply in the past several years, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

The fertility rate in the Haredi community of Beitar Illit dropped from 8.9 children per woman in 2001 to 7.7 children in 2006, a decrease of 13.5 percent. In Modi'in Illit, another ultra-Orthodox community, the total fertility rate fell from 9 to 8 in the same period.

Even after the drop, these communities still have the highest fertility rates in Israel.

The total fertility rate is the average number of children born to each woman in her lifetime. It is a predictor of future fertility and does not refer to the size of the average family, and is considered the single best measurement of fertility trends.

This is the first time since the reduction of government child allowances that data on fertility rates in the Haredi community have been released. All previous attempts by Haaretz to obtain CBS figures on this subject in the past several years have failed.

The person responsible for gathering the statistics the CBS is publishing now is the outgoing head of the Kadima party's research and policy department, Gilad Malach.

As published previously in Haaretz, the fertility rate among Muslim women in Israel has also dropped dramatically, from an average of 4.7 children per woman in 2000 to just 4 in 2006. Most of this drop occurred after the large reduction in child allowances, in the summer of 2003. The cuts mainly affected the allowances for new births. The National Insurance Institute allowances for each new baby is only NIS 150 per month.

The largest drop in fertility rates was recorded in the Arab sector in the southern district - in other words, among the Bedouin, where the fertility rate dropped from 9 children per woman in 2003 to 7.6 children in 2005.

Malach gave Haaretz a table of CBS figures on the rates of natural increase in Haredi cities - the number of births minus the number of deaths. For the new Haredi communities, which have a very low average age, it can be assumed that the mortality rate is very low.

In Beitar Illit, the natural increase in 2002-2003 reached a peak of 63 per thousand, which dropped to just 52 per thousand in 2005-2006 - nearly 16 percent. In the religious and ultra-Orthodox community of Elad, the natural increase dropped from 77 per thousand to 59 per thousand in the same period.

The child allowances reached their peak in 2001, when the monthly supplement for the fifth and subsequent children in a family was NIS 850 per child. A family with 10 children received NIS 6,500 in child allowances alone. Today, a family with 10 children receives only NIS 2,850 per month.