Ultra-Orthodox Shunning Higher Education More Than Ever

Trend defies educational pattern in Israel and abroad, and contributes to high poverty levels among Haredim, says Jerusalem’s Taub Center.

The percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel who have completed higher education has dropped to its lowest in three decades, while the percentage of Haredim with only an elementary-school education has increased significantly, according to a policy paper issued this week by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

While in Israel and elsewhere in the developed world education levels are rising, older members of the ultra-Orthodox community here are more likely to have an academic degree than their younger peers. The survey included 20,000 individuals, in order to achieve high accuracy.

As of 2008, only 7.5% of Haredi men and 12.8% of Haredi women aged 25 to 44 had an academic education, lower than any other segment of Israel’s population. Among Haredim aged 45 to 64, these figures were 15.1% and 17.6%, respectively.

By comparison, among non-Haredim in the younger age group, 31% of men and 39% of women hold an academic degree. The figure is 30% for both men and women in the older age group.

An academic degree is the main route out of the high poverty rates in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. The income of Haredi families in which both spouses hold an academic degree is 2.6 times higher than that of Haredi families in which neither spouse has an academic education, according to the report.

But Haredi men are increasingly shunning academic studies in favor of full-time yeshiva studies, which does not prepare them adequately for the job market.

“Among Haredi men and women, there is both a considerable over-supply of manpower in the field of education and a lack of the tools and training that are necessary for integration in other fields,” says the study, part of the research center’s “State of the Nation Report 2013.”

“These trends coincided with a sharp rise in the rate of Haredi men studying in yeshivas, and in their average length of study … Entrenchment of these patterns makes the return to the labor market a significant challenge,” writes the author, Taub Center researcher Eitan Regev.

The report acknowledges that there is a growing trend among young Haredim to pursue secular studies, adding that it is too early to say whether it is enough to reverse the changes of the past 30 years.

Among Haredi men aged 25 to 64 who work full-time, those with an academic degree earn on average 80% more than those without a degree, the study found. The employment rates for the two groups are 71% and 34%, respectively.

The director of the Haredi campus of Ono Academic College, Rabbi Yehezkel Fogel, says that young Haredi men are increasingly likely to enroll in academic studies in their 20s. Of the 3,000 or so students in the program he heads, about half of them are men studying business or law.

“When I see a man learning at a yeshiva gevoha [for males aged around 16 and up], that doesn’t have to be the end of the story,” Fogel told TheMarker. “The question is what he does at age 25, if he goes on to college or to a university prep program and then to degree studies. It shouldn’t make a difference whether he went to a yeshiva or an Anthroposophical school.”

Haredi boys studying in Mea She'arim, Jerusalem.
Gil Cohen-Magen