A Third of Israeli Jews Will Be ultra-Orthodox by 2050, Forecast Finds

The Jewish population of the West Bank is expected to more than double by 2050 – the growth could be curbed if the government resists political pressure for more construction in the territories

Gili Melnitcki
Gili Melnitcki
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People walking around Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem.
People walking around Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Gili Melnitcki
Gili Melnitcki

Israel’s population will surge by 70 percent, to almost 16 million, by 2050, with the ultra-Orthodox accounting for about a third of all Israeli Jews, according to a new estimate prepared by the National Economic Council.

The forecast, which is supposed to guide all government planning from now on, also predicts that the south will grow far more quickly than the north. It is the first estimate to break down expected population growth by region.

Currently, Israel has a population of 9.2 million. By 2050, the forecast said, that will rise to 15.68 million, almost 80 percent of them Jews. There will be 3.24 million Arabs, roughly the same 21 percent of the population as today. But the ultra-Orthodox population will balloon to 3.8 million – 24 percent of the total population, up from 12.6 percent today, and just under a third of the Jewish population.

The center of the country, with Tel Aviv at its heart, will remain the most populous region, accounting for 37 percent of Israel’s population in 2050. In all, the center’s population will grow by almost 60 percent, from 3.8 million to almost 6 million, while the population of greater Tel Aviv will grow from 1.48 to 2.26 million.

This growth means the center will desperately need better transportation, including a subway system, Finance Ministry officials said. It will also need urban renewal projects to create more housing.

But the forecasters also expect the south’s population to surge, thanks to investments in public transportation in recent years, tax breaks granted to attract businesses to the area and a government decision to transfer major army bases from the center of the country to the south. The population of the Ashkelon region, for instance, will increase by around 50 percent, from 753,000 to 1.13 million, while that of the Be’er Sheva district will soar to 1.6 million.

Traffic in Tel Aviv, in 2019. Credit: Meged Gozani

One reason for the south’s population boom, the forecast said, will be a growing migration southward of ultra-Orthodox Jews. That, coupled with the community’s high natural growth rate, will boost the south’s ultra-Orthodox population almost fivefold by 2050, from 139,000 to 616,000. The expected migration is due in part to plans to build a new ultra-Orthodox city, Kasif, in the Negev.

In the north, the ultra-Orthodox population is expected to grow even faster, but it is starting from a smaller base. Consequently, despite a projected sevenfold increase, it will total only 384,000 by 2050, the forecast said.

The Jerusalem region, including Beit Shemesh, will remain the largest ultra-Orthodox population center, with 915,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, up from 360,000 today.

The south’s Bedouin population is expected to more than double, from 294,000 to 717,00. And with so many more people living there, both Jews and Arabs, friction between the two populations is expected to increase.

Construction in the southern city of Be'er Sheva. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The north will remain the region with the largest Arab population – 1.13 million in 2050, up from 801,000 today. But the Arab population of Haifa, Israel’s largest mixed Jewish-Arab city, isn’t expected to grow very much. Instead, most of the growth will take place in the Acre region and the Jezreel Valley.

The Jewish population of the West Bank is also expected to more than double, from 458,000 today to 1.1 million in 2050. However, the forecasters said, the latter figure could be cut to 866,000 if the government resists political pressure for more construction in the territories and instead sticks to the planning administration’s strategic housing plan.

Another important factor will be the government’s ability to provide housing solutions for the ultra-Orthodox community inside Israel, since that would reduce the influx of people into ultra-Orthodox cities in the West Bank like Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit. If no such solutions are provided within Israel, the forecast warned, then the West Bank’s ultra-Orthodox population is likely to surge to over half a million.

Overall, Israel’s high natural growth rate is expected to keep its population relatively young, creating a need for more schools and a higher education budget. Of the projected 15.68 million Israelis in 2050, over a third – 5.6 million – will be 19 or younger, the forecast said.

This prediction is based on the Central Bureau of Statistics’ estimate that the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate will edge down from 6.7 children per woman today to 6.2 in 2040-2050, while the Muslim fertility rate will fall from 3.07 to 2.7.

But alongside the large number of minors, the number of senior citizens will balloon. The population of people 65 and older will almost double, from 1.2 million to 2.37 million, the forecast said. Of these, more than a million will live in Tel Aviv and the central region.

This means Israel in general, and the central region in particular, will need more housing for seniors, more community services and better public transportation, the forecasters said.

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