Integration of ultra-Orthodox Population Is Sputtering, Notably Among Men

The backsliding has been accompanied by a spike in Haredi yeshiva enrollment, the Israel Democracy Institute has reported

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Ultra-Orthodox women in a workplace.
Ultra-Orthodox women in a workplace.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

It has been about 15 years since the process of integration of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community began, notably in the workplace, higher education and the army, but this past year has seen backsliding in the trend, along with an increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, according to the Israel Democracy Institute’s 2019 Statistical Report on ultra-Orthodox Society.

The findings in the report, which are based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, government ministries and agencies and the National Insurance Institute, show that the decline was mainly in the participation of ultra-Orthodox men, while women continue to integrate into Israeli society in larger numbers.

This is consistent with military enlistment figures reported recently by Haaretz. Over the past two years, the number of ultra-Orthodox men joining the army has dropped. In the 2016 enlistment year, according to figures provided by the army, 2,850 ultra-Orthodox men enlisted. In the 2017 enlistment year, the figure was 2,720. As of June 2019, when the 2018 enlistment year ended, only 2,480 Haredi men had joined the army.

The military conscription office for ultra-Orthodox men at Tel Hashomer.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The ultra-Orthodox enrollment in civilian national service has dropped even more precipitously. According to the Israel Democracy Institute report, in 2018, 530 ultra-Orthodox men entered the program – the lowest figure since it was instituted in the Haredi community. The latest target figure for the program was for 2016, when the goal was to enroll 2,000 Haredi men.

Workplace participation

And figures from 2015 to 2018 show that the increasing rate of employment among ultra-Orthodox men came to a halt. The rate over the past year actually showed a slight decline. For comparison purposes, the employment rate among ultra-Orthodox men in 2018 was 51 percent as opposed to 87 percent for non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. On the other hand, the average wage of employed ultra-Orthodox men rose between 2014 and 2017 by 11 percent, while the average salary of non-ultra-Orthodox men increased by 8 percent.

The authors of the Israel Democracy Institute report, Gilad Malach and Lee Cahaner, noted that the slowing in integration in higher education is reflected in “dismal employment statistics, along with the negligible rate of ultra-Orthodox participation in civilian [community] service and recently released army enlistment figures. There is no doubt that these are worrisome trends from the standpoint of Israeli society and the growth engine of the economy.”

Higher education

When it comes to higher education, over the past decade the number of ultra-Orthodox men and women enrolled in academic degree programs more than doubled, with average annual growth of 12.5 percent.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, a total of 12,000 ultra-Orthodox students were enrolled at institutions of higher education. They represented only 3.8 percent of the entire student body, however and of the 12,000 Haredi students, 70 percent were women.

Although the number of Haredi students receiving a higher education continued to increase in recent years, the rate of increase has slowed, particularly among ultra-Orthodox men. The number of male ultra-Orthodox students grew by an annual average of only 4.5 percent over the past two years – which is equal to their natural increase in the population group. And the number of female ultra-Orthodox students rose by only 6 percent on average during the same period.

At the same time, the number of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, including those studying at yeshivas for married men, has been on the rise. The figure rose in 2018 to 133,933 from 97,700 in 2014 – an increase of 37 percent, or about 8 percent per year.

Between 1999 and 2012, according to the report, the number of yeshiva students rose at an annual rate of 4 percent a year, which is comparable to the rate of population growth of the Haredi community as a whole. Over the past four years, however, their numbers have swelled.

The enrollment of men in yeshivas for married men spiked by 30 percent – from 66,000 in 2014 to 86,000 in 2018. The number of men in regular yeshivas increased during the same period by 21 percent, from 30,000 to 37,000.

Speaking to Haaretz, Malachi highlighted that the slowdown in Haredi integration has been primarily among men.“It’s apparent in the rates of employment, in higher education, in national civilian service and in army service,” he said.

Other aspects of integration

In other respects, however, the process of integration has continued. There has been an increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox households with internet access, which has now risen to 50 percent, Malach said. Increasing integration is also seen, for example, in access to computers, travel abroad and the rate at which members of the ultra-Orthodox community are obtaining driver’s licenses.

“Haredi society is continuing to advance and integrate, although in terms of policy processes, the wagon is stuck in the mud,” Malach commented.