Jerusalem Is Not Becoming More ultra-Orthodox, but Its Nonreligious Neighborhoods Are

New research shows difference between homes bought by the capital’s secular and ultra-Orthodox

Haredi residents walking in Jerusalem, September 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The results of the recent mayoral election in Jerusalem, which were very close, proved to the few remaining skeptics something that was clear to almost every Jerusalem resident: The capital is not a Haredi city. The victory was in the hands of the city’s general population – if only they had bothered to come out and vote.

Even without the promises of the new mayor, Moshe Leon, that he would be everybody’s mayor, and even though the mayor has a great deal of influence on the shaping of the city’s identity – the forces at work on the ground are more powerful. It seems the situation, as far as the non-Haredi community is concerned, is not as bad as people like to think.

Research about the identity of home buyers in Jerusalem conducted by Dr. Eitan Regev, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, supports this conclusion. The data show that the growth in the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews among home buyers in the capital has almost completely stopped, and the percentage of Haredim buying homes in Jerusalem is similar to their share of the overall population. Regev’s research is based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics which provides details of the schools where home buyers' children attended.

Regev, one of the leading experts on the economy of Haredi society, found that from 2000 through 2006, the percentage of Haredim among those who bought homes in the capital rose from 22 percent to 32 percent. But this figure rose by only another 2 percent to 34 percent between 2006 through 2017.

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The real percentages are even lower, says Regev: “If you add in the data about those in the Haredi community who leave religious life, it is possible to say that the standstill is almost total.” While no precise data exist on the numbers of Jews leavnig the Haredi fold, estimates are that about 1,000 such people leave the community in Jerusalem every year.

The data mostly reflect the housing problem of the younger generation of ultra-Orthodox society, particularly in Jerusalem. “Many leave Jerusalem because they cannot afford the high housing prices,” says Regev. The Jerusalem district has lost 8,500 Haredim in the 18-to-35 age range over the past decade.

Inequality is growing

One of the most important factors affecting the ability of young Haredim to buy a home is wages. While the average annual wage of ultra-Orthodox buyers has remained almost unchanged over the years studied – it only rose from about 80,000 shekels ($21,200 at today’s exchange rates) in 2017 to about 90,000 shekels in 2017 – wages rose significantly for secular home buyers, from 120,000 shekels in 2000 to 160,000 shekels a year in 2017. Their parents’ wages showed a different pattern – for the Haredi parents of home buyers, wages rose from 120,000 shekels in 2000 to 160,000 shekels in 2017, while for the nonreligious the figures were 170,000 shekels in 2000 and 260,000 shekels a year in 2017.

This distress is reflected in other data Regev presents: The apartments bought in general by Haredim are cheaper. If the prices of homes bought by Haredim and the nonreligious were once similar, today the differential is in the range of 200,000 shekels – with the nonreligious buying more expensive homes. This difference exists even though Haredi families have more children on average, and the difference in the size of the home per family member has grown greatly over that period.

File photo: Haredi youth in Jerusalem, January 18, 2018.
Gil Cohen-Magen

Today, nonreligious families buy larger and newer homes, and in more expensive areas, says Regev. In addition, Haredim buy at a much younger age, 33.6 on average both in the early 2000s and today. For secular residents of the capital, the average age they bought a home was 37.7 in 2000. Today it is 44.1.

“The rise in housing prices has changed the profile of the secular buyer, who is older and better off, and only then manages to have their own home,” says Regev. “While for the Haredim, the goal is still to buy an apartment for a young couple is still important, the age profile has not changed. This is in addition to the Haredim simply going and buying less expensive apartments.”

For Jerusalem residents, the story of the so-called “Haredization” of the city was exposed in its full strength in recent years by the friction between the nonreligious and Haredim in the city’s mixed religious-nonreligious neighborhoods. Many residents see this issue as the most burning one on the capital’s agenda. When we examine Regev’s data, one can understand why.

In addition to the number of Haredim leaving the city for cheaper housing, more and more of them are buying homes in the city outskirts. For example, the percentage of home buyers in the soutwestern neighborhood of Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood in 1999 was under 20 percent. This figure rose to 20 percent to 40 percent by 2007 and and 60 percent to 80 percent by 2017. The figures are similar in Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neveh Yaakov and elsewhere.

“There has been a drop in general of home buying among the Haredi community,” says Dr. Lee Cahaner, the head of the Interdisciplinary Studies Department at Oranim Academic College of Education and a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. It used to be more accepted for parents to buy their children an apartment, in full or in part, but today this has shifted to renting, she says. This also reflects societal and economic changes, and also because the Haredi community has changed, adds Cahaner.