More ultra-Orthodox Students Enroll in Yeshivas but Fewer Go to Academic Institutions

According to research conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, there has also been a decline in ultra-Orthodox’s entry into the job market

An ultra-Orthodox man walking in Jerusalem with his children, December 2018.
Emil Salman

The number of ultra-Orthodox men enrolling in yeshivas has gone up in recent years while there has been a slowdown in numbers of ultra-Orthodox enrolling in higher education institutions and the job market, according to figures released on Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute.

The institute’s annual report monitors trends within the ultra-Orthodox community and is being published for the third year in a row.

The data, based on information from the Central Bureau of Statistics, government ministries, the military and the National Insurance Institute, show that in 2017 there were 114,100 ultra-Orthodox men registered at yeshivas (not including non-citizens), up from 94,000 in 2014, reflecting a 21 percent increase in a three-year period. This is a reverse trend from the 2013-2014 period when the number of yeshiva students decreased by 16 percent due to a sharp drop in yeshivas’ budgets and changes in the age requirement for ultra-Orthodox seeking exemption from military service at that time.

The study’s authors, Dr. Gilad Malach and Dr. Lee Kahaner found that a rise in stipends provided by the government had apparently influenced the entry of ultra-Orthodox into academic life. The year 2017 saw the first drop in ultra-Orthodox students since the launch of university programs formed expressly for those students, from 9,600 to 9,400 (excluding the Open University), particularly in colleges for education.

The researchers explained the drop as a response to a decline in scholarships for ultra-Orthodox students in law and business departments that had been popular with ultra-Orthodox students.

There were 2,300 ultra-Orthodox students learning to be teachers in 2017, down from 2,600 the previous year, which represents a drop of 12 percent.

In addition, the data show that ultra-Orthodox enroll in relatively high numbers in medical-related professions (12 percent compared to 5 percent of the general population), as well as in natural sciences and engineering, where they represent 10 percent of students.

At the same time, the number of ultra-Orthodox students rose by 141 percent during the seven-year period from 2010 to 2017 – compared to just 9 percent for the general Israeli population. In addition, there is a continual rise in the number of ultra-Orthodox students enrolled in graduate studies - in 2017, that figure stood at 1,525, which is five times greater than in 2010.

More than half of the ultra-Orthodox students are enrolled at academic colleges and about a third in teaching colleges, while a minority - only 17 percent - go to university, which is vastly different than the general population, where 39 percent are enrolled in universities.

The dropout rate for the ultra-Orthodox in academia is 12.5 percent compared to 7 percent for the general population. The dropout rate at universities is six percent for the ultra-Orthodox, a lot lower than in the teaching colleges where the number is 11.5 percent and 19 percent at academic colleges.

Natural growth has remained stable at 4.2 percent in the past decade compared to 1.4 percent among the non-Orthodox Jewish population. Among the more than million ultra-Orthodox, 58 percent are 19 and younger, compared to 30 percent among the rest of the Jewish population. Most of this is due to ultra-Orthodox women having more children than other Israelis, 7.1 compared to 3.1 for the rest of the population.

The study finds that 83 percent of ultra-Orthodox men aged 20 and above are married compared to 63 percent of non-Orthodox Jews. But marriage age has risen for the ultra-Orthodox population in recent years, from 77 percent for 20 to 29-year-olds in 2003-2004, to 73 percent in 2010-2011, down to just 67 percent for that age group in 2017.