January 9, 2012


Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Problem (Dan Ephron, Jan 2, 2012, Daily Beast)

Once a tiny minority, ultra-Orthodox Jews--also known as Haredim--now make up more than 10 percent of Israel's population and 21 percent of all primary-school students. With the community's fertility rate hovering at more than three times that of other Israeli Jews, demographers project that by 2034, about one in five Israelis will be ultra-Orthodox.

The impact will reach well beyond the neighborhood quarrels over segregated buses or modest attire--another Haredi preoccupation that has stirred tensions across Israel. Most ultra-Orthodox Jews lack the skills to work in a modern economy, having studied little or no math and science beyond primary school (their curriculum focuses almost entirely on religious texts such as the Torah and Talmud). As a result, more than 60 percent live below the poverty line, compared with 12 percent among non-Haredi Jews. Most also opt out of military service, which is compulsory for other Israelis. The net effect: as the Haredi community expands, the burden of both taxation and conscription falls on fewer and fewer Israelis. (Secular Israelis joke bitterly that one third of the country serves in the military, one third participates in the workforce, and one third pays taxes--but that it's all the same third).

The country's political landscape will also shift. According to pollsters, Haredim are consistently hawkish on the question of territorial compromise with the Palestinians, citing God's covenant with Abraham granting Jews the land of Israel. Already the parties that represent them wield significant political power in Israel's coalition-based system. If the demographic trends hold, the prospect of getting a majority in Israel to back the compromises required for a peace deal will narrow with each passing year. In the long run, says Dan Ben-David, a Tel Aviv University economist who heads the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, Israeli society will be poorer, less educated, and increasingly right wing.

Posted by at January 9, 2012 5:58 PM

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