First-ever reliable estimate of transitions into and out of Haredi community

Transitions Between Religious Groups among Israeli Jews

The rate of departure from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox sector far exceeds the rates of secular and Zionist Orthodox Israelis becoming Haredi. This emerges from a new study published by the Israeli Democracy Institute, and it sheds new light on a long-standing debate regarding the phenomenon of Jews becoming ultra-Orthodox in Israel. It is also important to understand what is happening today in the ultra-Orthodox sector in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the years, self-congratulatory reports are published from time to time, and satisfaction is expressed at the increasing rate of non-Haredi Jews becoming ultra-Orthodox [sometimes referred to as the “the ‘kiruv’ factory” in softer language]. Indeed, this phenomenon exists, and more than a little in state funding is provided to advance it, under pressure from religious politicians. However, it now turns out that successful “kiruv” occurs at much lower rates than that of Jews leaving the ultra-Orthodox fold. Unfortunately, it is precisely those who are exiting that receive almost no assistance at all from the government, despite the obvious needs of those trying to leave the bear hug of ultra-Orthodox society.

These data explain not only the long-term processes, but also what is currently happening in the ultra-Orthodox sector, as well as the dramatic headlines in the sectoral Haredi media: “The health epidemic can be tackled, but now the ultra-Orthodox public is on the verge of a wave of dramatic increase in struggling youths”; “A spiritual plague”; “An unprecedented loss of young people Abandoning ultra-Orthodox society, in a process that began long before the corona pandemic began getting worse”; and more.

By the fourth week, I was amazed to see them sitting on the beach, playing backgammon, and smoking a hookah as if it were their home. They entered there as beautiful flowers – and, after a month, came out of there a bunch of gangsters.

You can to read, for example, A revealing description of this process through the eyes of an ultra-Orthodox educator: “During the first week of closing some of the yeshivas during the summer, I went to the sea. There I met dozens of guys from one of the most important and largest yeshivas in Bnei Brak. They swam and spent time on the gender segregated beach. The following week they started playing paddle ball. By the third week, they had already become paddle ball professionals. By the fourth week, I was amazed to see them sitting on the beach, playing backgammon, and smoking a hookah as if it were their home. They entered there as beautiful flowers – and, after a month, came out of there a bunch of gangsters.”

The arrogance of ultra-Orthodox leaders who boasted of about the qualities of their Haredi students as “those who kill themselves in the tent of Torah”, comparing them to the “drugged”, “promiscuous”, and “worthless” young people in secular society is now becoming clearer than ever. This was always more an illusion than a description of reality. It is now also clearer that the ultra-Orthodox leadership's insistence on keeping the population detached from the Internet, from core curricular studies, from studying English, studying sciences, and from smartphones... this was due to their efforts to maintain the ultra-Orthodox population in a rigid social and educational framework.

When external conditions came about that caused this all-enveloping framework to crumble, when young people’s behaviors and discourse were no longer being monitored, it became apparent that Haredi values and faith alone do not have the power to keep them in the fold. It is not for nothing that many of the leading rabbis in the ultra-Orthodox sector admit that the spiritual damage caused to their young people due to the pandemic is more serious than the medical damage. This is not only on a theological level but at the simplest level of their loss of control over the young generation of ultra-Orthodox Israelis… and the acceleration of the process of people leaving the ultra-Orthodox sector, which has been happening slowly for years.


Translation of excerpt from full report

[CLICK here for IDI's English Abstract]

The findings of the study show that the rate of those leaving Israel’s ultra-Orthodox sector (aged 20-64) is about 13.3%, while among the Zionist Orthodox and the secular, the rates of adopting ultra-Orthodoxy are [only] 4.9% and 1.0%, respectively. However in absolute numbers, the total number of individuals aged 20-64 who joined the ultra-Orthodox sector (but did not grow up in ultra-Orthodox homes) stands at about 59,500 people, compared to about 53,400 people who left the ultra-Orthodox sector but grew up in ultra-Orthodox homes [given the relative size of the two populations].

Still, in the young age groups there is a sharp increase in the number of people leaving the sector, in parallel with a steep decline in the number of those joining the sector. Among those born in 1993-1997 there is a large gap (Of about 7300 people) in favor of those who have left. Departure rates in the Hassidic sector are only 5.4%, compared with 8.6% among Lithuanians and 26.4% - among ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews. Women's departure rates are slightly lower than men's. Sephardic descendants constitute about 57% of all those leaving the sector. More than half of those leaving the ultra-Orthodox sector now define themselves as religious or very religious. Examination of the Israeli streams of education in the twelfth grade, among people who grew up in ultra-Orthodox homes, but, as adults, do not define themselves as ultra-Orthodox reveals that at least 28% of them left when they were minors. Only 1.8% of the people who were educated as children in secular homes or in Zionist Orthodox homes define themselves in adulthood as ultra-Orthodox.

The trends for joining ultra-Orthodoxy are actually a mirror image (the reverse) of the departure trends. In weighting the transitions between the sectors, our forecast for the size of the ultra-Orthodox population in 2065 is about 925,000 people lower (that is, about 14%) than the CBS forecast (About 5.86 million compared to about 6.78 million, respectively). The revised forecast for the size of the non-Haredi Jewish population in 2067 is about 600,000 people higher (that is, by 6%) than the CBS forecast (about 10.34 million compared to about 9.74 million, respectively). According to the revised forecasts, the cumulative number of people expected to leave the ultra-Orthodox sector between 2017 and 2067 - it is about 420,000 people. During that period, about 176,000 people are expected to join the ultra-Orthodox sector.

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