Israel’s Haredi Dilemma

Israel’s Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) population explosion poses multiple dilemmas to Israeli long-term planners. One thing that is clear is that Israeli liberal democracy will not be able to survive and in its stead there will need to be a system of liberal guided democracy. It will still be a democracy but not a liberal democracy. There will need to be substantial changes in the Haredi equation in Israel. The Haredi system of education will need to be nationalized. The military draft will have to be imposed on Haredi men. The core curriculum will need to be compulsory in Haredi schools. Education for liberalism, democracy and gender equality will have to become compulsory. All government subsidies and grants to yeshivot (Talmudic seminaries) and to yeshiva students will have to be abolished. Professional education will have to become compulsory for all citizens other than for those with medical exemptions.   

Most of these changes are not possible to implement as long as Israel remains a liberal democracy and the Haredi population only keeps growing. Haredi parents have many children solely for religious reasons and not for economic, cultural or social reasons and their fertility rate (on average 8 children per mother) therefore does not decline over time unlike that of many other groups worldwide and in Israel such as Israeli Muslims (on average 3 children per mother) and Israeli Druze (on average 2 children per mother). 

The changes to the Haredi equation are not possible for as long as Israel remains a liberal democracy for the simple reason that the Haredim will not comply and will actively and successfully resist any implementation. A somewhat more authoritarian system is necessary to enforce the changes as enumerated above. The only question is how long Israel should wait with its own transition from liberal democracy to liberal guided democracy which is absolutely necessary as most Haredim support theocracy. The longer Israel waits, the more painful and difficult the transition will become for the Haredi community as it will involve a substantial government crackdown on anti-democratic incitement in the community. 

For economic reasons is it untenable to wait with implementing changes to the Haredi equation until the Haredim are coming closer to becoming a majority later this century. Already in 16 years time will there be 2.5 million Haredim in Israel and 5 million in 32 years time. Today are there some 6 million non-Haredi Jews in Israel. Israel’s non-Haredi Jewish population also grows and doubles in 50 years time due to relatively high fertility rates among Modern Orthodox Jews and traditional Jews, mostly descended from Muslim countries. 

The longer the Israeli government waits with changing the Haredi equation in Israel the more difficult will it become because of the increasingly larger size of the Haredi population which is becoming increasingly unmanageable. For this reason can the Israeli government not afford to wait for too long.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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