Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community in Israel:
Facts and Figures
Income and Expenditures
The natural growth of the ultra-Orthodox population over the past decade has remained steady. The ultra-Orthodox population is relatively young and numbered more than 1.1 million in 2020 (approximately 14% of Israel’s total). Ultra-Orthodox women marry at a younger age, and their fertility rates are more than double that of the general population. The ultra-Orthodox are also having their first child later. In 2004, an ultra-Orthodox woman aged 20-24 had an average of 1.7 children; today, they have one child.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews As Percentage of Population
|Number||% of Total||Number||% of Total||Number||% of Total|
|Note: Total does not include non-Arabs. Percentages for 2020 are of the total Israeli population, including non-Arabs.|
|Source: Israel Democracy Institute|
As of 2021, the employment rate among ultra-Orthodox men is 51% and 81% among ultra-Orthodox women, compared to 87% and 83% for other Jews. From 2009 to 2018), the percentage of ultra-Orthodox men working in the field of education declined from 31% to 27%, alongside a rise in the percentage working in commerce from 11% in 2009 to 14% in 2018. Among ultra-Orthodox women, the decline in the percentage employed in the field of education was sharper – from 57% in 2009 to 39.5% in 2018.
One obstacle to both employment and education is that roughly 26% of ultra-Orthodox men don’t know English at all, and an additional 28% rate their English as poor.
Another impediment is the law that exempts men from conscription if they do not hold a job and are full-time students. Shlomit Ravitsky Tur-Paz notes that
because Haredi men marry at age 22 (on average) and are fathers by 24, they are rarely able to acquire a college education or vocational training; and the need to support their family pushes them into low-paying jobs. Israeli society loses twice – both in terms of military service and in integration into the workforce.
Tur-Paz quotes a survey of ultra-Orthodox men ages 18–30 conducted for the Israel Democracy Institute in 2020, which found that between 20% and 33% would leave the yeshiva and find a job if the exemption age were lowered.
Approximately 18% of the ultra-Orthodox community are of conscription age. The age of exemption – the age until which a Haredi man must remain a fulltime yeshiva student and not hold a job if he wishes to avoid conscription from service – is 26. Proposals have been floated to reduce the age to 21-23.
In 2019, ultra-Orthodox students made up 19% of the student population in Israel. The annual growth rate of the ultra-Orthodox system slowed down in the past five years from 4.2% in 2013 to 3.5% in 2019. By contrast, the annual growth rate of the state school system rose over the same period from 0.5% to 2.3%.
There are two possible explanations for this phenomenon: the falling birth rate in the ultra-Orthodox sector; and the decline in the attractiveness of ultra-Orthodox schools for families who are not explicitly ultra-Orthodox in observance.
Another interesting trend is the rise in the percentage of ultra-Orthodox who take the matriculation exams, from 23% in 2005 to 34% in 2019. This increase is particularly evident among ultra-Orthodox girls, 55% of whom are now taking the matriculation exams (2019), compared to only 31% in 2009. The figure for ultra-Orthodox boys has declined from 16% to 13%.
In 2021, 138,367 men were enrolled in post-secondary yeshivas (for those aged 18 until marriage) or kollelim (yeshivas for married men) in Israel.
|National and National Religious School System||Ultra-Orthodox School System|
|% of 12th-grade students taking matriculation exams||94%||33%|
|% qualifying for a matriculation certificate||11%||76%|
In the 2021/22 academic year, 138,367 ultra-Orthodox men attended yeshivas and kollelim (religious seminaries). In the same year, 15,635 men were students in higher education institutions in Israel, representing 7% of the total student population. In 2019, women constituted 68% of all ultra-Orthodox students.
During the period from 2010 to 2019, there was an almost three-fold increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox students (men and women) in programs leading toward an academic degree. In 2019–2020, following several years of stagnation, the number of ultra-Orthodox students rose again, by some 9–12 % among women and 3% among men.
The number of ultra-Orthodox students in advanced degree programs has risen even more dramatically, reaching 1,630—five times more than in 2010. In the 2019–2020 academic year alone, a 17% increase was recorded over the previous year.
The distribution of undergraduate subjects studied by ultra-Orthodox students is different from that of the general student population. Ultra-Orthodox students seem to prefer practical subjects that will make it possible to work within the ultra-Orthodox community, such as education and teaching (31% of ultra-Orthodox students, compared with 15% of the general student population), and paramedical subjects (10% versus 5% respectively), as well as subjects considered relatively easy in terms of acceptance requirements, such as business administration (10% of ultra-Orthodox students compared with 8.5% of the general student population).
On the other hand, approximately 76% of ultra-Orthodox men drop out of higher education,
Belz is Israel’s second-largest Hasidic group. In 2022, for the first time, the sect agreed to teach the core curriculum in its elementary schools, including math, science, Hebrew, and English. Many schools refuse to teach the core curriculum and refuse state funds rather than accept what they regard as secular interference in religious studies.
According to MK Moshe Tur-Paz, “They said they came to their decision over the need to earn a living and the need to finance their institutions, with the understanding that without core curriculum they would not be able to progress and their students would remain barred from the job market.”
Budgets for ultra-Orthodox education institutions in 2022
(approximate dollar values)
|Independent Education Network (affiliated with UTJ)||$500 million|
|Ma’ayan Hahinuch Hatorani (affiliated with Shas)||$266 million|
State-recognized, unofficial institutions
|Exempt institutions (marginal or no core studies)||$81 million|
|State support for Yeshivas||$370 million|
See also Haredi Textbooks in Israel.
There has been a rise in age at marriage in recent years: in 2003-2004, 77% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis aged 20-29 were married, as compared with 73% in 2010-2011, and today stands at just 67%.
The prevalence of poverty is much greater among ultra-Orthodox Israelis than in the general population. In 2021, about 40% of the community lived under the poverty line, more than triple the rate among non-Haredi Jews. Nonetheless, this is a sharp decrease, down from 58% in 2005, when government stipends were cut.
Income and Expenditures
The average gross monthly income for an ultra-Orthodox household in 2018 was 58% lower than the equivalent figure for other Jewish households. The ultra-Orthodox average increased by 17% since 2015 compared to 11% for other Jews.
Per capita income in ultra-Orthodox households was NIS 3,917, 52% of the equivalent figure for other Jewish households (NIS 7,531). This discrepancy can be explained by the high average size of ultra-Orthodox households (5.2 persons) relative to the average in other Jewish households (2.9 persons); the difference in the average number of income earners (1.3 in ultra-Orthodox households, compared with 1.5 in other Jewish households); and to lower income from employment (NIS 9,767 in ultra-Orthodox households, compared with NIS 18,191 in other Jewish households). The gaps in income may be smaller than would appear, however, due to higher levels of unreported income in the ultra-Orthodox sector.
The average monthly expenditure for an ultra-Orthodox household in 2018 was 16% lower than for other Jewish households (NIS 14,651 versus NIS 16,936), even though ultra-Orthodox households are larger. The average monthly tax expenditure for ultra-Orthodox households—on income tax, National Insurance payments, and health tax—is only around one-third (34%) of that for other Jewish households (NIS 1,524 versus NIS 4,461).
As of 2017, 74% of ultra-Orthodox own an apartment, down from 79% a decade ago, while in the general Jewish population, there was no significant change during those years. The change is particularly dramatic among ultra-Orthodox aged 20-29. A decade ago, 60% owned the apartment they lived in, and 33% rented. Today, only 50% own the apartment they live in, and 47% are renting.
About 15% of the young ultra-Orthodox own housing they purchased as an investment, compared to 5% among the general Jewish population. This confirms the claim that many of the young ultra-Orthodox who marry, are required to buy an apartment as a condition for approval of the wedding. They buy an apartment at a low price in the periphery, rent it out, and live in a rented apartment in more central areas.
Between 2003–2017 the number of ultra-Orthodox Israelis who own a car increased by 35% (up from 31% to 42%) as compared with 80% of the general Jewish population. However, only 29% of ultra-Orthodox women have a driving license, compared to 59% of ultra-Orthodox men.
Most of the ultra-Orthodox report that they did not have to forgo medical treatment (92%), medications (95%), or hot meals (95%), despite the high poverty rates (45%) among this population. Accordingly, the ultra-Orthodox trust in the health system is high and stands at 76%, similar to the non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. 94% of the ultra-Orthodox have their children vaccinated, the same rate as that among the general Israeli population.
Israel has historically had religious parties. In 2020, the two main ultra-Orthodox parties are the Sephardic Shas Party and United Torah Judaism. In 2020, for the first time, a female ultra-orthodox politician was given a cabinet post. Omer Yankelevich, from the non-religious Kahol Lavan Party, was appointed Diaspora Affairs Minister.
Sources: The 2018 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel is conducted by Dr. Gilad Malach and Dr. Lee Cahaner from the Israel Democracy Institute and is based on data provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics, government agencies, the IDF and the National Insurance Institute;
Tom Gross, “First female Ethiopian-born and ultra-orthodox Israeli cabinet ministers sworn in, Mideast Dispatch, (May 18, 2020);
The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2020 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel: Ultra-Orthodoxy and Higher Education, Press Release, IDI, (December 31, 2020);
The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2020 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel: Economic Overview, Press Release, IDI, (December 31, 2020).
David Hellerman, “Massive Hasidic sect to include secular curriculum in revolutionary shift,” The Jewish Voice, (January 30, 2022).
Lior Dattel and Nati Tucker, “Israeli Education Ministry’s Unusual Offer to Haredi Schools,” Haaretz (February 1, 2022).
Simcha Pasko, “Ultra-Orthodox education and Israel’s economic future,” i24 News, (July 2, 2022).
Employment figures for 2021 supplied by Aaron Lerner, IMRA, (December 12, 2022).
Shlomit Ravitsky Tur-Paz, “The Government Bill for the Exemption of Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Men from IDF Service: A Brief Guide,” Israel Democracy Institute, (May 18, 2023).