The rise of Haredi electoral power in Israel

January 26, 2013

[Updated March 2021.]

The increase of the Haredi (Jewish ultra-orthodox) population in Israel is a topic widely discussed in Israeli mass media and with considerable sway over Israeli politics both in the form of increasing Haredi electoral power and in the form of providing campaign and policy agendas for opposing forces.

Official statistics (social security annual report 2011, charts on pages 139, 140) indicate that the average Haredi family has about 6 children (with a decreasing trend over the last two decades) while non-Haredi Jewish families have about 2.5 children. Talk about demographic trends caused by the differential fertility rate, causing an imminent “Haredi  and Arabic” majority, is quite common. This is coupled with complaints about the fact that Haredi labor force participation rate is low, the fact that Haredim do not serve in the Israeli military and the fact that some Haredim receive stipends from the state as rabbinical students.

The chart below shows the proportion of votes received by Haredi parties in Israeli elections.


Data: text file, Google spreadsheet. Source: The Israel Democracy Institute.


4 Responses to “The rise of Haredi electoral power in Israel”

  1. I’m wondering how much of the increase in the Heredi population is because the rest of society pays for them.

    Basic economics is that if you are willing to produce something, then people will produce more of it.

  2. Yoram Gat Says:

    Hi Matthew, how are things?

    This kind of questions is very much part of the public discussion I was referring to. The Social Security Administration went as far as publishing a report trying to use econometric analysis to determine the increase in fertility due to child benefits: Here is a similar study in English

    I tend to be quite skeptical about such analyses (see the case of Steven Levitt for an informative example), but FWIW, the conclusion is that the effect is quite small.

  3. Admittedly this is anecdotal data, but I have a cousin who immigrated to Israel (just after he got old enough to avoid the draft) and then promptly went on the dole. (He was raised very Reform, and has a business degree from Wharton, go figure)

    Also, it’s not just people having children, but the fact that the subsidies make it more difficult for Orthodox Jews to be a more engaged and modern Orthodox.

    If you subsidize yeshivas that don’t give proper instruction in math and science, then those students never have the opportunity to pursue lines of work involving those skills.

    Also, if an Orthodox Jew wants to get off the dole and get a real job, their taxes approach 100%, because they lose benefits as they earn money. (I rather imagine that a fair number of the Heridim work in the underground economy for this reason)

    So, the money creates people who are incapable of doing useful work, and they disproportionately encourage black hat immigrants.

    My guess would be that if subsides were reduced (or better yet, eliminated) then the number of ultra-Orthodox is Israel would fall.

    Speaking from an American sensibility, I would also argue that eliminating the subsidies and the draft exemption is just the right thing to do.

  4. Yoram Gat Says:

    I don’t doubt that handing out yeshivah stipends increases the number of (nominal) yeshivah students and makes a certain lifestyle more prevalent. (Note BTW that yeshivah students are a minority within the Haredi population – there are about 100,000 of them.)

    Still, since the stipends are rather modest (~$200/month of public money and some more from private sources), and even after factoring in additional welfare benefits the Haredi population is very poor, I don’t think that this is a lifestyle primarily motivated by money. Your cousin must be living much more frugally than he would have if he utilized his business degree. It is a lifestyle motivated by ideology and supported by (a rather modest amount of) public money.

    I do not begrudge the Haredim their stipends. I certainly would not want to trade places with them. The question of whether attempts should be made to reduce their numbers (or reduce its growth) is a separate matter in my mind. On the one hand I find large parts of their ideology unpleasant and sometimes downright abhorrent (their misogyny and xenophobia, for example). On the other hand, I think people should live as they see fit to the extent possible, and the Haredi ideology has its brighter aspects and is not any worse than some common secular ideologies.

    Ideally, secular society should provide a compelling alternative to the Haredi ideology, so that despite having the option of adopting (or keeping) the Haredi lifestyle and ideology, people would choose not to do so.

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