Where are Haredim Headed? Towards Isolation or Integration?

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125 years ago, Herzl failed to convince ultra-Orthodox leadership to join the Zionist movement, and while their leadership did sign the Declaration of Independence in 1948, they Haredim remained in their “enclave” communities. Now, if modern-day Israel is to continue to thrive, integration of the ultra-Orthodox is crucial.

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125 years ago, Theodor Herzl failed in his efforts to persuade ultra-Orthodox leadership to join the Zionist movement. 50 years later, after the Holocaust and before the establishment of the State of Israel, the political leaders of the Agudat Israel faction decided not to remain in isolation, signed the Declaration of Independence and joined the Israeli political system. 74 years later we are at a crossroads regarding the question of isolation or integration of the ultra-Orthodox community into Israeli society. Any decision will have critically significant consequences not only for the ultra-Orthodox community, but also way beyond—for all of Israeli society and its economy.

Fundamental to ultra-Orthodox society is its isolationist or "enclave culture". The Haredi community fights for its autonomy in order to shield themselves from the temptations of modernity and secular life, and focus exclusively on a strictly religious life. In the State of Israel, this enclave culture poses five main challenges for policy makers.

Economy: As a result of the low rate of employment among Haredi men and the low quality of their jobs among those who do work, the contribution of the ultra-Orthodox to the Israeli economy is minimal.

Social: The rifts between groups the different groups making up the mosaic of Israeli society, especially between those defining themselves as secular and the ultra-Orthodox, run very deep, and create a high level of tension between them..

Democracy: Survey findings are consistent with regard to the commitment of the ultra-Orthodox to democratic values and institutions; such a commitment is weak, at best. For example, most members of the community oppose granting equal rights to Arab citizens, deny the full sovereignty of the Knesset, and have little respect for the authority of Israeli courts.

"Sharing the Burden": Most of the ultra-Orthodox do not serve in the military, arousing considerable resentment among their secular and modern- religious peers who spend three years in the IDF.

Infrastructure: The rapid growth of the ultra-Orthodox community brings with it the need to speed up the development of infrastructure- towns, schools, means of transportation, hospitals, etc.

In order to tackle these challenges, over the last 20 years a variety of policymakers have made special arrangements and adaptations towards integrating the ultra-Orthodox in major life arenas, especially in the army, higher education frameworks, and the labor market.

These adaptations—often reflected in separate structural units— are tailored to the way of life of the ultra-Orthodox society. The State supports these arrangements, often keeping them under the radar so as not to encounter backlash from the ultra-Orthodox community and its leadership. These arrangements create what I refer to as "integrated enclaves", because on the one hand- they are segregated, but on the other- they aim at integration (for example separate classes for men and women at universities).

So, what are the results of these efforts?

I will focus on one aspect: Participation in the workforce. Here we are seeing great success among ultra-Orthodox women: In the last 20 years there was a major leap in employment among them: from 51% to 78%. Among ultra-Orthodox men, the picture is less clear: Despite a major increase in the employment rate- from 36% to 51%, this rate has stagnated for the past 6 years, with no significant increase in employment.

So what does the future hold? : Can the trend towards integration overcome rapid demographic growth? In 30 years, the ultra-Orthodox will make up almost 25% of Israeli society. This implies that even if employment rises to a level of 65% or so, the negative impact of the rapid growth of the Haredi population will outweigh this increase, and will be even greater than today. Clearly, integration of the community is a critical need.

Trends towards isolation or integration will be influenced by internal changes within ultra-Orthodox society in the next 30 years. There are three possible scenarios to be considered:

The first assumes that ultra-Orthodox society achieves the balance between integration and isolation, between those who work and those who are full-time Torah students. Given the community's rapid growth, this situation is untenable for the State of Israel -both economically and in terms of social cohesion.

The second scenario focuses on trends towards integration over the past 20 years in Israel, and on the ultra-Orthodox model in the United States which is one of far greater integration into the economy. But even if the Israeli ultra-Orthodox would fully adopt the American model,' on the macro level—Israel's economy will still deteriorate, as a result of the demographic growth of the ultra-Orthodox community

The third and most hopeful scenario assumes that the integration process will be much quicker than what we are seeing today, due to on rapid technological changes (such as smart phones and access to the internet), high levels of poverty and weak leadership, which might lead to trends towards modernity. This scenario would boost the economy and would ease the tension between the secular and ultra-Orthodox populations.

The State of Israel simply cannot cope with the first scenario. In order to progress to the second or third scenarios, we might think in terms of a pyramid that portrays the different levels of integration or isolation that government policy should promote. The most basic- is integration on the functional level. To reach this level, the State should require Haredi schools to include "secular" subjects (math, English etc.) in the curriculum and take whatever steps are needed to increase employment among Haredi men. The strategy towards achieving these major changes must combine positive incentives along with negative sanctions ("carrots and sticks" such as making funding for educational institutions contingent on including “secular” subject in the school’s curriculum).

The second level of this pyramid refers primarily to the education and employment arenas. Here we recommend that at the State adopt a multicultural approach. That is, separate frameworks, and/or cultural adaptation, along with positive incentives to enable the community continue its way of life and adhere to its beliefs.

The third level is one which is highly likely to be characterized by of disagreement and controversy. There is no doubt that Israeli society will continue to engage in debate on religious and cultural matters, and other important issues. But if the State is successful in achieving the first and second levels of integration, Israeli society will have the capacity to contain these disagreements.

125 years ago, Herzl failed to convince ultra-Orthodox leadership to join the Zionist movement, but clearly--the movement has succeeded without their support. 50 years later they signed the Declaration of Independence but, this wasn’t of critical importance. But this time around, we need to "get it right". Integration of the ultra-Orthodox on the various levels I've described, is crucial for the future of the State of Israel.

The article was published in the Times of Israe.