Conference on the Development of the Haredi Middle Class

Israel Democracy Institute

On Wednesday, February 8, 2012, IDI hosted a conference on the development of the Ultra-Orthodox middle class in Israel. This event was convened as part of the activities of IDI's Nation State project, under the leadership of IDI Senior Fellow Prof. Anita Shapira, and presented the findings of research conducted jointly with IDI's Religion and State project, under the leadership of Prof. Yedidia Stern.

This conference was made possible by the generous support of
The Goldhirsh Foundation

The ultra-Orthodox community in Israel is generally characterized by isolation and separatism.  In most areas of life, this community zealously withdraws from the Israeli public domain.

Recent research conducted as part of Prof. Anita Shapira's Nation State project and Prof. Yedidia Stern's Religion and State project, however, has shed light on the ultra-Orthodox middle class, which is a different type of ultra-Orthodoxy. This study reveals significant changes that have been underway in Israel during the last decade in three main areas of ultra-Orthodox life: changes in leadership (a weakening of proactive spiritual leadership and strengthening of pragmatic municipal leadership), cultural changes (academization, the development of a consumer culture, and exposure to the Internet), and economic changes (a reduction of support for individuals who chose to study Torah exclusively and global economic difficulties).

These changes have led to the strengthening of the ultra-Orthodox middle class in Israel, a group that is very similar to its parallels in the United States and Western Europe. This group is marked as ultra-Orthodox internally (e.g., a non-Zionist, Ultra-Orthodox ideology), externally (e.g., a unique style of dress), and culturally (e.g., involvement in ultra-Orthodox community life). Nonetheless, members of this group are not afraid to integrate into the Israeli public domain, whether in academia, the workplace, or the world of culture and leisure.  Most of the members of this group are academics and professionals who have relative power due to their income capacity and intellectual potential.  The size of this group is far from marginal. This can be seen from the enormous momentum that academic studies have gained within the ultra-Orthodox community, the increase in ultra-Orthodox service in the army and in national civilian service, and in the political changes in the municipal elections in some ultra-Orthodox cities.

On Wednesday January 25, 2012, IDI hosted a conference that focused on the findings of this research and explore the nature and future of the ultra-Orthodox middle class in Israel.



3:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Arrival
4:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.

Session 1: Presentation of the Research


Session Chair:
Professor Anita Shapira, IDI Senior Fellow; Tel Aviv University Department of Jewish History


Opening Greetings
Professor Yedidia Stern
, IDI Vice-President of Research; Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Law


Presentation of Research
Adv. Haim Zicherman, Researcher, IDI; Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Law

Dr. Lee Cahaner, Researcher, IDI; Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Oranim College

Professor Kimmy Kaplan, Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University
5:45 p.m.-7:15 p.m.

Session 2: Education, Ideology, and Community-Are These Really Haredim?


Session Chair:

Dr. Nissim Leon, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Bar-Ilan University



Ms. Ricki Rat, journalist for Makor Rishon
The Modern Haredi Home

Rabbi Chaim Horowitz, Rabbi of Zahala neighborhood in Tel Aviv and Head of the Derekh Hayashar Yeshiva
The Educational Infrastructure

Dr. Benjamin Brown, Researcher, IDI; Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Ideological Infrastructure

Rabbi Chanoch Verdiger, Head of the Tov political movement
The Political Infrastructure


Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Tikochinski, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

7:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

Session 3: Looking Toward the Future: From Individuals to Group-Institutions, Politics, and Leadership

A panel discussion led by Professor Yedidia Z. Stern


Speakers (in alphabetical order):

Rabbi Moshe Abutbul, Mayor of Beit Shemesh

Mr. Avishai Ben-Chaim, Journalist covering the Haredi world, Channel 10 television

Rabbi Yehezkel Fogel, Director of the Haredi campus, Ono Academic College

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, Chair of the Knesset Finance Committee

Shalhevet Hasdiel, Specialist in media and business entrepreneurship

Dr. Neri Horowitz, Director of Agoura Policy

Adv. Dr. Jacob Weinroth, Law Offices of Dr. J Weinroth & Co.

Adv. Haim Zicherman, Researcher, Israel Democracy Institute