Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel



Chap. 2

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Ultra-Orthodox Students by Education Stream

The ultra-Orthodox education stream constitutes a significant portion (24.5%) of the Hebrew-language education system in Israel and of the Israeli education system as a whole (18.5%). Since the turn of the millennium, there has been a rapid growth in the number of students in ultra-Orthodox educational frameworks, though this trend has slowed down over the last five years (to 3.4% per year), alongside a rise in the rate of growth in the State and State-Religious education streams (to 2.3% per year).

Over the last decade, ultra-Orthodox education has undergone a series of systemic and structural changes, including the establishment of an official ultra-Orthodox department in the Ministry of Education and of a State-ultra-Orthodox education stream. In the 2018–2019 academic year, there were approximately 332,000 students in ultra-Orthodox elementary and secondary schools. The majority of ultra-Orthodox schools (75%) are “recognized, but unofficial,” (that is, they are not fully integrated into the state school system, but are recognized by the Ministry of Education and are under its supervision).This sector includes Agudat Yisrael’s independent school network and the Shas Bnei Yosef school network. Around one-quarter of ultra-Orthodox schools (23%) are classified as “exempt” (and thus have minimal state supervision), and 2% are part of the state school system.

Bagrut: Matriculation Exams

In the 2016–2017 academic year, 51% of ultra-Orthodox girls in the relevant age group took at least one matriculation exam, compared with just 31% eight years earlier (2008–2009). By contrast, over the same period, there was a slight decline in the percentage of boys taking a matriculation exam, from 16% to 14%. The percentage of those achieving a matriculation certificate among ultra-Orthodox students in 2016–2017 was just 13%, compared with 79% in the state and state-religious education streams.

Figure 2: Ultra-Orthodox Students Taking Bagrut (Matriculation) Exams, by Gender and Academic year (%)

Yeshiva Students

In 2013 and 2014, the number of full-time students in yeshivas (for unmarried men ages 18+ and kollels (advanced religious seminaries for married men ages 18+ dropped, relative to previous years, but since 2015, the number has once again been on the rise. In 2018, there were 133,933 students in – yeshivas and kollels—among whom 70% were kollel students. This represents an annual growth of 6%, which is higher than the rate of population growth for the ultra-Orthodox sector as a whole.

Figure 3: Number of Yeshiva and Kollel Students, 2012–2018

Academic Studies

For many years, the number of ultra-Orthodox students in programs leading to an academic degree was extremely low. However, in the wake of changes in the demands of the labor market and the establishment of academic institutions adapted to the specific needs of the ultra-Orthodox, the period between 2010 and 2019 saw a dramatic rise—by 160%– in the number of ultra-Orthodox students in higher education institutions.

In the 2018–2019 academic year, there were some 12,000 ultra-Orthodox students in academic institutions (including the Open University) – 70% of them, women. The subjects they studied are mainly practical and applied, and open up opportunities for employment within the ultra-Orthodox community, such as education and teaching, paramedical professions, computers, and business administration. Thus, among the ultra-Orthodox, higher education serves as the path for entry into the labor market in the chosen field of study.

In 2016–2018, there was a rise of just 11% in the number of ultra-Orthodox students, relative to the previous academic year.

This slowdown in growth can be attributed to the cutback in government incentives for employment, which weakened the motivation for both employment and for higher education, especially in light of the parallel increase in financial support for kollel students. In addition, there was a drop in law school registration, due to more stringent regulation in this field and a cutback in scholarships. 

Figure 4: Ultra-Orthodox Students in Institutions of Higher Education, by Level of Degree and Academic Year (not including the Open University)

** The Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel is based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, government ministries and authorities, and the National Insurance Institute.