A small but significant segment of the haredi population is beginning to emerge,
whose socioeconomic status could be defined as middle class, says a new study
from the Israel Democracy Institute.
Although specific numbers are not
yet available, the report, which was presented on Wednesday at the
organization’s headquarters in Jerusalem, identified several defining
characteristics of a nascent ultra-Orthodox middle class that sets them apart
from other members of their community and which represent a new haredi sector
that aspires to a more varied lifestyle.
“We’re seeing more and more
young haredi people who are eager to go to work, to make a living, to be exposed
to normal life, and not to just stay in yeshiva,” Prof. Yedidia Stern, IDI vice
president for research, told The Jerusalem Post.
“But they also work hard
to live in both worlds without losing their original identity. They want to
maintain their culture and identity as members of the ultra-Orthodox community,
but they are also inclined to go to the theater, read non-haredi newspapers, as
well as the haredi ones, and be exposed to a greater extent to wider Israeli
society,” he said.
Stern warned, however, against any coercive measures
from the Knesset or the High Court of Justice designed to forcibly accelerate
these processes, especially with regards to education and national service.
Upcoming elections and an atmosphere of political populism could strengthen
hardliners within the haredi community who would use such sentiment to prove to
their public that cooperation with the broader society is not possible, he
“My main message is that Israeli politics and the legal system in
Israel should not push haredim at this time. Any kind of push by law, any
coercive intervention in the delicate fabric of relationships between haredim
and wider society will be counter-effective and harmful.
“The process is
already under way and the invisible hand of Adam Smith is much more efficient
than any court ruling or Knesset bill,” Stern explained.
According to the
report, unlike other segments of the ultra-Orthodox public, the middle class
haredim are likely to work outside the community, often in professional
vocations such as accounting or law.
They tend to send their children to
national-religious elementary schools, although for high school and further
Torah study they send them to haredi educational institutes.
haredim marry within the ultra-Orthodox framework and at the same young age as
most other haredim, the study says, but are more inclined to choose a partner
with similar interests and aspirations, especially regarding
Participation in some form of national service is also
common for these more modern haredi men, but it is done within an ultra-Orthodox
framework and for practical not ideological purposes. Torah study in kollel
comes first, then the army or national service, and then some form of higher
According to Stern, there has been a marked increase in the
number of ultra-Orthodox entering universities or colleges, from approximately
2,000 in 2006/7, to between 5,000 and 6,000 for the 2012/13 school
“There is a huge strengthening of academic and professional studies
among haredim... in fields that take an ultra- Orthodox man or woman to a
profession which provides opportunities for career progression and a rising
salary,” said attorney Haim Zicherman, one of the report’s
Despite these developments, the study’s authors pointed out that
the group is still small and remains largely committed to the broader haredi
“Although there is certainly a discernible haredi middle
class, they have yet to become a consolidated group, and their allegiance
remains to the haredi leadership, not the State of Israel,” Zicherman
The authors attribute the rise of this embryonic haredi sector to
several factors, including increased exposure to the Internet that has “opened
the eyes of the community,” and a weakening leadership that is more reactive,
According to Stern, the past decade has seen a
disintegration of the authority of the haredi leadership, distinct from earlier
times when the community was led by strong and dynamic leaders such as the Hazon
Ish and Rabbi Elazar Shach. Current leaders are ageing, such as Rabbi Yosef
Shalom Elyashiv, 101, who is hospitalized in serious condition and Rabbi Ovadia
Yosef, 91, and infighting between potential successors means that the relative
lack of authority and rigid hierarchy is “here to stay,” Stern said.
reason behind the timing is less clear, although Stern attributes it to a
natural process in which people are “fed up with living in a ghetto and being
For the haredi middle class to continue growing and become a
consolidated group, it will need to develop its own Torah leaders, political
leadership and educational system, according to the study.