Haredi man and IDF soldiers in Jerusalem..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Is the haredi community becoming more open to the secular education needed to prepare the next generation for the demands of the contemporary labor market? The answer seems to be yes, judging from a study published this week by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. And it has important and eminently positive ramifications for the future of Israel’s economy.
The study, entitled “A Picture of the Nation,” found that among Jewish populations, there is more movement from more religious schools to less religious schools than there is movement in the opposite direction.
More students transferred from ultra-Orthodox schools to state-religious schools than from state-religious schools to haredi schools. And since 2000, there has been a steady rise in the number of haredi students moving to state-religious schools.
In the 2000-2001 school year, a total of 7,400 students who had previously gone to haredi schools transferred to state religious schools where they could prepare to pass matriculation exams that lead to higher education and integration in the labor market. In the 2006-2007 school year, 8,600 did and in the 2014-2015 school year 9,400 did.
These figures seem to point to a growing demand on the part of the haredi community – both male and female – for an education that includes high levels of competence in math and English. Increasingly, the ultra-Orthodox community is coming to the conclusion that the traditional subjects taught in haredi yeshivot – a strong, almost exclusive, emphasis on Talmud studies and the study of other religious texts – are not enough to support a large family.
Still, researchers of the haredi community are skeptical about this shift. What is more likely, they say, is that large numbers of non-haredi families who sent their children to haredi pre-schools choose to move their children to state-religious schools in elementary school to ensure that they get an education that prepares them for the workforce.
Nevertheless, there is a growing demand in the haredi community for educational frameworks that offer matriculation.
Today throughout Israel there are more than a dozen haredi high schools that, like their religious Zionist counterparts, offer students full matriculation.
These schools were established in Tel Aviv, Matitiyahu, Mevo Horon, Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem and elsewhere.
Since 2005, the number of haredi students enrolled from the ninth to the 12th grade has doubled from 700 to 1,400.
This is still just a fraction of the total number of haredi students of high school age. However, interest in haredi high school yeshivot is growing.
According to a yet-to-be published study conducted by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Studies’ Center for the Study of Haredi Society, large percentages of mainstream haredi fathers and mothers are interested in seeing their children achieve high school matriculation.
A survey of 421 mainstream haredim, most of whom married with young children, found that the vast majority is interested in sending their children to a haredi yeshiva high school where secular studies are taught in preparation for matriculation. Eighty-three percent of those asked said they were ready to send their children to a haredi yeshiva high school. Another 10% said they might. Of those who showed an interest, 73% said the reason they want their child to matriculate is so that they could find gainful employment as an adult.
The rapidly growing, self-segregated haredi community has been for some years a major drag on Israel’s economy.
The basic argument goes something like this: Since most haredi men devote themselves to Torah scholarship instead of learning an occupation, most haredi families are poor. As long as haredim were just a fraction of the population, their burden on taxpaying Israelis was manageable. But with fertility rates of around six children per haredi mother, the haredi community, which presently makes up about 10 percent of the population, will within a few decades grow to around 25% of the population. Even the most dynamic economy would be unable to sustain such a large poverty- stricken population that is ideologically opposed to educating its youth to integrate into the workforce.
However, reports by the Taub Center and the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Studies give cause for optimism. The haredi community is undergoing major changes. Within a few decades haredim might make up a quarter of the Jewish population. But by then they will have to be taking a more pragmatic approach to education and work. That will be a blessing for the State of Israel.