If Israel's haredi population does double by 2020
, as Hebrew University
demographer Prof. Sergio DellaPergola says it will, it is bound to force some changes in this country - some of which we would welcome, and others which we would hope to forestall.
According to DellaPergola's report, delivered to the Knesset's
Interior and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, the number of adult haredi citizens will increase from roughly half a million now to about 1 million over the next 15 years. That would put their proportional representation in the adult population at some 17 percent, according to DellaPergola's general population projection.
Although the professor is considered an expert, his report should by no means be treated as an absolute certainty. Even the most exacting and objective statistical research can be made obsolete by unforeseen developments in the group being studied.
DellaPergola has admitted as much regarding the monumental events that have reshaped Jewish and Israeli demography in the recent past - the Holocaust and Russian aliya - noting that population projections have had to be adjusted and readjusted because of such surprising changes.
Even if this scenario doesn't play out precisely as DellaPergola foresees it, the likelihood of the haredi population increasing significantly in the coming years should not be doubted as, overall, haredim have almost three times as many children as the rest of Israeli Jews.
Demographically, it must be said, the high growth rate of a religiously committed group of Jews should be celebrated. Jewish population trends abroad have been notoriously grim, and even Israel's growth has been modest as secular sabras continue to marry later in life and choose to have fewer children than previous generations.
When it comes to ensuring a Jewish majority in the Jewish homeland, the haredi sector is doing more than its fair share - and it does not deserve to be lampooned or even criticized for doing so, as it currently is by much of the secular and even the modern Orthodox public.
However, a major increase in the haredi population would have far-reaching consequences for the rest of Israelis, and for haredim themselves. The status quo in the way haredim relate to the rest of Israel - politically, socially and economically - would require a complete overhaul.
As a political force, haredi parties could very well rival Likud
and Labor in size and influence. Although theoretically this could mean more government support for programs that many Israelis already feel unduly benefit the haredi sector, it could also lead haredi MKs and their constituents to approach Israeli politics with a broader, more comprehensive perspective. Haredi parties could choose to be largely irrelevant - as the Arab parties are now - or they could choose to engage politically on all levels.
To truly engage, however, the haredi public would have to stop avoiding military service, as the overwhelming majority currently does. It would mean that far more haredim would have to accept a greater role in the country's economy - not just as consumers but as producers, too.
None of these things is, intrinsically, a sacrifice in the commitment to a haredi lifestyle. There are already numerous examples of haredim who have served in defense of their country while maintaining stringent standards of kashrut and personal conduct. In recent years, haredi involvement in the hi-tech industry (and their much longer involvement in the diamond industry) has shown that it is possible for both haredi men and women to earn a decent living working in a "mixed" environment while remaining faithful to their beliefs and to their disciplined Torah study habits.
The alternative for the rapidly growing haredi sector is to become what much of the Arab sector - which already amounts to around 17% of the population - is now: poor, lacking job skills and estranged from the state and its institutions.
Preventing such a scenario by 2020 is in everyone's best interest. In fact, that's a worthy endeavor to begin immediately... even if it turns out that DellaPergola's figures are off a bit.