Ultra-Orthodox men work at the Bizmax Innovative Business Complex in Jerusalem, which endeavors to integrate Haredi men into various careers, Feb. 23, 2017. Credit: Flash90.
Ultra-Orthodox men work at the Bizmax Innovative Business Complex in Jerusalem, which endeavors to integrate Haredi men into various careers, Feb. 23, 2017. Credit: Flash90.
featureIsrael News

Why the haredim are going out to work

A slow but long-term rise in employment is having a permanent cultural impact.

Several new statistics are showing positive trends in ultra-Orthodox integration into Israel’s workplace.

Haredi employment has reached its highest-ever level of 55.8%, according to a study the Central Bureau of Statistics released last month.

“This is an encouraging development and if you compare these numbers to what it was 20 years ago there has actually been very large growth,” Eliezer Hayun, a sociology expert at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, told JNS.

There is still, however, a large gap between the haredi workplace integration rate and the general Jewish rate, 87%. Furthermore, there is still much work to be done before achieving the government goal set in 2020 of 63% integration by 2025.

“There is improvement, but it is important to understand that it does not represent a fundamental transformation in the haredi community but rather an incremental shift,” Hayun said. “There has been slow growth for many years, and what we are seeing now is the continuation of that process.”

A recent statistic from the Labor Ministry shed some light on the timeline of ultra-Orthodox integration. According to the report, the coronavirus epidemic led to an expected and major drop in haredi employment in 2020. However, according to the survey, by 2022 those numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Furthermore, in 2023, haredi employment rates were 3.5 percentage points higher than they were before the coronavirus struck and 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2022.

“These are significant developments and we see no reason to expect the trend to reverse itself,” a representative of the Labor Ministry told JNS.

The report also showed that 25.5% of employed ultra-Orthodox men work in the public sector in 2023 as opposed to 27.8% in 2021.

The 55- to 66-year-old age group was the major driving force behind the shifting trend, accounting for more than half of the increase in employment. Meanwhile, the 18- to 35-year-old age group accounted for just 8% of the rise in joining the labor force.

The economic factor

Eitan Regev, deputy director of research at the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, attributes the increase in employment to economic factors.

According to Regev, the ultra-Orthodox community exists in a very unstable economic environment, and seemingly small factors such as increased taxes on household objects like sweet drinks or cutting of minor welfare programs can easily put families over the edge and force parents to work.

Regev singled out the increase in interest rates as a major factor that can add hundreds of shekels to a family’s monthly mortgage. He added, however, that a reversal in such market trends is not likely to bring a drop in employment, because of the permanent cultural impact that a larger working population has brought into the community. “There’s no doubt that the trend will continue, the only question is how fast.”

Hayun told JNS, “Certainly the economic question is a factor but in our research, we have found that most haredi people we spoke with said that the central reason that they went out to work was that they didn’t ‘find themselves’ in the world of Torah. Many said that the salary was also important but the psychological factor of feeling unfulfilled from exclusive Torah study played a central role.”

Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur (Shas) attributed these developments to “the fruit of the government’s efforts, and thanks to wide-spread investment in this initiative.”

Itzik Krombi, the author of the Hebrew-language book When Haredim Become the Majority, agrees in principle with the minister, saying that the large number of supportive government and private programs is what has allowed haredim to enter the workforce in larger numbers.

“The Council for Higher Education opened new tracks, the Labor Ministry opened more guidance centers, and the MeGo Program for haredi integration in high-tech has expanded; of course, they are working more,” Krombi said.

He particularly lauded efforts by the Council for Higher Education to improve haredi secular education, pointing to statistics showing a 25% increase in ultra-Orthodox receiving bachelor’s degrees and a 45% rise in master’s and doctoral degrees in 2021-22.

Krombi also emphasized the societal influence of more ultra-Orthodox entering the workplace.

“The young fathers and husbands see their friends who have gone out to work and still remained haredim, and this gives them the confidence that they can do the same thing. The rabbis, too, see their students leaving the kollel [institute for full-time Torah study] but remaining men of Torah just as they were before.”

Hayun echoed this sentiment, saying: “We have seen through interviews that entering the workplace does not have a profound effect on religiosity. If anything they are more committed to holding on to their community and their tradition. For them, it is very important to go to work dressed as haredim and to send their children to proper yeshivot.

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