Photo Credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90

Following Chief Rabbi Yizchak Yosef’s bizarre statement about the charedim that “If you force us to go to the army, we’ll all move abroad,” many in Israel are pondering the impact of losing this segment of the Israeli population.

Some people believe that the state would save billions of shekels from the stipends that it currently pays to yeshiva students, and others believe that the economy would benefit from not subsidising what they perceive as their “primaeval lifestyle.” They are very wrong.


Other Western nations are suffering today from declining birth rates. The birth rate in Germany is less than 1.5 children per mother and falling, so the country will require over 1.5 million immigrants annually just to maintain its economy. Thus, over the next 20 years they will need 30 million immigrants, who, when added to the 15 million that they have already absorbed, will comprise well over half their population. Italy has closed 10 percent of its junior schools over the past decade because its birth rate has fallen to 1.25. The “Economist” magazine in 2023 warned that the drop in population in the West is the worst since the Black Death, which spells disaster for Europe’s economy, culture, and independence; that’s without considering the impact of these immigrants on political harmony.

Israel is the only exception to this phenomenon. Israel has an average birth rate per Jewish mother of three, based on an average of two children for secular parents, four for Religious Zionist families, and six for charedim. It is crucial for Israel’s Jewish identity that charedim continue to bring up large families in Israel to prevent Arab Israelis from growing their demographic power. Charedim make a net positive contribution to Israel’s economy, culture, and Jewish majority just by having babies!

People often ask how “non-working” charedim in modern Israel can afford to have three times the number of children as hard-working secular Israelis? The answer is simple. They have developed a lifestyle that costs one third of a secular household. Generally they do not own cars, but travel by public transport. They do not frequent supermarkets but buy in bulk between multiple families. They share their childcare between aunts and grandmothers, and the men teach Torah to the boys. A charedi neighbourhood has no cinemas, few shopping malls, and almost no luxury goods stores, but it has a synagogue and yeshiva on every corner, with shiurim running around the clock.

Some people are warning that the exponential growth of Israel’s charedi population spells disaster for its economy because they don’t work or fight in the army. This prediction is wrong for two reasons:

First, 65 percent of charedi men and 85 percent of charedi women do work; the numbers have grown steeply over the past three years. One of the factors that has driven charedi men to work is the rapid increase in Israeli real estate prices. Since men have a far better chance of a good shidduch if they own an apartment, and since stipends from the state can no longer fund housing for every couple getting married, they have no choice but to work for a living (at least part-time).

Another factor is that 20 to 30 percent of charedi children shift to become either non-charedi religious or secular. When that happens, each charedi family is effectively contributing two fully working adults to the workforce at a faster rate than their secular peers (owing to the younger age of marriage and childbearing). Indeed, if we are honest, this phenomenon is the reason that there are very few Jews today, secular or religious, who cannot claim charedi ancestors in their family tree. This also explains a common expression used with pride among secular Israelis, “My grandfather was a rabbi!”

From this we can see a fascinating and unspoken trend: the charedim are actually the most efficient at producing future Jewish generations within our mixed population. They constitute the group who manage on a fraction of the income of the rest of the population, bring up many more children, and invest heavily in their Jewish education and culture. When these children enter the IDF and join Israel’s economy, they bring their intelligence and dedication, which invigorates the lives of all Israel’s citizens. This has been happening for decades, if not centuries, and it is one of the key drivers of Israel’s growth economy and vibrant Jewish culture.

You won’t hear these arguments from charedim or their political leaders, because they are not so proud of their “dropouts.” However, Israeli society benefits enormously from charedi families that are willing to sacrifice many of modernity’s expensive treats to contribute to population growth that benefits us all.

The rest of the world is also beginning to recognize the unique value of Israel’s religiously committed population. A prominent Italian government minister recently met with Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu in Tzfat to discuss how Israeli society has maintained its healthy birth rate in a modern Western country.

I believe that charedim should volunteer for the army or for National Service and “pull their weight” in the institutions that support our society. But if we draft them in an aggressive or haphazard manner to “modernize” charedi society, we might end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. A solution to the integration of charedim into Israeli society is clearly needed, but we must be sensitive to maintaining their culture and way of life so that we can continue to benefit from the birth and education of many more Israeli children for generations to come.


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Rabbi Leo Dee lives in Efrat with his three children and is the author of Transforming the World - The Jewish Impact on Modernity.