Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) society is a unique group in Israeli society, and in Jewish society throughout the world. It regards itself as a counter-culture to the general society surrounding it, and is unique in terms of its way of life, values, educational frameworks, culture and its tendency toward insulation from the outside world. The rate of this group’s demographic growth (seven percent annually), and the interaction within the group and with the group’s surroundings have changed Haredi society’s physical, cultural and economic positioning in Israeli society.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the relationship between Haredi society and the mainstream Israeli society has been complicated. In the past 30 years, the intensity and complexity of this relationship have increased. Over the past few decades, the increasing presence of the Haredi community, with all its various subgroups is a noticeable phenomenon in Israeli society: in vocational training programs, in the job market, in the Israel Defense Forces, in new patterns of urban and rural settlement, in the media, in cinema, in the theater, and many other realms.

It is estimated that Israel’s Haredi community today numbers close to one million (Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, March 2011); furthermore, it is estimated that, in another two decades, this community will double in size, and that every fourth child in Israel will be Haredi. From a small group living in relative seclusion, Haredi society will soon become a major factor in Israel’s demography and will constitute 20 percent of the total population in Israel. The poverty rate in the Haredi community exceeds 50 percent and the average income of a Haredi family is less than half the average income in Israel as a whole. In light of the combination of the above demographic and economic factors, it is obvious that Haredi society represents a burning social issue that demands in-depth study and discussion.

In the face of its current reality, Israeli society must address fundamental questions, including those concerned with day-to-day existence, regarding the Haredi community living in its midst. These questions have significant ramifications for Israeli society in general and require attention to economic issues and the problem of poverty, demography, the country’s employment situation and educational system. The integration of the Haredi community in all the various segments of Israeli society is one of the State of Israel’s most important challenges today. 

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