A secular society

By Nathan Jeffay, December 29, 2011

Come 2059, three out of every 10 Israelis will be Charedi, according to figures released by government statisticians. Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) predicts that high birth rates in the Charedi community mean that it will grow six-fold to five million. Today it numbers around 800,000, around 10 per cent of Israel's population.

This growth is expected despite a recent dip in Charedi birth rates. CBS data released in June showed that, by 2010, Charedi mothers were averaging 6.5 babies compared to 7.5 in 2005. The change probably reflects current economic reality.

Some academics contest the CBS predictions. Earlier this year, Haifa University geographer Arnon Soffer published a report entitled Israel 2010-2030, On the Path to a Religious State. According to his figures, by 2030, 53.7 per cent of Israelis will be religious.

"If the present situation continues I am afraid about the future of Israel," said Dr Soffer in an interview.

He calls the scenario a "tragic end" for Zionism and predicts that, like many secular Jews, his grandchildren will emigrate. "They will leave - for where, I don't know."

Natal numbers

7.5 - Average number of Charedi births to individual mothers in 2005 in Israel
6.5 - Average number of Charedi births to individual mothers in 2010
30% - CBS prediction for Charedi slice of Israel’s population in 2059
53.7% - Arnon Soffer prediction of Charedi percentage population in 2030

But, Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola argues: "Arnon is simply wrong."

He says Dr Soffer's figures reflect a "misreading of the data" and fail to take account of the fact that Charedi birth-rates are likely to drop further. He predicts that by 2059 Charedim will account for 25 per cent of the overall population, and that Israel will still have a secular character.

Last updated: 12:43pm, December 29 2011