The Future of Israel
Good News for Israel

For the first time, more than half of Israel’s Haredi men are working. The Financial Times:

Last month, Israel marked a milestone when data were published showing that more than half of Haredi men were working for the first time in more than a generation.

The employment rate among ultra-Orthodox women — traditional breadwinners in Haredi households because they spend more time studying secular subjects than men — is rising steadily too.

This is good news for Israel, which is nicknamed “Start-Up Nation” after Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s book on Israeli high-tech. Academics studying long-term demographic trends have warned for some time that the Haredim — who have a higher birth rate on average than other Jewish Israelis — could hold back the rest of the country and form a permanent underclass.

“For the first time in almost 30 years, most ultra-Orthodox men are working,” says Gilad Malach, who heads a programme studying the Haredim at the Israel Democracy Institute. “This is a great change.”

Few things are as important to Israel’s future as this, and it appears that a long-term cultural change is under way, and that partly as a result of government prodding, the ultra-Orthodox will be joining the workforce. Some ultra-Orthodox men and women, many of whom traditionally don’t use the internet, are finding jobs in Israel’s booming tech sector.

This is good news for Israel’s economy, but it could have big political implications as well. The more the ultra-Orthodox work, the less segregated they will be from Israel’s less orthodox and more secular communities. Capitalism, at its best, compels profit-seeking individuals who might otherwise not get along to find common ground. If ultra-Orthodox men and women are working alongside other Israelis, they’re likely to get to know each other better. Israel’s critics and pessimistic supporters have been warning that the growing ultra-Orthodox population will undermine and threaten Israel’s democracy. Workplace collaboration between the Haredim and other Israelis could go a long way toward helping Israel prove yet another set of dire predictions wrong.

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