Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Av 5765 - August 10, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








A Comprehensive Survey of the Chareidi Community in Eretz Yisroel — "Its Length and its Breadth"

by Betzalel Kahn, Aryeh Zissman and M. Chevroni

Part III

We continue with our hopefully comprehensive survey of the chareidi community in Eretz Yisroel. This is the third of four parts which show the unrecognized diversity and dispersion of the chareidi community.

Chareidi Jewry in Eretz Yisroel has undergone far-reaching changes in recent years. Changes that in the not-so-distant future will become very significant from the standpoint of the chareidi public as a whole in contrast to the general population. To put it in clear, simple English: the chareidi public is growing, bli ayin hora, at a rate unknown to any other segment of the Jewish population in Israel. Meanwhile the secular population is diminishing, though slowly. The trend lines are very clear.

In 5708 (1948) there were less than 700,000 people living in little Eretz Yisroel. The country has grown since then and now numbers nearly seven million. Of the few hundred thousand residents at the beginning of the State, the chareidi population numbered in the tens of thousands.

The Jewish revolution in the State of Israel, despite the difficulties from without and within, is merely gathering strength. The number of lomdei Torah in Eretz Yisroel has not been so high for thousands of years. Yeshivas and kollelim abound and, in 5765, one-fourth of all the high-school age students in the country were enrolled in chareidi educational institutions.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, of the State of Israel's 6.5 million residents 83 percent are Jewish: around 5.4 million. The other 17 percent are Arab, Christian, etc. However a significant number of Russian immigrants who are not really Jewish is included in the Jewish figure, since they registered as Jews when they entered. The working number that is usually used is about five million Jews.

A CBS survey conducted a few months ago among 10,000 respondents age 20 and over, produced the following results: the adult chareidi population numbers 5 percent, the religious population 8 percent, the traditional religious population (mesorati — meaning that they may go to shul on Shabbos but also to soccer games on occasion) is 11 percent, the traditional but non-religious population 24 percent, the secular population 35 percent and the remaining 17 percent did not respond. These are self- described categories. Many who describe themselves as secular nonetheless fast on Yom Kippur and are knowledgeable about aspects of the Jewish heritage, for example. Outside of Israel, those who describe themselves as secular are often indistinguishable from non-Jews.

According to estimates, the chareidi sector is growing at a rate of 25 percent every six years. If in 2003 (the time of that survey) the chareidi population numbered 680,000 that figure can be expected to rise to 850,000 in 2009 and nearly 1.1 million in 2015, or 17 percent of the Jewish population. According to population forecasts, the combined chareidi- religious population will come to 37 percent of the Jewish population in another 10 years. The Arab sector will then constitute 22 percent of the population. These three sectors combined will represent over half of the country's residents.


Over the next two weeks we will present these final parts of our comprehensive survey of the chareidi community of Eretz Yisroel. Our reporters tried to include every city, community or settlement that has a chareidi community. Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak, Modi'in Illit, Beit Shemesh and Beitar get most of the regular press coverage, but there are other significant concentrations literally all over the country, as is evident. We have tried to present the communities in English alphabetical order, but the fact that this material is largely a translation from Hebrew has raised some technical problems. We ask our readers' indulgence, and believe that the results are nonetheless very impressive. The reaction to seeing the breadth and variety of the community is almost always an impressed: Kein ayin hora!


Chareidi Children One-Fourth of Primary School Students

Let's take a look at the growing figures for the education system in Jerusalem. From 1997 to 2003 chareidi enrollment in Jerusalem rose from 40.8 percent to 43.9 percent of the total. During the same period government plus government- religious (mamlachti + mamlachti-dati) enrollment dropped dramatically from 43.7 percent to 34.5 percent. Arab enrollment rose from 15.5 percent to 21.6 percent.

The raw numbers: Total enrollment increased from 156,676 students to 181,371 students. Chareidi enrollment went from 64,013 to 79,516, while the number of students in government and government-religious schools decreased from 68,391 to 62,665.

And in terms of just the Jewish education: In 1997 chareidi students constituted 48 percent of all Jewish students enrolled in the city while by 2003 that figure had risen to 56 percent.

It is worth noting that, although Jerusalem still gets a considerable number of young couples, a large proportion of chareidi newlyweds buy housing in one of the outlying communities mentioned.

This trend in Jerusalem had an impact on the Jewish population of the entire country. The chareidi population is growing. In 1995 total nationwide enrollment broke down to 56.3 percent in government schools, 15.8 percent in government-religious schools, 19.2 percent in Arab schools and 8.8 percent in chareidi schools (not including kindergartens).

But by 2002 these figures were very different. The portion of students enrolled in government schools came to 50.4 percent, in government-religious schools 14.5 percent, in Arab schools 22.2 percent and in chareidi schools 13.1 percent. The primary grades (grades one through six) show an even more dramatic change: one-fourth of students are now enrolled in chareidi institutions bli ayin hora.

By the way, it would be equitable for the State of Israel to fund chareidi education in proportion to its percentage of the population. But the reality is very different. In 2002, when chareidi students constituted 13.1 percent of nationwide enrollment, the Education Ministry budget totaled NIS 23 billion, yet chareidi institutions received just NIS 1.7 billion or 7 percent of the total funding — just over half of what they should get. This figure probably does not include the capital development budget where the proportions are even more lopsided.

250 Chareidi Members in Local Authorities

The tremendous, blessed growth of the chareidi sector plays a part in the Knesset elections, the education system and municipal affairs.

Jerusalem and Bnei Brak have grown, leaving little room for chareidi residents in the old neighborhoods. As housing prices become more prohibitive from year to year, chareidi towns spring up and flourish across the country. Take Beit Shemesh for example, where over 40 percent of residents are now chareidim and 55 percent of all the city's students are enrolled in chareidi schools. Today the city has a population of 70,000 compared to just 13,000 in 1983. This is a very impressive growth rate, which is primarily the result of the new chareidi neighborhoods. Half of the residents of these neighborhoods come from Jerusalem and one- third from Bnei Brak. A considerable number are immigrants from English- speaking countries.

Or take Beitar Illit and Modi'in Illit, which in combination are home to 60,000 residents kein yirbu. Last year the annual growth rate reached 14.8 percent in Modi'in Illit and 16.5 percent in Beitar Illit. These figures are expected to continue to swell in the coming years.

The city of Elad, located a short drive away from Petach Tikva, took in many of Bnei Brak's young couples. With a population of 20,000 the city boasted an annual growth rate of 69.2 percent last year, though that obviously will not continue indefinitely. In comparison Modi'in, a largely secular city of 35,000 that continues to draw new residents, took in just 3,700 new residents last year.

In Rechasim a year and a half ago, Degel HaTorah's Rabbi Yitzchok Reich was elected council chairman after a Shas representative held the post for ten years. The same applies in other chareidi areas around the country. Although only eight cities are led by chareidi mayors, everywhere a concentration of chareidi residents can be found (and that is in a lot of places) there are hundreds of local authority members, including deputy mayors.

In 1998, of the 2,872 local authority members around the country, 220 (8.6 percent) represented the chareidi sector. In 2003, although the total number had dropped to 1,986 (due to consolidation as a cost-cutting measure), there were 250 members representing chareidi parties, a figure only slightly short of the chareidi sector's portion of the population.

Chareidi Representatives Sanctify the Name of Heaven

UTJ's eight mayors sanctify the Name of Heaven since all of the cities where they serve are run impeccably, setting an example for other cities. One of the main reasons for this success is the fact that these mayors did not emerge from the polluted halls of Israeli politics, which raised a generation of politicians who got to where they are by political connections and job handouts rather than merit.

The chareidi public sector is based solely on professionalism and the mayors of chareidi cities successfully cope with innumerable challenges thanks to superb city planning based on a deep understanding of the chareidi sector's real needs. The issue is not finance but proper management. Beitar Illit and Modi'in Illit compare with Herzliya and Saviyon — even without hefty government funding and a well-heeled population. Thanks to careful management, most of the chareidi local authorities end the year without a budget deficit — in contrast to many secular local governments.

Until 15-20 years ago the chareidi public dedicated most of its energy to building Torah institutions in Eretz Yisroel to reconstruct what was lost in the Holocaust. Today the chareidi public is building in the realm of gashmiyus as well, to make residential areas more livable, comfortable and convenient.

Until 15 years ago almost every chareidi family aspired to live in one of the chareidi neighborhoods in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak. But due to today's financial exigencies, crowding and new options, many families are migrating from the established cities to a long list of chareidi towns and neighborhoods, which today offer a quality of religious life that is very similar to that in the larger cities, in addition to spaciousness and quiet that is not found in the big concentrations.

Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, deputy minister of welfare and chairman of Degel HaTorah: "Daas Torah Directs Degel HaTorah Representatives"

After over 16 years since Degel HaTorah's formation as the representative of the Torah world in particular and the chareidi public in general it would be fitting to engage in cheshbon nefesh in order to identify what makes Degel HaTorah special and ask the central question: Do we have something unique to say to the public as authentic representatives of the Torah world at large, which has at least tripled since we set out along the way?

Degel HaTorah was founded for several reasons, with its foremost goal to set up a body that faithfully represented the Torah world, representation that would be built on foundations such that all would know that any action or non- action is dictated by a worldview that can be summarized in the words, "daas Torah."

I recall during one of the negotiations we conducted in the past I had a conversation with Shimon Peres while he was competing against the Likud Party for our vote. Peres laid out a proposal and then I said to him, using his own lexicon: "For a proposal like this I'll have to convene the Party Center and reach a decision."

"What do you mean `Party Center?' I need a decision tonight," he replied, because he was conducting simultaneous negotiations with other parties.

"No problem," I told him. "I'll convene the Party Center. I'll just drive down to Rechov Ravad in Bnei Brak (where HaRav Shach zt"l lived at the time). That's where my Party Center is . . . "

Bat Yam

Region: Center

Population: 160,000

The most prominent chareidi center is Kiryat Bobov, which houses hundreds of families. The large apartment complex was built by HaRav Shlomo, the Admor of Bobov who passed away five years ago. The city also has many baalei teshuvoh among its 160,000 residents.


Holon, Bat Yam's neighbor, has very similar demography: 160,000 residents and many baalei teshuvoh as well. The Jesse Cohen neighborhood, which used to be crime- infested, has changed dramatically and many of its residents have done teshuvoh. Most of the children in the neighborhood study in Bat Yam's Torah-based schools. The handful of chareidim living in Holon send their children to schools in Bat Yam and Rishon Letzion.


Region: Midbar Yehuda

Population: 60

A small settlement in the desert not far from Efrat. Most of the residents are associated with the Diaspora Yeshiva.

Migdal Ha'emek

Region: Lower Galilee

Population: 28,000

Demographic composition: Traditional, chareidi

Representation: 7 councilmen

Both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Chief Rabbis run various Torah institutions that provide a significant source of employment for the city's chareidi residents.

The majority of the 500-family chareidi sector lives in Kiryat Migdal Or, but there are some families who live inside the city itself. Migdal Ha'emek has several kollelim and, for avreichim looking for challenging work in education, this is the place.

The city has nice weather and good quality of life.


Region: Modi'in

Population: 35,000

Demographic composition: Secular, national- religious

In the previous Knesset elections Modi'in cast 90 votes for United Torah Jewry. "I'm still looking for the other 88 votes," the Ashkenazi rov of the city, HaRav Dovid Lau, told us.

The city has grown at a dizzying rate over the decade since its founding by the Housing Ministry. A few years ago an attempt was made to build a chareidi neighborhood in the city, but the designated site proved to be filled with antiquities. HaRav Lau says if a cohesive group of avreichim wanted to live in the city it would be easy to find a small, enclosed area in which to organize chareidi life since the quality of living in the city is very high, "but obviously it is no simple matter to live in a city that is not chareidi."

Nearby Sha'alavim also cast dozens of votes for UTJ. According to speculation, these supporters came from the ranks of the talmidim at the local yeshiva who raised their level of observance and remained in the town, as well as the local old-timers who have voted Gimmel all their lives.

Modi'in Illit

Region: Modi'in

Population: 32,000

Demographic composition: Chareidi

Representation: 15 councilmen; Council Head Rabbi Yaakov Guterman

The third largest Torah center in the country, Modi'in Illit is home to several yeshivas of repute, namely Imrei Tzvi, Mir, Knesses Gedoloh, Vishnitz and Knesses Yitzchok-Hadera, large kollelim like Beis Abbo with its 450 avreichim and dozens of smaller kollelim. According to figures provided by the Local Council's Collection Department 70 percent of all men learn full-time. That means that some 30 percent work at least part-time.

The city also has a large range of other Torah institutions: kindergartens, girls' schools and talmudei Torah, two seminaries, a Taf Letaf branch for special education and Naaleh for learning disabilities.

Modi'in Illit was started ten years ago and was soon in great demand. The master plan allows for up to 35,000 households—a total of some 350,000 inhabitants. Thousands of apartment units in new neighborhoods such as Ne'ot Hapisgah, Nachalat Cheftziba and Green Park are currently under construction on the eastern end of the city.

Modi'in Illit already has supermarkets, two shopping centers, a bank, a Bituach Leumi branch, highly developed health care services, active community centers, a public library, a Torah library, and 80 botei knesses.


Located alongside Modi'in Illit, Moshav Mattisyahu has 80 mostly English-speaching, chareidi families. HaRav Zeev Leff, a talmid muvhok of HaRav Mordechai Gifter zt"l and Yated columnist, serves as the rov and has a significant impact on the residents. The moshav has a kollel with 25 avreichim from the moshav and the surrounding area as well as a yeshiva for American bochurim.


Region: North

Population: 50,000

Demographic composition: Secular, traditional

Representation: 2 Shas councilmen

As in other cities, the Netivot Moshe Foundation has generated considerable spiritual development that has had its effect on every strata of the local population. Seven years ago a girls' school was founded, followed by a boys' school two years later. At first there were only seven students enrolled. Rabbi Tzvi Baumel of Netivot Moshe asked Maran HaRav Eliashiv whether he should continue operating the schools despite the scanty enrollment. If there are ten students he should continue, HaRav Eliashiv told him. Today a total of 250 students are enrolled and Rabbi Baumel says they are the most successful schools in the Netivot Moshe network.

A chareidi kehilloh numbering 50 families resides in Nahariya under the wings of HaRav David Abu Chatzeira, who runs the Abir Yaakov institutions.

Natzeret Illit

Region: Galilee

Population: 52,000

Demographic composition: Mixed

Representation: 1 UTJ councilman

Natzeret Illit has a chareidi kehilloh comprised of some 200 families and the local UTJ councilman, Rabbi Avrohom Maman, is working hard to bring in more. "Unfortunately vacated apartments are taken by Arabs. Therefore Jewish settlement in the city has to be strengthened," he says.

Natzeret Illit has 25 avreichim of varying backgrounds, and kindergartens operated by Shuvu.


Region: North

Population: 30,000

Demographic composition: Mixed

Representation: One chareidi councilman

In the Haifa area near Rechasim is a town with very few chareidi families but a prominent Torah-learning program. Nesher has 25 botei knesses and an active kollel run by the moro de'asra, HaRav Tuvia Baharir, with avreichim from Rechasim.

HaRav Baharir says many families have returned to their roots since his arrival over 30 years ago. Nesher now boasts an evening kollel with shiurim for baalei teshuvoh as well as Yeshivat Torat Chaim, also for baalei teshuvoh.

The local kashrus system and mikvo'os are operated without compromise and the proximity to Haifa and Rechasim make good educational institutions easily accessible. If a sizable group of chareidim moves to the city they would receive facilities without much trouble thanks to the good relations with the Mayor, who supports the avreichim through both the municipality and the Religious Council.


Region: Northern Negev

Population: 25,000

Demographic composition: Traditional, immigrant, chareidi

Representation: 4 councilmen

Netivot's chareidi sector, which constitutes half of the total population, plays a dominant role in the city. The majority of non-chareidi residents are traditional, with the notable exception of the Russian immigrants, who represent 20 percent of the total population and who led the city to open its first secular school. Until then most residents sent their children to government-religious schools and those who insisted on secular education bused their children to moshavim in the surrounding area.

Torah institutions in Netivot include a day-care center, kindergartens, schools, yeshivos ketanos, Yeshivas Hanegev and a large number of kollelim with a total of 1,200 avreichim.

The city has plans to build new apartments and numerous rentals are available.


Region: "Capital of the Sharon Region"

Population: 180,000

Demographic composition: Secular, traditional, religious, chareidi

Representation: 2 Degel HaTorah councilmen, 5 from the Shas-Tzanz-Laniado list, 2 NRP, 1 Sephardic

Most of Netanya's chareidi residents live in Kiryat Tzanz and near Rechov Avraham Shapira, which are clearly delineated from the rest of the population. Some 250 avreichim live and learn in Netanya, not including Kiryat Tzanz. Drawn by the local facilities, many of them moved to Netanya over the past few years. The kindergartens, chadorim, girls' schools and high schools all have a reputation for high standards.

Netanya is also the home of the Lev L'Achim National Center, directed by Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin and Councilman Rabbi Moshe Lachover. With round-the-clock activity the center features lectures, a Torah library, a study program for girls, lectures, shiurim and plenty of assistance in every area of Torah.

Kiryat Tzanz has numerous Torah institutions of its own as well as major enterprises like Laniado Hospital and the Galei Tzanz Hotel to generate income and employment.

Nachal Sorek

Region: Coastal Plain

Population: 3,500

Chareidi families: 500

Demographic composition: Chareidi, religious

The Nachal Sorek Regional Council, a central organization that oversees several smaller communities, includes several chareidi and religious moshavim. Founded in 5704 (1944) by Agudas Yisroel, Yesodot became home to a group of Holocaust refugees who came together in Eretz Yisroel. The moshav, which now has 460 residents, is currently working on an expansion project slated to add another 115 housing units.

Residents earn their living cultivating 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of land. The majority is used for fields and orchards while the remainder is used for vineyards, a dairy producing three million liters of milk annually, a factory for air conditioner accessories and an industrial metal dye-works. Some residents work in cities like Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak.

The moshav has a kindergarten, a talmud Torah, a Beis Yaakov elementary school and a yeshiva ketanoh.

Also founded by Agudas Yisroel, Beit Chilkiya began in the mid-fifties when a group of Jerusalem residents joined a group from the Masmiya Transit Camp. Today there are 420 residents and here, too, a 70-unit expansion project is set to get underway. The majority of Beit Chilkiya residents do not work in agriculture. The community's centerpiece is a Belz yeshiva ketanoh with 100 talmidim.

With a 500-unit expansion plan in the works, the Yad Binyamin educational campus is slated to become a religious communal settlement. Yad Binyamin is known for its Shearis Yisroel matzo bakery and a research institute for Torah- based agriculture.

Also founded by Agudas Yisroel in 5704 (1944) Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim, affiliated with Poalei Agudas Yisroel, has 450 residents.


Region: Negev Desert

Population: 28,000

Demographic composition: Secular, religious and chareidi

Representation: 2 UTJ, 2 Shas

Three decades ago HaRav Yonah Yosef Ehrentreu and ylct"a HaRav Yosef Goldental and HaRav Birentzweig founded Yeshivas Ofakim. Starting with just ten chareidi families, today 25 percent of Ofakim is chareidi and a majority of those are kollel families. The community is very well suited to bnei Torah since the town is secluded and offers a kehilloh atmosphere.

The spirit of the community, once sparked by its beloved rov HaRav Shimshon Pincus zt"l, is being successfully perpetuated by his son. The town is also mourning the recent loss of the Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Chaim Hakohen Kamil zt"l, who had a major impact on chareidi kehillos throughout the Negev.

Dozens of bochurim and hundreds of avreichim study at Yeshivas Ofakim. Some 680 children are enrolled in the town's 31 kindergartens and 40 percent of the student population is enrolled in chareidi schools.

Ofakim features one of the country's outstanding seminaries as well as the Neveh Yocheved High School, an extension of the Seminary HaChadash in Jerusalem.

A limited number of low-priced apartments can be found in Ofakim at half the price the same apartment would cost in Kiryat Sefer. There are also neighborhoods with attractive single-family homes.

Transportation is improving. Buses to Jerusalem and Bnei Brak depart 5-6 times per day. The ride to Bnei Brak takes about an hour and a quarter. Many women find jobs in the local schools or work as graphic designers, secretaries, etc. In recent years children have begun to return to Ofakim after marrying.


Patish: Moshav Patish has a chareidi kehilloh comprised of baalei teshuvoh. The rosh kollel behind the revolution in Patish is HaRav Yehuda Abu Aziz.


Talmei Eliyahu: A moshav with a kehilloh of 10- 15 families centered around HaRav Avrohom Deutsch of Ofakim, who is active in the community.

Or Yehuda

Region: Central

Population: 30,000

Demographic composition: Secular, religious, chareidi

Representation: 5 chareidi councilmen

Or Yehuda has undergone a spiritual revolution in recent years. HaRav Yitzchok Kahana launched the teshuvoh movement in the town, which now boasts 700 chareidi households.

The town has a talmud Torah and a Bais Yaakov school which draw some non-chareidi children as well. Some members of the chareidi community send their children to schools in Bnei Brak. The town has 45 botei knesses, several kollelim and Yeshivas Bircas Yitzchok.

Petach Tikva

Region: Central

Population: 180,000

Demographic composition: Mixed

Representation: 1 UTJ councilman, 3 Shas, 6 religious parties

Petach Tikva was founded 130 years ago by Old Yishuv (Yerushalayim) settlers and to this day the city keeps some of the same customs that took hold in Jerusalem. Today there are approximately 1,700 chareidi families with 250 avreichim in 11 kollelim around the city.

The municipality's Unit for Chareidi Education sponsors a broad range of activity in the city's 247 botei knesses, including 100 Daf Yomi shiurim given at different levels and in different languages. Several yeshivas of note are located in Petach Tikva including Or Yisroel, Nachalas Dovid, Pe'er Moshe and Lomzha.

Local chareidi representatives are currently working on a project to develop land for 600 chareidi families near Ganei Hadar, the construction of a new chareidi neighborhood in Kfar Ganim and an assistance and incentive program to resettle the downtown area.


Region: Sharon

Population: 80,000

Demographic composition: Mixed

Representation: 2 councilmen from a list supported by UTJ, 1 Shas

There are a lot of English-speakers in Raanana. Raanana's religious and chareidi residents are not concentrated in any one area but they do have Torah institutions: four kollelim, kindergartens, Chinuch Atzmai schools and even a private, chareidi school called Chorev. All of the women teachers commute from Bnei Brak. Kosher lemehadrin food is also available in Raanana— including a glatt butcher shop—but local chareidi residents generally do the bulk of their shopping in Bnei Brak, just a 15-minute drive away.

Ramat Gan

Region: Central

Population: 150,000

Demographic composition: Secular, religious

Ramat Gan stretches over a vast area starting at the west end of Bnei Brak. As in every location, the results of the Knesset elections provide an indication of the number of observant residents. The 854 votes UTJ received did not come from the ranks of typical UTJ voters but were the result of extensive efforts by field workers throughout the year among religious and traditional Jews.

Ramat Gan has 120 botei knesses, a wide range of outreach activities, several kollelim and Yeshivas Chayei Olom for baalei teshuvoh. Elderly chareidim reside in some of the retirement homes scattered around the city, where the rabbonim are chareidi as well. The city has two Torah-based schools and five kindergartens for which enrollment drives are organized by Lev L'Achim. Ramat Gan has four mikvo'os and an eruv overseen by a chareidi inspector from Bnei Brak and the municipality says the Shabbos ordinances are strictly enforced.


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