An introduction to charedim as seen through the eyes of Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics
Whether we're talking about understanding the effectiveness of tzedaka and chinuch organizations, the economics of mitzva observance, or the way we build and work within our communities, the potential of data analytics is real and exciting. The only thing holding us back is the need more and better data.
As you might have read in my "The Mystery of Jewish Economics" article, looking for evidence of specifically Jewish trends within population data can be tricky. We just aren't concentrated enough within our US and Canadian communities to make full use of a lot of publicly-available demographic data.
But charedim in Israel? Now that's a different story. I recently took the plunge and dove head first into the Israeli government's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) website. Let's see how this might work.
First of all, I'll need a way to identify references to the charedi population within CBS data. As with all statistics, we're estimating, and the larger the numbers we get to work with, the more accurate those estimates are likely to be.
So here's how I'll go about it. There's probably a total of around 1,175,000 charedim in Israel right now. The vast majority of those (around 66%) live in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit, Elad, and Ramat Beit Shemesh (see source).
But using data broken down by municipality will work best for places where charedim constitute a large majority. With that in mind, despite the fact that so many charedim live in Jerusalem, we won't be able to learn all that much from descriptions of that city. Similarly, considering how data from Ramat Beit Shemesh is integrated into the general Beit Shemesh community, we won't get the most accurate picture from there either. Therefore, since the populations of Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Beitar Illit, and Elad together probably make up around 21% of all haredim (or around 250,000 individuals), I think those should give us a useful level of visibility.
As an illustration just to show how it works, CBS data tells us that an average of nearly 60% of the total Israeli population relies on one of the four non-profit public Kupat Holim health insurance programs (i.e., "אחוז המבוטחים בקופ"ח מתוך סך כל המבוטחים כללית"). I assume it means that those 60% rely on Kupat Holim rather than the more expensive private insurance companies.
As someone who lives far from Israel, I'm really not sure how to interpret that figure. But I can tell you that only 27% of our charedi population fell into this category. In other words, charedim are only half as likely to rely on public insurance plans. That sounds like a significant difference. Does it mean that some charedim have their own community insurance coverage? Do some go without any coverage at all? Unfortunately, I'm not sure.
How about unemployment Benefits? Eight tenths of one percent of the total general population received unemployment benefits (דמי אבטלה), while only five tenths of one percent of charedim received those benefits.
On first glance, both of those numbers seem very low, especially considering how - as of 2020 - the official rate of "unemployed persons in the labour force" was 4.3%. Are benefits available to only 20% of unemployed Israelis?
As you've probably already figured out, my 0.8% and 0.5% numbers were measured against the total population, including children and retired people. The CBS' own published number (4.3%), by contrast, accounts only for adults of working age and ability.
So that part makes sense. But why are charedim nearly 40% less likely to claim unemployment benefits? Perhaps that could be mostly explained by the large number of charedim learning in kollel who aren't in the work force and, presumably, are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
Here are two more quick comparisons:
3.0% of all Israelis receive general disability benefits (גמלאות נכות כללית), which is true of only 1.9% of our charedi population.
2.5% of Israelis receive income support benefits, something received by just 1.0% of charedim.
Finally, here's a fun (and crazy) fact: According to The CBS Israel in Figures publication, lawyers make up 786.2 of every 100,000 Israel residents - which is more than double the number of members of police forces (353.6 per 100,000)!
This begs one of two (lighthearted) questions:
Why on earth do they need so many lawyers?
Are 353 police officers really enough to keep 786 lawyers under control all on their own?
I hope to have more Israeli statistics and insights to share with you over the next few weeks. But please feel free to supplement my limited understanding of how things work on the ground over there in Israel.
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