Orthodox and Haredi Jews make up a growing proportion of Israeli Jewish society. With the birth rate among them two and four times, respectively, the national average, their share of the population is poised to triple within a single generation. The relative increase will probably continue for two or three generations until the birth rate among the religious population levels off and comes down to society’s average. That process is well underway, with the typical number of births in haredi families having dropped from 12-17 to 8-9 in a single generation. As more Orthodox women and haredi men take jobs, their families are bound to shrink.

The shift in the proportion of the religious population will be mitigated to a yet-unpredictable degree by the secularization of religious communities. In the age of the Internet, they cannot remain as closed as they were before, and the opening of their communities drives their values to the lowest common denominator with the surrounding milieu, thus secularization. Israeli religious communities are treading the path followed by Jewish religious communities of Eastern Europe 150 years ago.

Religious communities will become more radical. One reason for this is the prevalence of male births caused by the low frequency of intercourse. Biologically, significant delays in sexual relations slightly increase the probability of conceiving a boy. An excess of unmarried males greatly radicalizes communities.

Another factor is ideological: when the leaders of a community which opens itself to the outside world moderate their values to preserve their connection to the flock, radical teachers gain prominence. The Catholic Church today has a more extreme stance on moral virtues—notably its opposition to abortion—than two hundred years ago. Wahhabism, an unusually fundamentalist teaching, is the fastest-spreading movement in Islam today, challenged by the even more radical Salafist version. When ancient Israeli society fell apart, rabbis radicalized Judaism by erecting “a fence around the law” with many additional prohibitions. Jewish religious radicalism can take two forms: legalistic halachic and nationalist, the last being more probable. Halachic regulation became so expansive that it regulates every smallest action of a haredi Jew, making it impossible for any single man to learn all of his halachic obligations. Just at the time when the number of ordained rabbis has skyrocketed and the pressure for them to invent more halachic norms is at its peak, there is no room for expansion. We might expect, therefore, a tide of rabbis who concentrate on political issues rather than halacha.

The rabbinical establishment will efficiently oppose them with its money power. By keeping its flock from holding jobs, haredi rabbis control them through social welfare distribution. This is how the Soviets controlled their subjects. Radical rabbis will lack funding and thus remain on the fringes. The absolute number of their adherents, however, will increase tremendously. They will destabilize the moderate Israeli society for its own good.

At the same time, the religious population will be further pauperized. Religiosity exhibits a positive correlation with poverty. Paupers are religious, while affluent people, immersed in consumerism, rarely ask themselves existential questions. In the modern world, income is increasingly related to secular education, which despite Rabbi Soloveitchik’s efforts, remains largely off-limits to religious Jews. Secular education provides answers to existential questions which are contrary to religious postulates; therefore affluent and educated people generally leave religion. Paupers, on one had, tend to be radical, but on the other they depend on the government for welfare handouts. As the religious population grows and society’s mainstream increasingly opposes subsidizing it, the religious community might find itself financially ostracized and turn radical.

Israeli religious future