Could Religion and Tradition Be at the Heart of Israel’s Exceptional Demography?

March 22 2022

While in most of the world, increasing levels of wealth, health, and education have led to declining birthrates, the Jewish state continues to buck that trend. Even when removing from the equation the very high birthrates of Ḥaredim and Arab Israelis, the country still leads the developed world in fertility. Liel Leibovitz considers the reasons for this demographic miracle:

Examine the policies [other developed nations] put in place to encourage people to have children, and you will see a slew of state-sponsored benefits. Thirteen Western countries give young parents tax breaks on an assortment of childcare expenses. Some nations, such as Sweden and France, even have a universal child benefit, which provides guaranteed monthly payments for each child. Israel does little of the above; it is only ahead of ¬Mexico and the U.S. in terms of benefits for education and childcare.

Why, then, are so many Israelis having so many babies? Like all complex questions, this one, too, is probably too intricate to explain with a single observation. But you don’t have to be a seasoned demographer to offer up a pretty good theory for high fertility rates: tradition.

Israeli Jews . . . encouraged their children to study hard, but made sure that their schools spent considerable time talking not only about science and math but also about Jewish holidays and history. . . . In Israel, Jewish practice, like traditional forms of prayer, is a hyper-local affair, negotiated in small groups of friends and neighbors dedicated to its preservation. Thus, in Israel, even the most avowed atheist will recite the kaddish, the Jewish mourning prayer, when a parent passes away, and an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews who identify as secular still partake in traditional rites like Friday-night family dinners. Faith in Israel isn’t just practiced or observed; it’s embodied.

Read more at First Things

More about: Demography, Fertility, Israeli society


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy