Addressing a closed forum on Saturday night, Jerusalem mayoral candidate and Knesset Member Meir Porush predicted that within 15 years there would not remain a single non-religious mayor in Israel. Some recent statistics seem to fuel that assessment.
Speaking in Yiddish to a crowd gathered in the central Jerusalem study hall of the large and influential Belz Chassidic sect, Porush declared:
"Teachers and rabbis, take a look at what is happening here. It will not be long - ten years, fifteen years - and they will soon have to search for a secular candidate to lead a city or municipal government. We are currently in a situation in which Jerusalem will have a hareidi-religious mayor. There already was [a hareidi-religious mayor] for five years and there will be for another five years. And so on and so on. Not far from here, in Beit Shemesh, there will be a hareidi-religious mayor in ten days. And so on and so on. We are growing.... In another ten years there will not be a single secular person heading any city - perhaps in some poor little village."
While the meeting at which Porush made his prediction was meant to be closed to the media, the speech was broadcast live by the Hareidi Voice, a cellular-phone-based news service.
A spokesman for MK Porush, who has made great efforts to market his candidacy to religious and non-religious voters alike, told Israel's Channel 2 TV:
"The statement refers only to those cities to which the hareidi-religious population is migrating and not to all the cities of Israel. The recording is testimony to the pressure [mayoral candidate] Nir Barkat feels because of the coalition between the hareidi and the national-religious populations in Jerusalem, and his loss of support among the national-religious. It is hypocrisy to suggest that Nir Barkat is allowed to speak about 'secular Jerusalem' but that we are forbidden to forge a alliance between the hareidi-religious and national-religious sectors. In any event, it is clear that the day after the elections, [Meir Porush] will be mayor of everyone - secular, religious and hareidi."
Do the Statistics Support Porush?
According to statistics published in March of this year by the Israeli Democracy Institute, 51% of adult Israeli Jews identify themselves as "secular", 30% as "traditional", 10% as "religious" and 9% as "Hareidi". The picture of population growth, however, can be measured by looking at family size. The average Jewish household in Israel had 3.1 children in 2006, according to the National Institute for Statistics, while cities such as Bnei Brak, with a heavily hareidi-religious population, had an average of 3.93 children.
These numbers can also be measured by examining school registration figures. In 2006, according to the National Institute for Statistics, 56% of the nation's Jewish children were registered in secular public schools, 16% in religious-public schools, 24% in hareidi-religious recognized private schools, and 4% in religious Talmud Torah schools (non-state-supported private elementary schools).
Thus, in 2007 the Shiluv Market Research and Strategic Planning firm found that the hareidi-religious make up just 2% of the over-60 population in Israel, but 10% of the 18-22 demographic and 11% of those aged 23-29. The median age of the hareidi-religious population is 15 years old (as opposed to 30 for the Jewish Israeli population as a whole). The national-religious population shows a similar trend, with 8% of the over-60 crowd defined as non-hareidi religious, but 13% of those aged 18-22 and of those aged 23-29.