Travel Tidbit: The Shabbat in Israel

· Planning for the Holy Day in Israel ·

IMG_5362You’ve planned the perfect trip to Tel Aviv and beyond. Your bags are packed, and you settle into your hotel late Friday night, ready to hit the town in the morning.

But when you head out of your room for breakfast Saturday morning, you find a line at the elevator. Is it broken down? No, you watch the numbers as they stop on every floor before finally reaching yours. You wonder what is happening as you get a peek at every floor on your way to the lobby.

Heading out, the streets are strangely quiet. Not as many cars on the road, and, strangely, many restaurants and shops are closed. What are you missing??

As a Jewish state, many Israelis choose to keep the Shabbat – or, the Sabbath. Heading to Israel for a holiday, it’s important to understand this custom and how it will affect your trip. One of the other key things to remember is that the Israeli weekend is Friday-Saturday and that the Sabbath mostly affects Saturday.

While many choose to observe the Shabbat, Israel has a tradition of religious freedom, so as a tourist (or even as a citizen) you are not expected to keep the Sabbath. However, because many citizens and businesses do, it may affect your trip.

The Sabbath lasts from sunset Friday until nightfall Saturday. During this time, those keeping the Shabbat are prohibited from working, turning electricity on and off, traveling in vehicles, or cooking. As you can imagine, this could have quite an impact on a holiday. However, since Israelis are not compelled to keep the Sabbath, it doesn’t have to have too large of an impact.

Other than your hotel elevator possibly stopping on every floor (the elevator buttons count as turning on electricity so hotels do this to help their guests keep the Sabbath), the main thing to keep in mind is that public transportation may not be running. In Tel Aviv, public buses don’t run but you may be able to find buses through private companies. Of course, there will be some taxis available, too.

Be sure to plan ahead of the Sabbath because many restaurants do close and it can be harder to find somewhere to eat, especially during the day. Again, there will be places open, but it’s a good idea to get some snacks beforehand if possible.

Finally, it’s important to ensure that your chosen activity for the day will be open on the Shabbat. Check opening times and don’t assume that it’ll be open since it’s a Saturday. However, many beloved museums in Tel Aviv are actually open on Saturday (although some have shortened hours), so scheduling your trip to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, or one of the other open museums, on a Saturday may give you something to plan around. Places like Jerusalem will be more conservative in keeping the Sabbath, so keep that in mind, too.

Most importantly, try to be respectful. Be respectful of those observing and be respectful of those not. Observe, absorb and enjoy! Shabbat Shalom!


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