Shabbat in Israel

When you visit Israel, you become a firsthand witness to a miracle. Israel, God’s Promised Land, is known for its beauty, innovation, scenery, and gastronomy. But what makes it unforgettable is its faith. Israel is a melting pot of cultures, religions, and beliefs. But in this article, we will talk about a practice central to the Jewish tradition.   

What is Shabbat in Israel?   

Shabbat is central to Jewish life, no matter where you are in the world. It is a weekly day of rest observed between Friday and Saturday. It is immensely significant to Orthodox Jews, as they consider it a sacred period. While it may not be observed as rigorously by non-practicing Jews, it is nevertheless widely followed, especially in the public sphere. Many people make several preparations to welcome it, notably when it comes to cooking meals.  


Some rabbis have stated that keeping the Jewish Sabbath is more significant than even fasting on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one of the main Jewish festivals. Shabbat is one of the most significant practice a Jew follows. Shabbat literally translates to “he rested,” and many rabbis have maintained that creativity and productivity cannot exist without this “mandated” day of rest each week.   


Regardless of how central it is to the religion; Shabbat also has a practical motive. A day of rest ensures that people don’t burn out.  


Shabbat candles

How is Shabbat observed in Israel?  

Practicing Jews in Israel observe Shabbat. Simply put, they don’t work during the Shabbat times. To “keep Shabbat,” many people avoid using gadgets, driving, cooking meals, and using the telephone or mobile phones. 


Some rituals are traditionally performed by the women of the household before the start of the rest period. One of the most important practices is the ‘lighting of the Shabbat candles’ 20–22 minutes before supper. This ushers the start of the holy day. It is followed by reciting of a special prayer. The start of the Shabbat is often marked by a Shabbat dinner. Families and friends meet at one location to celebrate the beginning of the holy period and share a meal.   


Jews regularly attend a synagogue service in the morning on Saturdays and a ‘Havdallah’ celebration on Saturday night to mark the conclusion of Shabbat. ‘Havdallah’ is a ritual observed to distinguish the holy day from the rest of the week. It means “separation” in Hebrew. The ritual ends with the singing of Eliyahu haNavi (also known as “Elijah the Prophet”). Jews believe he will usher in the era of redemption. It involves drinking wine (or grape juice), smelling spices (typically kept inside a box), and lighting a braided candle. Everyone then bids each other “Shavua tov,” which translates to “May you have a wonderful week ahead.”  


How are Shabbat times celebrated in Israel?  

Despite being a “Jewish state” with a Jewish majority, not all Jews in Israel practice the faith. Still, it’s safe to say that most families enjoy spending a Friday night together, which is a widely observed tradition. 


In families of faith, there will be religious singing and recitation of prayers, whereas, in a non-religious home, the children could eat dinner with their parents before spending the night out at a bar or café! That much is certain: Friday night through Saturday night in Israel is a time to unwind. On Shabbat morning, devout Jews will attend synagogue prayer services, eat lunch, and then participate in a “seudah shlishit” (third meal). Others go hiking, get coffee with friends, visit the beach, or, to each his own.


When you are on a trip to Israel, you will also clearly see the difference if you spend one Shabbat in Tel Aviv and the next in Jerusalem. Shabbat is observed by the majority of Jews in Jerusalem, but not by the majority of Jews in the “Non-Stop City,” Tel Aviv. Because of this, Jerusalem has more vacant roadways and families heading to a synagogue in the morning. Additionally, it’s more common to see people in Tel Aviv catching up with friends for brunch, going swimming, tanning, or even taking part in the folk dance that takes place on the promenade every Saturday morning.  


What should you do in Israel on Shabbat? 

If you are in Tel Aviv, you will be pretty surprised by how different a Saturday might look here when compared to the other cities. With the recent introduction of public transport operations on Friday and Saturday nights, it has become much easier for travelers to navigate the city with ease.   


Here are some enjoyable activities to maximize your Saturday in Tel Aviv. A lot of pubs and cafés are open on Friday and Saturday. They are frequently busier than on typical weekdays. The beaches in Tel Aviv are most crowded on Saturdays, with locals and tourists taking advantage of the day off.   Numerous cafés are still operational on major avenues like Rothschild and the nearby Jaffa.   


Note – On Saturdays, food markets like the Carmel in Tel Aviv are closed.  


If you are in Jerusalem, relish in the reverberations of the hymns and prayers around you. Attend a Shabbat service whilst in Israel. Whether you are Jewish or not, many synagogues will welcome you with open arms. However, it may be a good idea to contact the congregation ahead of time to confirm the details, but if you speak to someone in the congregation afterward, you will almost certainly be invited to a Shabbat meal (Israelis are very friendly and welcoming people!).  Not just in large cities but also in small towns, there are several locations where one may attend Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night prayer sessions.   


Most people who answer the phone when you call have a fair knowledge of English, and many synagogues have websites where you may obtain email addresses.  


PS: Please remember to cover yourself and dress appropriately for the holy services.   


Consider hiring a tour guide to help you navigate the country and make the most of your time in Israel. Please get in touch with us if you wish to know more about our Jewish trip packages in the Holy Land or private Jewish tours. 


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