What is special about the Israeli Shabbat?

Shabbat in Israel and in particular Jerusalem is a unique and spiritual experience. Each city celebrates and experiences Shabbat in its own way. What does it mean for international visitors?

An Israeli week starts on a Sunday and ends of a Saturday – the weekend is what is know as Shabbat. Shabbat (Saturday) officially begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday

The feeling of the weekend starts on a Thursday night when the cities feel even ore busy and alive than the rest of the week. Many families start preparing for the shabbat Thursday night and you can feel the busyness in the cities and neighborhoods. Many neighborhoods with a high population of religious Jews have their stores (especially food ones) open all night! Friday mornings are just as busy and you can feel the markets bustling with shoppers and locals enjoying the start of the weekend.

Starting from early Friday afternoon, businesses, shops, and many (not all) restaurants begin to close – the actual house interchange depending on the season but usually by 14:00 many places of business will start to close. Not every place closes most non-Kosher restaurants remain open during Shabbat, as well as a limited number of businesses. Since sunset hours vary throughout the year, the time that Shabbat begins and ends also varies. Please keep in mind that each business has its own rules regarding hours of operation, but it is safe to say that in the summer, most businesses will close on Friday between 2 pm to 4 pm.

Public transportation (buses and railways) do not run at all in Jerusalem during Shabbat, and all these services pause in the hours leading up to sunset on Friday. If traveling out of Jerusalem on this day it is very important to check the transportation schedule to determine the last buses and trains. Visitors should take into consideration that it takes approximately 25 minutes to get to the airport from Jerusalem by train, or approximately 30 – 45 minutes by taxi and that the advised time to arrive for check-in at the airport is 3 hours before departure.

Regarding hotels on Shabbat – hotels have check-ins/checks out regularly. Before booking, check the hotel website for their hours of operation during Shabbat.

In Hebrew there is a special word for the end of Shabbat we call it – “Motzei Shabbat” and this starts as the sunsets on a Saturday evening and the country begins to prepare for the new week. Most restaurants and public transportation lines begin again – usually an hour after Shabbat ends – you can already feel a change in the pace of the country on Motzei Shabbat.

Shabbat is a wonderful time to explore Jerusalem you will experience a feeling like no other. The city is much quieter than usual and traffic is significantly reduced. Not everything is closed so its advisable to check beforehand when planning your activities. Shabbat is a perfect time to recharge your batteries after a hectic week so why not do so in Jerusalem.