Customs and traditions
According to Abbreviationfinder, Israel was founded as a secular state but is still characterized by religious Jewish traditions. Special laws protect the Jewish day of rest, the Sabbath, which lasts from Friday evening to Saturday evening – from sunset to sunset. Jewish weekends, as well as Muslim ones, begin in the evening before the actual holiday.
During the Sabbath, religious Jews refrain from working, traveling and trading. Then it can be difficult to find functioning means of transport, shops, eateries and community service. Buses do not usually go, however, taxis. In some places where ultra-Orthodox people live, those who drive a car during the Sabbath run the risk of being subjected to stone throwing. Ordering employees to work during the Sabbath is actually prohibited, except for healthcare professionals, security officers and others with special permits, but that law is not complied with. Ultra Orthodox demonstrates against companies that violate the Sabbath law, and the protests are sometimes supported by secular forces in, for example, the trade union movement.
- Countryaah: Overview of the capital city of Israel, including information about its population, economy, geography, history and map.
How the Sabbath looks to a visitor largely depends on where in the country you are located. In the modern big city of Tel Aviv, many shops, cafes and restaurants are open, but early on the Friday night it is still quite empty on the streets as many families, including those who are not very religious, gather for the traditional Sabbath meal. Later on Friday night, the nightlife regains momentum.
For Israel’s Muslims, Friday is the religiously prescribed weekly weekend and for Christians it is of course Sunday, but Sunday is a regular working day in Israel.
Advice to the traveler
In older parts of Jerusalem, which is a holy city for three world religions, tourists should be careful to take recent pictures of, for example, ultra-Orthodox Jews, veiled Muslim women, or people who practice any form of devotion. Military and police officers should not be photographed anywhere in Israel. In the neighborhood of believers, foreign visitors also move most undisturbed in clothing that does not show too much bare skin. The opportunity to visit religious sites may vary, taking into account different holidays and the security situation. This applies, for example, to the Temple Mount (compare the chapter Jerusalem), which can be turned off for tourists during Muslim weekends.
Foreigners usually find it easy to connect with people. Many Israelis describe their socializing style as cordial but burdus. Some of the self-image is perhaps evident from the fact that native (Jewish) Israelis used to call themselves sabra (cactus figs): spiny on the outside, cute inside. (For different population groups, see further Population and languages.)
If you become a home invite to someone, you can bring flowers or sweets for the first time. If the home is strictly religious (Jewish or Muslim), it may not be obvious that men and women greet each other and shake hands, but normally they behave much like in Sweden. Shalom (“Peace”) is the general word of greeting in Hebrew
At a restaurant you can give ten percent in tips.
Anyone from Israel who wants to get to Bethlehem or other places on the West Bank travels most safely in vehicles that are not Israel registered, as such are often subjected to stone throwing in Palestinian areas. The registration plates have different colors. There are variants depending on whether the car is privately owned or government owned. Israeli private cars have yellow signs. In the West Bank and Gaza, private vehicles have white signs.
Religious and other groups’ dress and behavior codes are a science in their own right. It is a common belief among Jews that men should cover their minds when participating in Jewish religious contexts or visiting synagogues or holy places. (For women, there is no such general rule, though Jewish women from some groups place an honor in hiding their hair.) Some Orthodox men, and all ultra-Orthodox, wear headgear outside the home.
Hats and other old-fashioned clothing indicate the origin and belonging of different groups. In Israel you also often see men who dress modern but wear a small suit on his head. In Hebrew, the Kalot is called kippa. It can be worn temporarily by any one, as on a Sabbath meal, but to constantly wear tipping is especially common among the so-called national religions (see Political system).
Israeli weekends follow traditional Jewish timescale based on the phases of the moon. This means that the holidays change dates from year to year in the western calendar. This also applies to non-religious weekends: Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 21, 2020), Memorial Day for those who died in battle for the Jewish State (April 28, 2020), and Independence Day (April 29, 2020). Between the two later holidays, which follow directly on one another, there is a rapid shift in mood – from solemn sadness to aroused joy. Some families celebrate Independence Day with a picnic.
According to Countryaah, important Jewish religious weekends are Passover (Passover, Unleavened Bread) in the spring and the Day of Atonement (Y of Kippur) in the fall, just over a week after the Jewish New Year.
The Muslim weekends also follow the phases of the moon, though according to a calendar other than the Jewish one. Muslim and Christian weekends are celebrated in Israel by their respective followers but are not official holidays.
Kosher and halal
The Israelis often eat a generous breakfast. The lunch, when the children usually come home from school and eat, is the main goal, while having an easier meal in the evening.
Food served in hotels and restaurants is, unless otherwise stated, kosher, that is, in accordance with Judaism’s rules for what may be eaten. These rules have their origins in the Bible books of Moses. It is well known that one should not eat pork, blood food or seafood and that meat and milk products are not cooked or eaten together. About two-thirds of Israel’s Jewish population is said to apply the Kosher rules. There are plenty of restaurants serving non-kosher food, and you can buy pork at grocery stores.
All food that is kosher is also halal, that is, allowed food for Muslims. But while many Muslims regard alcohol or certain alcoholic beverages as prohibited, there is no alcohol prohibition in Judaism. Moderation is highly valued.