Customs and traditions
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.