Shabbat in Jerusalem is a unique and special time but it raises many practical questions about what to do, where to eat, and how to get around. As perhaps the holiest city on earth, Shabbat in Jerusalem is a serious matter, perhaps more so than in the rest of Israel. This means that there are certain implications when visiting Jerusalem over the weekend.
What is Shabbat?
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, the sabbath. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday when the new week begins. Observant Jews do not work during Shabbat and this extends to using electronic equipment, driving cars, and cooking. The start of the 24-hour period of Shabbat is welcomed by lighting candles and attending synagogue for prayers, followed by the Shabbat Dinner, a festive family affair.
On Shabbat morning, observant Jews return to synagogue for a morning service, and again in the evening for the ‘Havdalah’ service which marks the end of Shabbat and the start of a new week.
What Change During Shabbat in Jerusalem?
In Jerusalem, Shabbat is a totally unique experience. Starting from early on Friday afternoon, businesses, shops, and most restaurants begin to close. Some non-Kosher restaurants remain open during Shabbat, as do a limited number of businesses in the West of the city.
Public transportation (buses and railway) do not run at all in Jerusalem during Shabbat, and all these services stop in the hours leading up to sunset. Shared taxis and private taxis continue to operate.
When do Things Close for Shabbat in Jerusalem?
Because the time of sunset varies throughout the year, the time that Shabbat begins and ends changes every week. There are a number of websites etc. where one can check the times each week. In the winter, businesses close around lunchtime, with some restaurants not opening at all for lunch. In the summer, businesses close later. Each place has its own rules regarding this.
When do Things Open After Shabbat?
Saturday evenings after Shabbat are called ‘Motzei Shabbat’ and many businesses and malls tend to open again, usually from around one hour after the end of Shabbat, staying open extra-late so people can shop before the start of the new week. Bus services start almost immediately after the end of Shabbat, and the railway slightly later.
What Can I do During Shabbat in Jerusalem?
While most businesses are closed, Shabbat is a great time to explore Jerusalem with the city much quieter than usual and almost no traffic on the streets. The Old City, of course, is open as usual and it is particularly interesting to see the religious Jews mark the start of Shabbat at the Western Wall on Friday evening. Some of Jerusalem’s museums are open on Saturday, including the Israel Museum, others such as Yad Vashem are closed. Shabbat is also a great day to see the city on our Jerusalem Day Tour or a half-day walking tour. You can also take a break from Jerusalem on Shabbat to see other places throughout the country. There are many tours that depart from Jerusalem on Saturday mornings, including:
How do I get Around on Shabbat in Jerusalem?
With no buses, it might seem impossible, but Jerusalem is not a huge city so walking is the best way. There are still private taxis available, and with quiet streets, renting a bike is a great possibility.
If you need to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv there are shared taxis (sheruts) running throughout Shabbat.
Where Can I Eat on Shabbat in Jerusalem?
Eating in Jerusalem during Shabbat in the Western part of the city can be tricky – there are some non-kosher restaurants that remain open. In the Old City, the Arab souk remains open as usual, as do businesses in East Jerusalem. For a list of places in Jerusalem open on Shabbat, click here.
If you happen to be in Tel Aviv on a Saturday, we recommend reading this article about Shabbat in Tel Aviv.