Shabbat in Jerusalem is a unique and special time, yet a time which for many visitors to the city raises many practical questions about what to do, where to eat, and how to get around. As probably the holiest city on earth, Shabbat in Jerusalem is taken more seriously than in most other major cities in Israel which means that there are implications if you’re visiting Jerusalem over the weekend.
What is Shabbat?
Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. It starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday evening when the new week begins. Religious Jews do not work during Shabbat and this extends to using electronic equipment and cooking. They mark the start of the 24 hour period by lighting candles and visiting the synagogue for prayers and to sing traditional liturgical blessings, which is followed by the Shabbat Dinner, a festive family meal.
On the Shabbat morning, observant Jews return to the synagogue for a morning service, and again in the evening for the Havdalah service to mark the end of Shabbat and the start of the new week.
What changes 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 up. Some non-Kosher restaurants remain open during Shabbat, as do a very limited number of businesses in the West of the city.
Public transportation (buses and light railway) do not run at all in Jerusalem during Shabbat, and services end in the hours leading up to sunset. Shared taxis and private taxis do continue to operate.
When do things close for Shabbat in Jerusalem?
Because the sunset varies throughout the year, so do the closing times before Shabbat on Fridays. In the winter, businesses close around lunchtime, with some restaurants not opening at all for lunch. In the summer, businesses close later, although times vary significantly between businesses.
When do things re-open after Shabbat?
Saturday evening after Shabbat is termed Motzei Shabbat – and businesses tend to re-open from around one hour after the end of Shabbat until extra-late so people can shop and eat before the start of the new week. Bus services start almost instantly after the end of Shabbat, and the light railway slightly later.
Explore some of Jerusalem’s greener spots. Image Mira Levy
What can I do during Shabbat in Jerusalem?
Whilst 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.
How can 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 which remain open. In the Old City, the Arab shuk remains open as usual, as do businesses in East Jerusalem. For a list of places in Jerusalem open on Shabbat, click here.