Israel is the only Jewish state in the world, and within its borders state and religion are not separated. What does it mean? What is a Jewish state? How can a country be both Jewish and democratic? These are big questions that have been addressed in numerous books and articles. The relevant question for this website is how Israel being a Jewish state affects your trip.
Holidays in Israel
Holidays in Israel are mostly in line with Jewish religious festivals. Of course Muslims and Christians celebrate their holidays too, but when planning a vacation in Israel the Jewish holidays should be taken into consideration. The Jewish calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar, meaning the Jewish holidays fall on a different date in the calendar each year. During the Jewish holidays the prices of flights and hotels will be higher since many Israelis fly abroad and many Jews from around the world come to celebrate the holidays in Israel. If you plan to visit Israel during the holidays you should book your flight and accommodation as early as possible. The advantage of being in Israel during the holidays is that it allows you to experience Judaism not just as an intangible religion but also as a lively festival on the streets.
Sunday is the first day of the week in Israel. Friday is a half-workday but many offices are closed for the whole day. Saturday is a day of rest. Public transportation, shops and many cafés and entertainment venues are closed. Sunday is a workday and there is heavy traffic on Sunday mornings.
Most public transportation doesn’t run on Saturdays. The Jewish day doesn’t start at midnight but at sunset and so there is no public transportation from Friday afternoon, around three hours before sunset until Saturday, about two hours after sunset. Airplanes land on Saturdays but there is no train transportation. A Nesher taxi service to Jerusalem runs on Saturdays but for any other destination you will have to use taxis (which are more expensive on Saturdays).
More about transportation in Israel.
Do you usually eat bacon for breakfast? Do you like cheeseburgers? Want a milky coffee after eating a steak? In kosher restaurants you won’t be able to enjoy any of the above. Judaism is not only a religion, but also a way of life with many rules. It is well known that Jews don’t eat pork but there are many other rules regarding the preparation, serving and eating of food. In Tel Aviv, in Arab villages, and along the coastline there are many non-kosher restaurants but although many Israelis eat non-kosher, some things have become the norm. Many Israelis won’t eat pork and breakfast is almost always a dairy-only affair.
Marriage and divorce
You happen to find your other half in Israel? Mazal Tov! But if you are able to work out the cultural differences and want to institutionalize your relationship it might be problematic. In Israel, marriages and divorces are overseen by the religious authorities. Jews may only marry Jews, Muslims may marry Muslims and Christians may marry Christians. Inter-religious ceremonies are not recognized in Israel. The only way to bypass the religious authorities is to marry outside Israel and then bring the papers to the Ministry of the Interior, where the marriage will be officially recognized.
It’s a sad fact but it comes to us all. I hope it won’t happen to you when travelling in Israel but if it does, it is important that you know (or rather, that your relatives know) that burial in Israel is also carried out by the religious authorities. There are cemeteries for Jews, Muslims and Christians.
If you’re traveling on a modest budget, you can also purchase my Booklets, in which I basically wrote down everything that I say on my 3 most popular tours: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Judaean Desert. I also added maps, pictures and graphics which will enable you to be your own guide. The booklets are only sold outside Israel, so order now and come prepared! Or download as a PDF or EPUB (e-book).