Israel is a Little Strange
Giv'atayim, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Israeli is a country where there is practically zero separation between church and state. It's a place where religious doctrine blends freely into state law.
There are aspects about this country that can make it unsatisfying for some individuals traveling within it, especially for folks like myself who are very tolerant of faith, but quite the opposite when it comes to organized religion (and fanatical religious types).
For example, let me point out one of the big ones for travelers in the Holy Land: the Sabbath.
The term "Sabbath" derives from the Hebrew shabbat, "rest" or "cessation", which was first used in the Biblical account of the seventh day of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). Observation and remembrance of Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (the fourth in the original Jewish, the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant traditions, the third in Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions).
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. It's observed from sundown Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact time, therefore, differs from week to week and from place to place, depending on the time of sunset at each location.
Shabbat is considered a festive day, when a person is freed from the regular labors of everyday life, can contemplate the spiritual aspects of life, and can spend time with family.
So the two most important things to take away from that little Wikipedia blurb is that the Jewish calendar is based on the moon, not the sun (meaning a new day of the week technically starts each day at dusk), and that Friday night (Saturday in the Jewish calendar) until around sunset the next day is when everything will be closed.
And when I say closed, I mean like shut down. Commerce on Friday night in Tel Aviv looks like 7:00 on a Sunday morning in the rural Midwest. Want to do or buy something on Saturday? Well, it's pretty much tuff shit buddy until nightfall.
But most importantly—and inconveniently—the public transportation infrastructure practically shuts down from mid-day Friday until Sunday morning! Good luck with that bus you wanted to take in, around, or out of town.
So what's a good Jew suppose to do with their Sabbath time? Well, perhaps it's best to explain what 39 things they can't (or at least shouldn't) be doing:
Planting; plowing; reaping; binding sheaves; threshing; winnowing; selecting (filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish); grinding; sifting; kneading; baking; shearing, washing or beating wool; dyeing; spinning; weaving; tying; untying; sewing at least two stitches; tearing for the purpose of sewing; trapping; slaughtering; flaying; salting meat; curing, scraping or cutting hide into pieces; writing two or more letters; erasing; building; tearing something down; transferring between domains; applying the finishing touch; and igniting or extinguishing a fire.
Many average Israelis abstain from driving and turning on (or using) the television or computer during this time—opting to spend the time chatting and playing simple games with their family.
Then there are the moderately extreme Jews that don't use electricity or or answer the telephone.
Then you've got some really extreme Jews actually pre-tear their toilet paper on Friday afternoon, because breaking it would be considered creation or effort (or something along these lines), and therefore breaking the shabbat.
Ancient Jews weren't allowed to light candles, so modern-day Jews think they can't turn on the lights in their home. They unplug the fridge or unscrew the lightblub in the appliance so if they open it the light won't go off automatically.
It's forbidden to ask someone else to turn on a light for you, but if someone offers, it's okay. So you can be like, "Wow! It's really dark in my apartment," and a neighbor who doesn't follow the shabbat could come in and say "Can I turn your lights on for you?"
There are some extreme Jews that have no passport, don't vote, etc. because they believe that the Jewish people are not to have a state or nation until the messiah returns, and that one should only stay at home and pray until this day comes. Some even are extreme enough that they'll go to Iran and actively help to overthrow the Israeli government because they believe the formation of this state was against the divine will, and the messiah is angry with them for having done so.
Oh, and here's my favorite: Kosher. I'll be writing more on this later, but a part of it means no mixing meat and milk. That essentially means never eating or serving cheeseburgers or pizza with cheese and meat mixed together. That also means that you need to wait—get this—four hours after eating meat before you can drink a glass of milk… and two hours to eat meat after drinking a glass of milk. Hilarious!
Ah, but then there's the excellent hummus and cute teenage girls carrying around automatic rifles—HOT. More on that soon.