I’ll begin with a story. A few years ago, I had to take care of my friend’s cats. She lives in quite a remote neighborhood of Jerusalem called Gilo. The problem was that she needed me to catsit them on Saturday, but public transportation stops on Shabbat starting Friday eve. Luckily, I was able to get a lift to Gilo. Without that lift, I had to take the bus early before Shabbat started. That’s how I thought about this post – what if you’re traveling in Israel and want to see things on Shabbat? You don’t have a car and don’t want to pay loads of money for taxis… So, what can you do?
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What is Shabbat?
Let’s start with the basics – what is Shabbat, and why isn’t public transportation working during this time? Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week. It starts when the sun sets on Friday evening and ends when the sun sets on Saturday. According to the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. He sat down and rested from all the work he had done. “Shabbat” is the root of the Hebrew word “La-Shevet” (לשבת), which means “to sit down.” Because God rested on the seventh day, the Jewish people do the same. On Shabbat, most businesses are closed and almost all public transportation stops functioning. Though, there are places with limited public transportation.
Religious Jewish people in Israel don’t use their phones on Shabbat, don’t use electric devices, and don’t drive or ride in a vehicle on Shabbat. But there are other people in Israel, who see themselves as Jews, but are traditional or non-observant. I, for instance, see myself as a traditional Jew. We don’t mind using the phone or driving, or doing anything else on Shabbat. But, the government decided that as a Jewish state, there won’t be public transportation on Shabbat. That makes it hard for us to get to places we want to get to on Shabbat, such as the sea, museums, and friends.
What about public holidays in Israel?
There are also holidays during which public transportation does not operate, holidays that are like Shabbat. Those holidays are:
- Rosh Hashana – There are two days of holiday with no public transportation. It usually takes place around September-October.
- Yom Kippur – The holiest day of the Jewish year. A whole day with no transportation. Most people don’t drive at all during this day. It usually takes place around September-October.
- Sukkot – During the first day of the holiday, there is no public transportation. It usually takes place around September-October.
- Passover – During the first day of the holiday, there is no public transportation. It usually takes place around April-May.
- Shavuot – There is a one-day holiday with no public transportation. It usually takes place around May.
Read more about holidays in Israel and how to spend them during travel.
So how can you get around Israel on Shabbat and holidays?
We Israelis don’t usually use hitchhiking because we’re afraid someone might kidnap us. But I’ve heard of a lot of tourists who use hitchhiking to get around Israel. Because many people drive on Shabbat, you might be able to catch a lift with someone to your destination. This method is good for those who want to get outside the city.
Here are some links that might be handy for hitchhikers:
- Moovit Carpool – Moovit attempts to connect drivers to riders. You will need to pay a small sum to the driver to cover expenses, but it could be a nice way to get around and get to know new people. Read more about Moovit Carpool here.
- Hitchhikers in Eilat and the south – This Facebook group is for people who want to get to or from Eilat and other places in southern Israel. Just post a request and see if anyone is going in your direction.
- Tremp – This website is very basic, but looks like a good place to try your luck. People post here if they are driving somewhere or if they need a lift. Though it’s in Hebrew. Check out the Tremp website here.
Stay near attractions
Plan your itinerary so that on Saturday, you’ll go to attractions that are within walking distance from your stay. That will save you money and will let you experience the area on foot.
In Jerusalem – Use Shabus
Shabus is a cooperative transport system that operates on Shabbat in Jerusalem. Every member needs to pay a small one-time sum and then pays 5.9 shekels for every ride inside the city. Since its first ride in 2015, Shabus has expanded and is also operating in other cities in Israel, like Rishon Letsion and Tel Aviv.
I used Shabus in the past and had a good experience. I was even able to pay for the ride via Paypal, which was nice. Though, it looks like their website is in Hebrew only. You can try contacting them directly through email – [email protected] – if you want to use their service.
In Tel Aviv – Use the Weekend Transportation
Starting November 2019, public transportation is available on Shabbat in Tel Aviv and other cities in central Israel! The buses are managed by the different municipalities. So, the service is free of charge because the law does not permit municipalities to receive payment on Shabbat. There are only seven lines at the moment, but the coverage is good, especially in the city center of Tel Aviv.
Update July 2023: I used one of the weekend lines in Tel Aviv. I was expecting to see a bus, but what arrived was a black minibus with no special branding. The bus line was written on a piece of paper on its front window. It arrived on time and was fast, easy, and free.
Read more about the service and lines on the Weekend Transportation website.
From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Use the sherut taxis
If you want to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Shabbat, go to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and get a sherut taxi from there. Sherut taxi is a shared taxi. The taxis wait outside the eastern edge of the station. Ask where the sherut to Jerusalem is and hop on. The price is 35 shekels per person, and the shared taxi leaves once it’s full. Update: Last time I checked, there were some people who took over the taxi station. They have large white minibusses, and they persuade you to get on their minibuses instead of the taxis. I’d recommend not getting into trouble and going with them if they insist. They also charge 35 shekels, and they take you to Ha-Nevi’im Street in Jerusalem.
If you need a ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on Shabbat – you can find the sherut taxis on the corner of Ha-Nevi’im Street/ Monbaz Street. The price is the same – 35 shekels per person.
In Haifa – Use the public lines
Haifa is a mixed city with both Jewish and Arab residents. Therefore, there are some public lines during Shabbat. You can check the operating lines by searching for your destination on the Egged website.
Getting to and from Eilat
Because Eilat is so far away from other parts of Israel, buses usually leave Eilat a bit before the Shabbat ends (around 1:30-3:30 PM). Also, some buses arrive in Eilat after the Shabbat has entered. You should check on the Egged site to see if, maybe, the line you want leaves before Shabbat ends or arrives after it begins. Use my guide to buying bus tickets to Eilat online. You can also connect to the Facebook group “Hitchhikers in Eilat and the south” and see if someone can give you a lift. Also, if you’re planning on flying into Eilat, usually, the cheapest time to fly is on Shabbat.
Rent a car
Renting a car isn’t the cheapest way, but it could be profitable if you’re traveling as a family or group of friends. My family rents a car quite often through Shlomo Sixt, and it is affordable. The only thing that costs a lot is the fuel, but that is also not TOO much. You can pick up the car on Friday morning and return it on Sunday. Three days of rental should cost around 400-600 ILS (about 125-190 dollars), not including fuel and other expenses. Make sure to check if there is a kilometer distance limit.
How to get to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat?
Another issue is how to get to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat. Trains and buses aren’t working on Shabbat.
From Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat – The only option I know of is to take a taxi from Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion.
From Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat – The only option I know of is to call Nesher Tours Shuttles (their number in Israel is 072-2646059). I used their service once. They asked me to call on Friday to book the shared taxi for Saturday afternoon. So I called on Friday, gave them my address and phone number, and hoped they’ll arrive. It costs 67 ILS, and you need to pay in cash. The driver called me a few minutes before he arrived. I was first to board the shared taxi, so I got to see how it went. The driver was very kind and patient. He waited a long time for many of the passengers.
Make sure to give them a phone number that can receive calls within Israel because the driver might want to get in touch with you on the day of the pick-up, especially if the address you give is tricky.
If you want to get from Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem on Shabbat – You can take the Nesher Tours Shuttles from Floor G between Gate 02 and Gate 03. It leaves every time it fills up, which is about every hour. And it costs 66 shekels per person.
Yes, public transportation is very limited on Shabbat, but you can still find ways to travel on the weekends. Slowly-slowly, more and more municipalities understand the need for public transportation on Shabbat. So, I guess that we will be seeing more options later on. Until then, I hope this post was useful and helped you plan your travels on Shabbat and holidays in Israel.
And what about the rest of the week? Check out my full guide to public transportation in Israel.
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