(and also not on particular Jewish holidays)

I had to take care of two of my friend’s cats the other Saturday. She lives in quite a remote neighborhood of Jerusalem named Gilo. Someone was able to give me a lift to Gilo in the afternoon, but if he couldn’t have done that, I had no other choice but to take the bus to her house on Friday afternoon, before the Shabbat started. There’s no public transportation on Shabbat. That’s how I thought about this post – what if you’re travelling in Israel and want to see things on Shabbat? You don’t have a car, you don’t want to pay loads on taxis… what can you do? 

Let’s start with the basics – what is “Shabbat” and why isn’t the public transportation working during this time? Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week. It starts when the sun goes down on Friday evening and ends when the sun goes down on Saturday evening. According to the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. He sat down and rested from all his work. “Shabbat” is the root of the Hebrew word “La-Shevet” (לשבת), which means “to sit down”. Because God rested on the seventh day, so do the Jewish people rest. On Shabbat most businesses are closed and almost all public transportation stops functioning (except for transportation in some mixed cities and very faraway cities).

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 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 and that makes it hard for us to get to places we want to get to on Shabbat, such as the sea, museums that are open, friends.

In this post I will give you some ideas – what can you do to get to places you want to get to on Shabbat?

  • Try Hitchhiking: 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 there are a lot of people who do drive on Shabbat, you might be able to catch a lift with someone driving to your destination. This method is good for those of you who want to get outside of a city.
  • Stay in an Accomodation Near the Attractions: Plan your itinerary so that on Saturday you’ll go to attractions that are within walking distance from your accomodation place. That will save you money and will let you experience the area on foot. For example, if you’re in Jerusalem, you can stay at Abraham Hostel and go on foot to the Old City.
  • In Jerusalem – Use Shabus to Get to the Nightlife Areas: If you’re staying away from the nightlife areas in Jerusalem and want to have a good time on Friday night, you can use Shabus to get to the places open on Shabbat. The Shabus bus operates usually only on Friday nights. In the Summer, there might be additional lines to the beaches on the coast. Signing up costs 20 Shekels and every ride inside the city costs 5.9 Shekels, so you should calculate if it’s profitable for you. I used Shabus a few months ago and was impressed by the service. The payment was also easy – I used Paypal. The problem with Shabus is that it does not have an English site. Try contacting them directly through email – shabus.jer@gmail.com – if you want to ride with them.
  • In Tel Aviv – Use the Public Transportation: Starting November 2019, Tel Aviv is operating public buses on Shabbat! And because there is a law which prevents municipilities from recieving payment on Shabbat, the public buses are free as of now (true to December 2019). You can read more about it here – Public Transportation in Tel Aviv.
  • In Tel Aviv – Use Noa Tanua to Get to the Attractions in the Area: This private bus operates in the Tel Aviv area throughout Shabbat. Line 63 will take you the Azrieli Towers (the mall isn’t open on Shabbat, but you can stroll around the Sarona area, that’s nearby), to Cinemateque Tel-Aviv (where you can watch movies), to the Yarkon River and so on. Line 18 takes you to Rothschild Boulevard, to the beach, to Rabin Square and so on. To get on the Noa Tanua bus, you need to subscribe as a member of their cooperative. Signing up is free. You’ll need to pay 9 Shekels every time you ride the bus (which is much cheaper than taking a taxi on Shabbat).
  • From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Use the Sherut Taxis: If you want to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Shabbat, a good option would be to go to the Tel Aviv Bus Central Station and get a Sherut taxi from there. Sherut taxi is a shared taxi. The taxis stand outside of the station, at the eastern part of the station. Ask around where is the Sherut to Jerusalem and hop on. The price is 35 Shekels, and the Sherut leaves once it’s full.
  • In Haifa – There are Some Operating Public Lines: Because Haifa is a mixed city, Egged operates some lines during Shabbat. You can check the operating lines through the Egged site, by searching for your destination.
  • 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 p.m). Also, some buses come from other parts of Israel to Eilat after the Shabbat had already 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 – “Lifts for Eilati People“. It’s in Hebrew, but you can post there and ask if maybe someone can give you a lift to or from Eilat. Also, if you’re planning on flying into Eilat, currently the cheapest time to fly is on Shabbat.
  • Rent a car: Renting a car can be quite cheap in Israel. My family has rented a car through ShlomoSixt a few months ago and it was very 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 and return it on Sunday. For two days, the rental should cost you around 300-400 NIS if you’re paying online (about 80-110 dollars).

There are also holidays during which the public transportation does not operate, holidays that are like Shabbat. Those holidays are:

  • Rosh Hashana – two days of holiday with no public transportation. It usually takes place around September-October.
  • Yom Kippur – the most holy 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 October.
  • Passover – during the first day of the holiday there is no public transportation. It usually takes place around April.
  • Shavuot – one day holiday with no public transportation. It usually takes place around May.

How to Get to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat?

Another issue which I have not addressed is how to get to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat. Trains and buses aren’t working on Shabbat, but there are other options than taking a taxi.

From Tel Aviv to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat – Your best option would be to take Abraham Hostel’s shuttle from their hostel to Ben Gurion Airport. You don’t have to be their guest to book it. It leaves every 2 hours and costs 70 ILS per person. This is the best worry free way to the airport.

From Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport on Shabbat – The only option that 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 in order to book the shared taxi for Saturday afternoon, which is Shabbat. So I called on Friday, gave them my address and phone number and hoped they won’t miss me. 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, because he waited a long time for many of the passengers. Make sure to give them a phone number which can recieve calls from 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.

Hope this post was useful to you and that you’ll have a great Shabbat or holiday in Israel!

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Have a great day,

Lior (: