What to Wear in Jerusalem: Dress Code for Women and Men

Jerusalem Israel May 21, 2018 View of unknowns people walking on the Western wall plaza in the old city of Jerusalem in the evening

As a tour guide in the Old City of Jerusalem, many ask me about the dress code in Jerusalem, particularly for women. I’ve created this post to help you know what to wear when visiting the Holy City. In short – you DON’T have to wear a long skirt and cover your entire body. Of course, you need to respect the holy sites, but long pants and covered shoulders should be enough in most places. If you want to be on the safe side, cover your shoulders and knees.

Here’s your guide to what to wear in Jerusalem.

And if you need more packing tips for Israel, check out my ultimate packing list for Israel.

Head photo credit: iStock. 

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Can you wear shorts in Jerusalem?

Let’s start with what many might ask – can you wear shorts in Jerusalem? On the one hand, it’s a holy city. On the other hand, it can get hot during the summer or random heat waves throughout the year, and it’s not fun walking around with long pants in the heat. So, the short answer is – yes, you can wear shorts in Jerusalem.

But still, Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv. It has a much more conservative population. Therefore, you might get stares if you wear REALLY short pants or an undershirt. So, I’d recommend wearing short-sleeved shirts and pants that don’t go too high above the knee.

Also, if you visit holy sites, you have to dress more modestly- and this is also valid for men! I’ll talk about it later in the post.

If you don’t want to wear shorts but are still troubled by the heat – here are some tips for surviving the heat:

  • The sun is very powerful in Israel. So, I’d also recommend packing long-sleeved, breathable shirts with UV protection. Check out long-sleeved UV protection shirts for women and men on Amazon.   
  • For women – you can go around with a skirt or loose-fitting pants. This way, the fabric won’t stick to your legs.
  • For women – You can walk with a sleeveless shirt and cover up with a shawl whenever you enter a holy site. Check out beautiful shawls on Amazon. Just make sure the shawl is not transparent!

Read more about ways to survive the heat in Israel.

Places where you need to dress more modestly in Jerusalem

Temple Mount (Al Aqsa)

Temple Mount, or Al Aqsa, is the strictest place in terms of clothing. When you enter through the Mugrabi Bridge, you’re greeted by what I call “the Modesty Squad.” Those Muslim men quickly scan each person with their eyes and stop whoever they think is not covered enough. And they want you to be extra covered.

So, women visiting Temple Mount must wear a long-sleeved shirt that covers their arms and neck collarbone. Also, you must wear pants or a skirt that completely covers your legs.

Men should be okay with a short-sleeved shirt, but long pants are still recommended.

If you won’t meet the Modesty Squad’s criteria of modesty, they will give you some more modest clothes to wear. You must wear whatever they give you and leave it when you exit the compound. So, don’t worry TOO much about what you’re wearing.

Read more about how to visit Temple Mount (Al Aqsa).

The Western Wall

The Western Wall is, for some Jews, the holiest site in the world. For others – it’s Temple Mount. In any case, it’s another place where you need to cover up, but not too much like on Temple Mount.

The plaza in front of the Western Wall is divided into two areas – the touristic area, which is not next to the wall, and the praying area. In the tourist area, there is less supervision over what you wear. However, coming in clothes that cover your shoulders and knees is still recommended.

When you enter the praying area, you will need to dress appropriately:

For women:

  • Pants/ Jeans or a skirt that completely covers the knees. If you prefer to walk around the Old City in short pants, you can bring an appropriate skirt in your bag and put it over the pants when you arrive at the Western Wall.
  • A short-sleeved shirt is okay as long as it covers your shoulders. Even a V-shirt that exposes a bit of the neck collar is okay if it covers the shoulders. If you’re wearing a sleeveless shirt, bring a shawl or a scarf to cover your shoulders. And make sure it is not transparent!
  • Head covering is NOT required.

For men:

  • Pants/ Jeans that cover the knee.
  • A short-sleeved shirt.
  • A hat or kippah is required. In Orthodox Judaism, men must cover their heads whenever they pray or enter a synagogue. A kippah is a round brimless cap made of cloth that most religious Jewish men put on their heads throughout the entire day. Find a kippah on Amazon. A hat is also acceptable, and if you don’t have a hat or a kippah, the supervisors will hand you a kippah when you enter the praying area.

Synagogues

A synagogue is a Jewish place of worship. There aren’t too many synagogues open to the public in Jerusalem. The most popular open synagogues are the Hurva Synagogue, the Four Sephardic Synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, and the Great Synagogue on King George Street in the city center.

Like any holy site in Jerusalem, the thumb rule is to cover your shoulders and knees. For women, there is no need for a skirt, and Jeans are okay.  

Women don’t need a head cover, but men might be asked to wear a hat or a kippah.

Remember that in Orthodox synagogues, the men and women are separated. Women usually have a separate balcony above the men’s praying hall.

Churches 

The Old City is packed with churches, and many of the tourists come to Jerusalem to visit those churches. Some of the most famous churches are located on Mount of Olives, along the Via Dolorosa, and of course – you can’t miss the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Some churches are stricter than others. I had tourists who thought the churches are not strict about clothing, although I warned them beforehand. And then, they were left out of some of the churches. Some keep shawls at the entrance in case you don’t come modest enough, but don’t count on it.

So, here is how you should dress for visiting churches in Jerusalem:

For women:

  • Pants/ Jeans or a skirt that completely covers the knees. If you prefer to walk around the Old City in short pants, you can bring a skirt or shawl in your bag and put it over the pants before entering a church.
  • A short-sleeved shirt is okay as long as it covers your shoulders. Even a V-shirt that exposes a bit of the neck collar is okay. If you’re wearing a sleeveless shirt, bring a shawl or a scarf to cover your shoulders. And make sure it is not transparent!
  • Women are allowed to cover their heads, but it is not mandatory.

For men:  

  • Pants/ Jeans that completely cover the knees. I guided a man with pants that seemed to cover the knees, but when we came to the Church of Mary’s Tomb, the monk told him the pants weren’t long enough. So – make sure the pants cover the area below the knee and do not hover over the knee! 
  • A short-sleeved shirt.
  • It is not allowed to enter a church with a hat or any head covering. If you’re wearing a kippah, some churches are okay with that. Still, some may tell you to take it off (which is, of course, unacceptable if you’re wearing it as a religious custom).

Please note – If you plan to enter the Tomb of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, both women and men need to dress in long pants or skirts. They are very strict over there and may not let you in if you have pants that only cover the knees. They also do not allow to cover the legs with a shawl. If you only want to visit the church without entering the tomb itself, you will be okay with pants that cover the knees. 

The Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods

Lastly, the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are another area where you should wear more modest clothing in Jerusalem. They are situated to the north of Jaffa Street, mainly to the north of Machane Yehuda Market.

If you want to visit this part of town and experience the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox lifestyle, it’s best to dress appropriately. The Ultra-Orthodox community has its own dress code. Men usually wear long white shirts, long black pants, and a black hat or kippah. Women wear long skirts that go below the knee and usually also cover their legs with solid black pantyhose. They wear long-sleeved shirts, and the married women cover their heads in a kerchief.

In most neighborhoods, such as Makor Baruch and Geula, you can walk around in long pants/ Jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, as long as the shirt does not expose too much of your neck collar. But if you plan to go into Mea She’arim, the most ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, women should wear long skirts and long-sleeved shirts. If you aren’t dressed accordingly, you might be stared at, spit at, or shouted at. The people of Mea She’arim are very extreme about modesty.

If you’re not sure where you can walk around in the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, I recommend booking the Meet the Ultra-Orthodox Jews Tour by Abraham Hostel.  

What shoes to wear in Jerusalem?

Another thing I wanted to talk about is what shoes you should wear in Jerusalem. While Tel Aviv is a flat city, Jerusalem is very hilly. Also, the Old City pavement may be slippery. Therefore, you won’t get along with flip-flops in Jerusalem. If you want to enjoy your visit to the Holy City, come in comfortable walking shoes or sandals.

What to wear when going out in the evening?

Most nightlife venues in Jerusalem don’t have a special dress code, so you can dress casually. The only thing to note is that evenings can be chilly in Jerusalem, even in the summer, so it’s best to pack something light and warm to put on when you go out in the evening.  

Conclusion

To summarize, you can wear shorts in Jerusalem but not in the holy places. If you plan to visit the Western Wall, Temple Mount, the churches of the Old City, some of the city’s synagogues, or the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods – you should cover your knees and shoulders, both men and women. If it’s hot outside, you can bring a shawl or a skirt in your bag and cover up whenever it’s essential.

In any case, I wish you a pleasant visit to my favorite city – Jerusalem!

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If you liked this post or found it useful, please don’t hesitate to like, share or comment (:

If you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to send me a message on my Facebook page or to contact me at lior@backpackisrael.com.

If you’re searching for a tour guide in Israel, I also offer private tours in Israel.

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Yours,

Lior

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