Shabbat in Tel Aviv

March 17 2007

I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of the observance of the Jewish Sabbath in a city that is generally considered more secular.  I wasn't in Israel over Shabbat during my 2000 visit, and if I was back in 1983, well, I don't remember much about it.

Last night, I had Shabbat dinner in the hotel's main restaurant.  Each table had its own bottle of wine and challah bread.  There was a place to light Shabbat candles.  The food was excellent.  I don't expect many readers to know what gefilte fish is, but that was some of the best I've ever had.  In fact, I made a meal out of some of the great salads (including two kinds of couscous), fish (which also included lox), and a few desserts.  Very very nice.

The hotel operates differently on Friday nights and Saturdays, in order to allow observant guests to follow ritual.  One elevator was set on Shabbat status, meaning it stopped at every floor going up and down, thereby ensuring that riders did not need to complete a circuit.  Something called a "Shabbat key" is available for guests to access their rooms...I guess using a standard key is OK but using a magnetic card is not (probably the completing a circuit issue).  I learned about this Shabbat key when I discovered that the door to my hotel room was unlocked!  I called the front desk who said they would send maintenance up.  Travel stereotype at play, I was expecting an older guy to show up with a toolbox...instead it was an attractive blonde whose hotel ID said that she is the security manager.  (I'm sure there's an adult movie that follows this plot line somewhere!)  She explained to me that some prior guest had left the door unlocked with a Shabbat key...good thing I noticed on the first day of my stay rather than my last (or when something went missing!).

Outside the hotel, a few things were different.  Obviously a lot of the stores and restaurants were closed.  There were no trains or busses, either (which made the idea of visiting another Israeli city on my day off somewhat difficult).  The streets were pretty quiet, with fewer people out than yesterday.  

What really surprised me, though, was how fast things return to "normal" once the sun is down -- especially the HUGE crowd at the one Irish pub in town celebrating Saint Patrick's Day!

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  1. 1  Karl-Henry martinsson  |

    I am curious about the circuit thing...

    When I lived in Boston, I worked with a girl who was a fairly orthodox jew. I think it was either her, or my jewish boss, who explaind something about not being allowed to make fire on the Shabbath. And in modern times that was extended to electrical circuits as well, because of the spark.

    Is that the correct explanation? And would it not be possible to build a switch that do not cause any spark, so it can be used during Shabbath? ;-)

  1. 2  Moshe Linzer  |

    It's more an issue of completing a circuit, that falls under the heading of completing any kind of work on the sabbath. There are ways around everything today, but the general feeling among orthodox jews is that the "spirit" of the sabbath is better preserved by abstaining from using electrical items. Nice to have you in Israel, Ed!

  1. 3  Keith Brooks |

    Evidently my wife(Born in Dublin) knows the proprietor of the pub a friend of hers brother, but you know the Irish own Israel.LOL!

    The key issue is a digital card passes through a beam scans it yadda yadda yadda, it's the electric automation of the system at issue.

    There is also a book about electricity and the sabbath, but not for the layman entirely.

    For more exact definitions, it depends on the hotel system.

    Most in Israel offer a regular key and a pass code or certain floors are reserved for the shabbat observant.

  1. 4  Rich G  |

    Love the way you wrote your name Ed. Did you know that Chaim means "Life" and Rafael means "G-d has healed".

    My Hebrew is rusty, so not sure what Brill means, but I'm sure it must have something to do with food / travel :)

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