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It’s certainly not considered kosher, but I love driving around Israel during Shabbat/Saturday. 

Driving in Israel is already something most people, locals and foreign, will warn those wishing to get around by car to reconsider their decision. Even before I started driving here myself and observed others on the road from within a car, I noticed that people tended to drive a bit selfishly and without regard to anyone outside of their own vehicle. (A few of these drivers are okay, but a whole country of drivers with the same mentality is a burden.) Thus after a week of many close accidents with other vehicles (-just because you are on the road and not because you are driving crazy yourself), it is nice to have a break and have the roads all to yourself to enjoy. Thus, ani ohevet et zeh. Momosh, momosh, momosh. 

This photo above is a great visual of how traffic usually is throughout the week, during busy hours. Having a vespa instead of a car makes these driving situations less of a hassle, but there is still stress from navigating through all that mess.

I love driving my vespa during Shabbat, as there often are few cars out on most of the roads (at least within the cities, not including Tel Aviv). The driving experience is so much more, well, everything you want it to be that makes you happy and enjoy driving. I went out today with the plan to go outside of Rehovot and into the Judaean Mountains, but as I was driving down the main street here, I realized that I should stay in the city and enjoy the empty roads while I could. It really is a blessing. 

This is how many streets, throughout Israeli cities, appear during Shabbat. Doesn’t it look perfect for a carefree drive? I agree with you there.

During the week you really have to be aware of so many details and always have your guard up: defensive driving 1000x. Although during Shabbat in Israel, you can really enjoy driving [a vespa] without always being on high alert. That freedom and feeling is priceless. It goes without saying that that freedom is a very rare treat to have and be able to enjoy. I do my best to enjoy those few hours of peace and stillness here in Rehovot. Beyond Rehovot, most cities traffic on the roads are reduced dramatically. I would be as bold to say that 75% of traffic, and even more, is absent from the roads. You will always have your cabbies though! I came across one of them today at a stop light and when the light turned green noticed that his engine was shut off. He would get so much abuse if he did that on any other day, but as no one else was on that road he easily survived.

I always try to put aside part of the day, on Saturdays, to have for rides on these bare Rehovot city roads. I get to be one of those horrible “Shabbat Drivers” and take all the time I want without many of the worries one has every other day while driving out on the roads. I took my time when the light changed to green and enjoyed not hearing car horns from behind me. I circled the round around a time or two, just because I could.  I turned off my music and listened to the silence around me. I made wide turns on right corners and did it all as a snail’s pace. Oh yeah. It felt so liberating and I don’t really care at this point if it isn’t kosher or not: it is the safest time to drive a vespa and enjoy yourself without constraint.

Know the community in which you are in and know that breaking their respected and honoured customs will arouse strong feelings towards your actions. AKA: Don’t drive in Jerusalem on Shabbat, if you can help it. Avoid Mea-Shearim neighborhood at all costs, if you are doing anything besides walking. 

There is a great explanation below from various places about Jewish Law regarding Shabbat and driving, but basically it seems that the more religious a city’s population tends to be, the less likely people are to be caught driving in those cities during Shabbat hours. In these more religious communities, you will see NO driving and many people out walking in their finest clothes. It is a shame that in some of these more closed off sections of the religious communities, they allow (/don’t do anything to stop) the use violence towards those who offend and break the rest and peace of Shabbat. In regards to the more liberal towns and communities, as most secular Israelis have Saturday off (their one day to themselves to do what they want),  many choose to use their car to get to the destinations they wish to spend their rare hours of leisure. I can’t blame them, either. So this means that most of the traffic on Saturday is found on the highways and around the places of leisure (beaches, national parks, Abu Gosh, ECT). Besides a few cars here and there, most of the cities in Israel are empty and ripe for a gal with a vespa to enjoy herself. And, yes, I certainly did enjoy myself today.

Below I have quote a few blogs, sites, articles about the specifics of Shabbat details here in Israel that I thought some of you might enjoy learning more about. It is a good amount of information, so get yourselves ready for some learnin’. I also included a few of my own tips about driving way down there below. Check it out if you’ve got time or come back when you can read it all. 

From (great deal more than I added here and very interesting description between the different movements within Judaism and how they handle this particular “law”):

Driving on Shabbat in Jewish law: According to Jewish law, the operation of a motor vehicle constitutes multiple violations of the prohibited activities on Shabbat. Though Jewish law is based on texts that existed long before the existence of the automobile, various writings prohibit during Shabbat the actions that take place as a result of driving. The Torah thus prohibits driving on the basis that a labor is being performed by the act of operating a motor vehicle. The vehicle’s ignition combusts fuel, which by some is considered to violate one of the 39 prohibited activities on Shabbat, as well as creating a spark, which is likewise considered to violate a related rabbinic prohibition. (“Igniting a fire”). Isaiah 58:13-14 speaks out against travel during Shabbat[citation needed]. Modern vehicles also have many other electrical components, such as lights, that are continually turned on and off during the course of a vehicle’s operation, often without the driver’s awareness. Besides, the laws of Shabbat place limits on the distance one may travel beyond the city/town where one is spending Shabbat, regardless of the method of transportation.

However, Jews of varying backgrounds have taken differing views on the matter, either finding various interpretations to permit and justify at least some driving on Shabbat, either solely for synagogue attendance or for other personal reasons as well, or else by disregarding the Jewish laws altogether.

Some feel that driving involves less effort than walking. Others feel that those who live too far from a synagogue would be cut off from religious life altogether if they do not drive to reach the synagogue, and the benefits outweigh full Shabbat observance.

In Israel, some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are barricaded on Shabbat to prevent driving. In Mea Shearim, residents have been known to throw stones at those driving through their neighborhoods on Shabbat. In Jerusalem and some other Israeli cities with heavy Orthodox populations, public buses do not operate during Shabbat. Part of the reason public funding of religious education is justified is that part of the population views it as “sinful” to drive on Shabbat, and is annoyed by those who drive through their neighborhoods on the Shabbat.”

From Israel Blog,

Shabbat in Jerusalem:
Friday evening at 4pm until Sat. at 4pm the city closes down. Officially the weekend is Friday and Saturday for working people, but it is between these hours that even commercial areas close down. Arriving back from our day trip at the Dead Sea we step off the bus into a nearly deserted town. Traffic lights blink yellow, the shops and restaurants are empty and dark, only occasionally does a car drive down the usually busy, main thorough fare, and the few people we encounter are in traditional Jewish dress and are obviously walking with intention to their destination.”

This is a photo taken on Yom Kippur, where (in Israel) no one is caught driving on this day and it is custom to walk and bike on major hoghways and citie streets. Yes, even in Tel Aviv. 

From, Travel Guide (-great little summation),

The Jewish Sabbath: The Bible states that the 7th day is one of rest — a time when no work can be done. For Orthodox Jews, this means no fires are lit, no human beings or animals can be made to work, no machines can be operated, no traveling can be done, no money handled, no business transacted. So officially that’s the way it is in most of Israel, where the Sabbath, or Shabbat, is celebrated on Saturday. By 2 or 3pm on a Friday afternoon, depending on whether it’s winter or summer (Shabbat begins at sundown), most shops have closed for the day. Buses and trains stop running at least an hour before Shabbat, and the movie houses are closed at night. There is a growing list of exceptions: In central Tel Aviv, many restaurants, cafes, discos, and theaters close on Friday afternoon for a few hours, but reopen on Friday night; Haifa has always had a quiet alternative Friday nightlife; and in Jerusalem, a number of cinemas and restaurants (nonkosher) remain open; recently the pub area around Jerusalem’s Russian Compound has begun to boom, and Friday nights are very busy.

On Saturday, almost all shops throughout the country are closed (except in Israel’s Arab communities, including cafes and Arab or Christian establishments in Jerusalem’s Old City) and nearly all transportation stops (only Haifa has limited municipal bus service at this time, and only taxis or small sherut companies ply in or between cities). Gas stations are mostly open on Shabbat, since few are located in religious neighborhoods. Most admission-free museums are ordinarily open for part of Shabbat; entrance tickets, when required, must sometimes be bought from private-duty guards outside the museum entrance. A few strictly kosher restaurants follow this same no-money-handling rule, accepting only advanced prepaid orders for Shabbat meals, which will often be cooked in advance and served tepid or cold; 99% of kosher restaurants, however, will be closed. Also, do watch for signs in restaurants or hotel dining rooms asking you not to smoke, so as not to offend Orthodox guests. (Lighting a cigarette or turning on a light switch is considered starting a fire, which is an act of work forbidden on Shabbat.)

Precise hours for the duration of Shabbat, which vary according to the time of sunset, are listed in the Friday Jerusalem Post. The restarting of buses and reopening of cinemas and restaurants can be quite late in summer, as Shabbat does not end until you can see three stars in the sky at one glance.

Most Israelis are not Sabbath observant and love to travel on their day off, so if you drive on Saturday, you’ll find the roads to beaches and parks quite busy. About the only people who’ll try to stop you are the ultra-religious Jews, such as those in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim section. There they tend to get violent about people who ignore their interpretation of Shabbat restrictions. Many streets in religious areas will be blocked with boulders; most ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, have official permission to close their streets to traffic. Don’t even think of trying to drive in or up to such areas. You can be stoned, injured, and your vehicle damaged, and you will have no help from the police.

Israelis work 6 days a week, and as almost everything is shut down on Friday nights, Thursday and Saturday nights are for staying up late and partying. By nightfall on Saturdays, transportation services resume, and movie houses begin selling tickets for evening shows. By dark, all entertainment venues are usually packed full, including the many sidewalk cafes. Restaurants need about an hour after the end of Shabbat to assemble their staffs and prepare things before they open their doors to the public. You won’t get the best possible meal at a restaurant on Saturday night — conditions are crowded, staffs are harried, and many items will have been prepared on Thursday or Friday.”

Sooner than you know it, cars will be back on the roads and the new week will start. Best enjoy those rare hours of stillness while you can!

Tips for Driving on Shabbat/General:

  • In Jerusalem, motorists are not allowed to drive on Shabbat through the streets of the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods such as Mea-Shearim. Please do not test this recommendation, as violence has been known to occur from those who live there and those who decide to drive there on Shabbat.
  • Here in Rehovot, I have driven all over the price without any hassle no matter the neighborhood. I’ve been caught in “shul traffic” and nothing happened, so it is much better here than it is in Jerusalem. Just know your environment, if you choose to drive on Shabbat, and you will do fine.
  • The earlier you drive, the less crowded it should be. Traffic will start appearing around 3.30 to 4. After 4.30, things will be back to normal.
  • Watch out for people speeding on the highways! I’ve seen people in such a rush on highway 1, headed to Tel Aviv, in such a rush and not in the mood to wait around for anyone. Watch out of them.
  • Then on the other side of the spectrum, you have “Shabbat Drivers”, who are usually people of a certain age and above. They tend to poke slowly along on any roads and somehow already get right in front of you. It is quite funny until you realize that they might actually cause a wreak because they should, and need to, be driving a minimum speed limit.
  • Tracy’s Blog, focusing on general observations of driving here in Israel
  • Israel Adventure: Driving, Western Wall Tunnel, and Shabbat, a great little blog post.
  • Driving in Israel can be a challenge. Speed limits are in kilometers: 50 kph in the city, 80 on inter-city roads and 90 on highways, unless otherwise specified. Seat belts must be worn in front and in back at all times. Children under the age of 12 are not allowed in the front seat unless they are infants in a safety seat. Driving is on the right; passing is on the left.
  • Shabbat: All public offices in Israel are closed on Shabbat (Friday afternoon – Saturday), as are most private businesses. In most cities, public transportation (trains and buses) does not operate, and most, but not all, restaurants are closed. Radio and TV broadcasts operate as usual. The more liberal the city (Tel Aviv, for a great example) the more likely places of business will be open. Places along the highways (gas stations with attached coffee shops/restaurants) will most likely be open.
  • You will be able to get gas if you need it, but you will have to pay a “Shabbat Tax” (-an extra 3 shekels or so).
  • DO NOT TURN RIGHT ON RED. That is illegal here in Israel and the fine for breaking the law, if caught, is very high.
  • Don’t visit Abu Gosh on Saturday. People forget how to drive once they get off of highway one and almost/around 15,000+ people visit the village during Shabbat. The hummus isn’t that good. Trust.
*Only two of the photos here are mine: the one below and the one above of me in my helmet. I was too busy enjoying the ride today to get photos of the empty streets while they were still empty. I found most of these photos via Google Images and tried to link or credit their sources in the caption pop-up. 

Enjoy your weekend and happy riding folks!

7 responses to “Vespa Adventures: Driving during Shabbat in Israel and loving it. Oh yeah.

  1. UPDATE: This has come across as ” the glorification of driving on Shabbat” and upset some people, as this reads very different to different people. And that makes sense, but I meant it as fun and in jest. Bits of humor. There are a lot of things happening here and each to their own, as they wish to do. If you disagree, that is okay and I respect your way of maintaining and keeping Shabbat. I tend to be one of those many thousands of people here, in Israel, that do drive on Shabbat and shall have G-d judge me for my wrongs someday.

    We all have differences and if this came across as a whole mess of glorification, then it was not my intention to disrespect anyone’s tradition per say. (But I can see where some would read it that way.) That is why I would never choose to drive in Jerusalem on Shabbat, as I would see that as disrespectful of the community’s values. Here in Rehovot, there is a bit of change in the social laws during Shabbat, although the religious laws remain unchanged. I would never drive on Yom Kippur here in Israel.

    I still maintain that it is really nice NOT to worry about everyone trying to kill you every second on your drive during hours of stillness. You don’t really understand this till you experience near wreck after near wreak, about 20 times in a row- in a single drive.

    If this read as complete glorification and as disrespectful to you and your beliefs, it was not my intention and I apologize.

  2. you are eiter crazy or a genius. i’ll bet on both – following 😉

    • Hehehe, can’t have the genius part without a little crazy thrown in there for good measure… 😉 And maybe a touch of boredom, too. Gracie e Salute!

  3. I’m a shomer Shabbat guy, but I never pass criticism to those who drive or do other things on Shabbat, and having witnessed daily Israeli traffic, I can see why a few people wouldn’t mind the leisurely drive on quiet roads – a seemingly rare thing in Israel. The way I see it, if the guy driving on Shabbat is the soldier who’s been busting his ass all week to keep me safe or the municipal worker whose been grinding away keeping Israel up an running all week, then there’s no stones to throw, and I’d still always welcome them in for a Shabbat meal anytime. However, why would you ever want to ride a Vespa in Meah Shearim; the little back streets there are horrible! You can barely walk down them much less ride a Vespa through them….

    • Thanks for writing that great comment! A friend also wrote about this, as she is Modern Orthodox, but… WordPress ate the comment or something. : ( I am not anywhere close to being a soldier, but I like that there are spaces here for everyone. Israel is a place of the Jewish people and those people all have different ways of doing things. We just have to understand that our way isn’t always another’s way and that there is room for other’s ways, in most respects. I think that I am at the point where I only have about two weeks till I see my family and friends in the states and kind of ready to go. Somehow I haven’t really touched that whole subject here yet (driving on Shabbat, as I do that almost every week). I wonder if I knew some problems would be created from writing something like that? And I wonder why when I wrote this, well why I was so bold in my declaration? I think I am just in a place where I need a little of “home”- the other one, beyond here. And I have only rode the vespa in Jlem once, when I first bought it. I haven’t been back because I am a bit nervous about going into the wrong area or the hills up there on highway 1. I would never drive in Meah Shearim anyway, at least knowingly. (And I think if I got there because I was lost, my eyes would let me know that something was wrong and that I should probably turn back.) I didn’t mean to be so bold and disrespect those with this writing. I just enjoy the freedom that the empty roads grant me and drive in areas that already have other [secular] Israelis driving. Whatever you do is good, as it is good that we have differences. We should celebrate/respect those differences within Israel without judgement and hatred.

      Your comment was really open and respectful! Thanks for writing it. I’ll make sure to remember all of this when I do any other posts like the above writing again.

  4. 2kdb2 ⋅

    Reblogged this on Star in the Stone and commented:
    This was interesting to me as a traveller. I had no idea that there were such restrictions affecting non-Jewish in the cities, or that travel through entire cities could be effectively stopped to such an extent. Wow.

    • Not really non-Jewish or whatever, it is just that in some places people really follow religious laws and therefore “punish” those who disrespect of their observance for whatever their honoring. Jerusalem is a prime example of this. But then again, Tel Aviv is the exact opposite and people are doing their normal thing there. On Yom Kippur, there is pretty much no traffic in Israel and that is pretty neat to see, as people usually take to the streets on their bikes or walk on them. There are some interesting habits here that happen during the year, to be sure. As a traveler, I think some of those moments are even more interesting since I’ve seen my far of interesting. Thanks for rebloggin’… I just didn’t want to make it sound like it is all that restrictive. = )

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