Israeli traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Israel?

We will know the customs and traditions of Israel.


Food in daily life

Falafel, ground chickpeas mixed with onions and spices, are rolled into balls and fried, served on pita bread as a sandwich. Other popular dishes include tabuleh (a salad of Bulgarian wheat and chopped vegetables), hummus (chickpea paste), grilled meats, and eggplant.

Cumin, mint, garlic, onion, and black pepper are used for flavor. Baklava is a popular dessert of Arab origin and consists of a flake dough coated with honey and walnuts. The coffee is often prepared in the Turkish style, is extremely strong and thick, and is served in small cups.

Jews are subject to a series of dietary laws called kashrut, which, among other restrictions, prohibit the consumption of pork and shellfish, as well as the consumption of meat and dairy products at the same meal. Not all Israelis abide by these rules, but many restaurants do.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Food plays an important role in almost all Jewish celebrations. Sabbath, which is celebrated on Saturday, is celebrated on Friday night with a family meal that includes an egg bread called a challah. In the Jewish New Year the challah is baked in a circle, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life.

Apples and honey are also eaten, symbolizing the wish for a sweet new year. Hamentaschen are traditionally served on Purim, the celebration of Queen Esther’s triumph over the evil Haman, who was trying to annihilate the Jewish people. These are biscuits filled with lekvar (preserved prunes) and baked in the shape of a triangle.

Some believe that the hamentaschen symbolizes Haman’s tricolor hat; others think they are his pockets, and others think they represent his ears, which were cut off as a sign of shame. During Passover, Jews abstain from eating all leavened foods (bread, pasta, etc.).

Instead, they eat matzoh, a flat, cracker-shaped bread. This is in memory of the Exodus from Israel, when the Jews could not wait for their bread to come out, and so they carried it on their backs to bake it in the sun.

Passover is also observed with a ritual meal called a seder. Four cups of wine, representing God’s four promises to Israel (“I will bring you out of Egypt “; “I will deliver you”; “I will redeem you”; and “I will take you to be my people”), are drunk throughout the night.

Other symbolic foods of the occasion are boiled eggs (symbolic of a new life) and charosis (a mixture of apples and nuts, representing the mortar that the Jews used as slaves).

Dairy-based treats are served on Shavuot in late spring. Because cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath, a traditional Sabbath meal is cholent, a thick stew left in the oven to simmer overnight.


Traditionally, in both Arab and Jewish societies, marriages were often arranged, but this is rare today. However, there are powerful social taboos against intermarriage, and it is illegal for a Jew to marry a non-Jew in Israel. Those who wish must go abroad for the ceremony.

Even within the Jewish community, it is unusual for a very observant Jew to marry a layman. Divorce is legal, but Orthodox Jewish law applies. Under this statute, men have the power to prevent their ex-wives from remarrying.

If the woman enters another relationship, the courts refuse to recognize her, and the children of that union are considered illegitimate and cannot marry in the State of Israel.


Israelis are very informal in their social interactions. In many other countries, their standards would be considered rude. For example, store clerks do not act at all helpful or acknowledge a customer’s presence until the customer approaches. “Please” and “thank you” are not pronounced lightly. Despite this apparent brusqueness, touch and eye contact are common in social interactions.

Religious etiquette dictates that women dress conservatively when visiting holy sites (shorts are not acceptable for either sex) and that men wear a yarmulke on their heads.

Arabs are physically affectionate people, but in Arab society, men and women are often socially separated and there is less physical contact between men and women in public. It is customary to remove one’s shoes before entering an Arab home.


Religious beliefs

Judaism is the official religion. Eighty percent of the population is Jewish, 15 percent Muslim, and 4 percent Christian or Druze. Jews believe in the Hebrew Bible, or Tenakh, which corresponds to the Christian Old Testament. The most sacred text is the Torah, or the five books of Moses. The Bible is viewed as a historical record and as religious law.

Different communities follow the Holy Book with different degrees of literalness. The strictest are the ultra-Orthodox, who believe that the Scriptures were physically transmitted by God.

There are also Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist congregations, which interpret the law more leniently and allow women to play a larger role in religion. There are also different sects of Judaism, such as the Hasidim and the Lubbavicher.

There are five pillars of faith that Muslims follow. They are: a declaration of faith in Allah; pray five times a day; give alms to the poor; fast from sunrise to sunset during the holy month of Ramadan; and make a pilgrimage at some point in life to the holy city of Mecca.

Religious professionals

Rabbis are the religious leaders of the Jewish community. They are ordained in Jewish law, and are often scholars as well as giving sermons and offering spiritual guidance. The Chief Rabbinate is a body of rabbis who make the religious laws to which Israeli Jews are subject.

The main religious figures in the Muslim community are the muezzins, who are scholars of the Koran and call for prayers from the mosques.

Rituals and sacred places

Jews worship in synagogues. In the most traditional, men sit in front and women behind, separated by a partition, or on a balcony. There are a number of places in Israel, Jerusalem in particular, that have religious significance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

The Dome of the Rock is an ancient Muslim shrine. Christians often make a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also in Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall, remains of the Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 BC, is a holy place for the Jews.

There is a separate section of the wall for men and women. People often write their prayers on pieces of paper and slide them into cracks between the stones.

The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, falls in September or October. Jews attend synagogue for two days and listen to Torah readings. The ten days following Rosh Hashana are known as the Dread Days, a period of reflection and penance. This culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the holiest day of the year.

Jews fast from evening to evening and attend synagogue, where they repent of their sins and ask God to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. Sukkot, the harvest festival, is later in the fall. Hanukkah, which falls in December, is an eight-day holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks in AD 165.

Purim, in the spring, celebrates the cunning of Queen Esther, Haman, who wanted to kill the Jewish people. Celebrated later in the spring, Passover commemorates the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt.

The bar mitzvah (for boys) or bat mitzvah (for girls) is an important coming-of-age ceremony in Judaism. Children study for years to prepare for the event that occurs when they turn thirteen. They are called to read the Torah before the congregation; the service is followed by a feast with food and dancing.

Death and the afterlife

Judaism focuses more on the here and now than on the concept of life after death. Death is followed by a seven-day period of mourning, a process called sitting shiva, during which friends and relatives visit the deceased’s family and bring food. Mourners dress in black, sit on low stools and recite prayers.

Another traditional practice is for mourners to tear their clothes; nowadays they usually only tear the lapel of their shirts. When visiting a Jewish cemetery, it is customary to place a stone on the tombstone in memory of the deceased.

Secular celebrations

The more secular Israeli holidays are noted here, but virtually all celebrations and commemorative occasions have some religious significance.

The dates of these holidays vary from year to year, because the Jewish calendar does not correspond to the Gregorian: Holocaust Remembrance Day, April/May; Memorial Day, April/May; Independence Day, April/May; Jerusalem Day, May/June; National Day (Palestinian), November.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

The government founded the Ariel magazine to promote literary endeavors. The publication now also has a web page. There is a national theater company, Habima, as well as dance companies, a national orchestra, and museums and galleries, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Contemporary Art and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


Israel has a varied literary scene. Many of its writers have come to the country from abroad, including Zbigniew Herbert from Poland, Vasko Popa from Yugoslavia, and Robert Friend from the United States. Israeli writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon, a German who immigrated to Israel in 1913, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966.

Jerusalem-born poet Arnon Levy has also gained international recognition, as has Yehuda Amichai, whose verses have been translated into several languages. Amos Oz is perhaps the most internationally known Israeli writer. Both his novels and his non-fiction work have been translated into various languages.

Graphic arts

Contemporary painting and sculpture are alive in Israel. The Israeli style is heavily influenced by European art, but much of it deals explicitly with Jewish themes and issues. Israeli artists who have gained international recognition include the painters Ya’akov Agam, Menashe Kadishman, Avigdor Arikha, and the sculptors Dany Karavan and Ygael Tumarkin.

Jewish ritual art includes candlesticks, wine glasses, candle holders, candle holders, tallilot (prayer shawls), and other ceremonial objects.

Performing arts

Israel has a well-known philharmonic orchestra. The country has produced classical music stars such as violinist Yitzhak Perlman and pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. The Jerusalem Leonard Bernstein International Music Competition awards annual prizes for classical music.

Pop music and rock and roll also have a strong following, especially in Tel Aviv, where local stars like Ofra Haza, Ilanit and Shalom Hanoch perform to enthusiastic audiences. Klezmer, a form of Jewish music that originated in Eastern Europe during the 17th century, is a raucous mix of drums, violins, clarinets, keyboards, and tambourines that is common at wedding celebrations.

The Israel Ballet Company is world famous. There are also several modern dance companies, including Inbal, Batsheeva and Bat Dor.

Israeli choreographer Ohad Nahrin is well known in the world of dance. Israel also has a lively tradition of folk dances, which are performed by professional companies and on occasions such as weddings. The hour, a circle dance, is one of the most common.

Theater is also popular in Israel. Jewish theater is traditionally highly melodramatic, although many contemporary productions adopt many Western theatrical conventions and social issues. There are companies that stage productions in Russian and English, as well as in Hebrew and Arabic.

The thriving film industry is best known for its documentaries, including Yaakov Gross’s Pioneers of Zion, produced in 1995, and Ruth Beckermann’s 1992 production Into Jerusalem.

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