Israeli Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • Jewish areas of Israel closely observe Shabbat, which begins at sunset Friday and continues until sunset Saturday. This time is considered to be a day of rest, and as a result, driving and using electricity and digital devices are usually restricted.
  • Be considerate about the topic of headwear. In accordance with Jewish customs, many and ultra- men wear a skullcap (kippah or yarmulke) or a hat of some type. Some Jewish women may also wear a hat, beret, snood, scarf or wig to cover their hair. Thus, it is often inappropriate to ask someone who identifies as Jewish to take off their ‘hat’ (for instance, when visiting someone’s home).
  • It is very rude to attempt to talk to or walk in front of someone who is praying.
  • Israelis are generally punctual, but sometimes have a flexible view of time. It is usually acceptable to arrive up to half an hour after the designated time. Being more than half an hour late may be considered rude.
  • Present yourself in a clean and tidy manner. Israelis generally value good hygiene and grooming.


Visiting

  • Etiquette relating to visiting someone’s home usually varies depending on the family’s and religious background.
  • Israelis are quite hospitable and often enjoy visiting friends and family. It is not uncommon for someone to have a short unannounced visit, although some people may call ahead to arrange a visit.
  • A common time to be invited for dinner is Friday or Saturday afternoon or evening (i.e. during Shabbat). This is usually a time when the whole family comes together. 
  • Hosts usually offer visitors refreshments such as coffee, tea or a cold drink along with baked goods, fruits or snacks (like chips, nuts or fried seeds).
  • Many Jewish homes have a mezuzah, which is a small decorative case that contains a piece of parchment consisting of a common Jewish prayer. A mezuzah is affixed to some or every doorway in the home (except in the bathroom). A common tradition is to place one’s hand on the mezuzah when passing, followed by kissing the hand that touched it. Non-Jewish people are not expected to observe this practice.
  • In some Jewish households, people are generally expected not to bring one’s bag inside the bathroom, in case they may be carrying a Jewish prayer book (siddur). Instead, bags are usually left outside.


Religious Dietary Laws

  • Kashrut refers to the Jewish dietary laws that describe foods suitable for a religiously Jewish person to consume. Jewish dietary laws make a distinction between kosher (appropriate) and terefah (forbidden). Some foods are inherently kosher for consumption (such as fish that have both fins and scales) or inherently terefah (such as pork). However, other foods require a prescribed method of preparation and slaughter. If this method is not followed, the food is classified as forbidden.
  • One main Jewish dietary law is the separation of meat and dairy in the same meal. As such, some of Israel’s cuisine does not contain dishes with both meat and dairy mixed together.
  • Some Jewish Israeli households will have separate cooking utensils to ensure the separation of meat and dairy.
  • Some Jewish Israelis may also wait several hours after eating a meat dish before consuming dairy to avoid the mixing of meat and dairy in their stomach. The waiting time may be up to nine hours.
  • Muslim families and restaurants observe Islamic dietary rules, which categorise foods as either allowed (halal) or forbidden (haram). Generally, all food and drink is halal except for specifically forbidden cases (such as meat that has not been prepared and slaughtered according to  standards, and pork).
  • Foods that abide by Jewish dietary laws are considered halal for Muslims.


Eating

  • Israeli restaurants that are kosher will close over Shabbat (i.e. Friday sunset to Saturday sunset).
  • Israelis tend to eat three meals a day. Breakfast includes vegetables, cheese, eggs and hummus or other spreads. The main meal of the day is usually early afternoon (except on Fridays). Supper is consumed at night and is usually a light meal.
  • On Friday evenings, a typical Jewish family will gather together and eat dinner. Shabbat dinner is often accompanied with religious customs, though Jewish families may observe these customs every evening meal of the week. 
  • Jewish families tend to do a ritual blessing of the wine (kiddush) before both lunch and dinner, followed by a blessing over two loaves of bread (lechem mishneh).
  • Jewish families may say a prayer known as ‘Birkat HaMazon’ after every meal, during which people thank God for the food on the table.
  • Children usually have a midmorning snack known as ‘aruchat esser’ (ten o’clock meal).
  • Mizrahi Jews or those who have migrated from Arab countries often enjoy Turkish coffee or mint tea with their meals.
  • Israelis tend to converse while eating. The atmosphere tends to be casual and relaxed.
  • Israelis usually finish their meals, leaving no leftover food on their plate. Doing so may be interpreted as an insult to the host.
  • It is polite for guests to accept offers of additional servings of food.


Gift Giving

  • If your counterpart is Muslim, avoid giving and receiving objects with your left hand. Use your right hand or both hands.
  • When invited to someone’s home, it is polite to bring a gift. If they are Jewish, a bottle of high-quality wine, flowers or fruits are appropriate. Avoid giving alcohol to a Muslim unless you have been assured that they drink.
  • Avoid giving pig-related products (such as pork or pig leather) as a gift to Jewish or Muslim Israelis.
  • If visiting a Jewish home, a thoughtful gift may be a mezuzah (a small decorative case containing a common Jewish prayer written on parchment). However, if you give a mezuzah with a scroll inside, be sure it is from a reputable source to ensure it is in line with Jewish law.
  • Material gifts are not always highly regarded. Rather, Israelis tend to appreciate gifts that are an act, such as hosting someone for dinner.

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