Redefining the Weekend

One of the major things that Israel unique is a rather unexpected one — the weekend, or lack thereof. The standard Israeli work week is from Sunday to Thursday, and some offices, as well as schools, have abridged hours on Friday, too. This means that a day of rest is pretty much limited to its Torah origins — Shabbat.

There is a movement underway and recently backed by Prime Minister Netatnyahu to reduce the work week to four days plus a half day on Friday. The idea is to get Israel will be in sync with other “developed” countries, which don’t work on Sundays, while being sensitive to those who observe Shabbat. I’m uncertain that this will be feasible for every industry and long-distance commuters, but it sure sounds nice. Sometimes I feel that one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve made by making aliyah is giving up my Sundays — the day for brunch, picnics, hikes, and sleeping in.

Though working Sunday through Thursday produces the same number of hours of work and rest as the traditional Monday through Friday schedule, the result is not the same. With Shabbat just hours away, especially in the winter, Friday becomes a day of chores and preparing for Shabbat for many families. Stores close early and buses stop running hours before Shabbat, so day trips for folks like me without cars are limited. And when Shabbat ends, it’s back to work. There is something nice about making havdalah and then preparing for the work week, rather than facing another day off, but when we say “Hamavdil ben kodesh l’chol”, I sometimes think that I’d like to get a little bit more out of my chol.

In the United States, Sunday used to be the day for shopping, getting together with friends, and enjoying the outdoors. Of course these things can be done on a Friday or on Shabbat, but in a much more limited way. Fridays are crunched, and Shabbat is limited by melachot and the special nature of the day. One of the most difficult things for me initially when beginning to observe Shabbat was to pass on my Saturday hikes. Ironically, upon moving to Israel, I’ve had to pass on the Sunday ones too.

Ilene blogs at

2 comments on “Redefining the Weekend

  1. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but while I find Shabbos to be great, inspiring, and love the time with Hashem and my family, I do not find it to be restful. With kids too young to be left on their own and learning in the afternoon I do not get much of a rest. I NEED sundays for household chores, shopping and just the occasional nap while the kids watch a video. The sunday day off may be a great nonspiritual practical BT inducement for aliyah (the other is the end of the three-day Yom Tov forever!. If Sunday is too Christian, I will gladly take Monday instead!;)

  2. I also felt that way when I first made aliyah three years ago, but it’s become part of that process of becoming Israeli, of absorbing the culture of my fellow Jews in the Holy Land. Besides, the Sunday idea, while fun and relaxing, is a Christian concept. Finally, I think I came to terms with it when I realized that since we work on Sunday, we have all the energy of Shabbos to launch into the week and we’re a full day ahead of the rest of the world!

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