Almost everybody in the world enjoys some sort of weekend vacation, even if it’s for only one day, rather than two, but while most of the world rests on Sundays, Judaism dictates that the day of rest is the Saturday. There are even some Christian sects who celebrate this. Israelis who work in the business sector finish their week on Thursday evening, and then dedicate Friday for errands, and rest on Saturday, going back to work on Sunday morning. Another interesting aspect of this religious custom is that a “day” actually starts at the evening time, and ends at evening time of the next day, so a “Saturday” starts on Friday, when the sun sets, and ends on Saturday at sunset.
Since god has rested on the 7th day, according to the story of creation, the Jewish religion interprets this as a day of rest, and rest is mandatory. This means that anything that could be considered “labor” is expressly forbidden for a religious Jew. No working is a DUH, but also no driving, no operating machinery and get this: no operating of any electric device (including turning the light on or off and using the phone), no writing, no handling of money, no walking over 2 miles* and more. Since the Saturday starts with the sunset, which could be as early as 5:30pm during winter, workplaces close early on Friday, to give people the opportunity to get back home before it becomes forbidden to drive. For this reason, on a Friday, most businesses (retail, principally) close down at about 2pm (rarely after 3 pm) and everybody goes home. Entertainment related business do stay open, like restaurants, drugstores, cinemas etc, but one of the big problems in Israel is the fact that most Israelis are secular or atheist, and don’t want things to close down. For example, pubs don’t close, but the bus and train services do, and people have a problem getting to where they want to hang out. The religious parties keep trying to find a way to force every business to close completely, but I’ll talk about that another time. It’s quite a bummer that a person who works 5 days a week has only a few hours to take care of errands on the weekend before most businesses close down, and people who work in the retail business and work on a Friday are even in a tighter spot. Interesting, huh?
*This is actually a rule that dictates you must not walk past a radius of 1 mile from your home. You can walk that area as much as you like, but not farther.