An Often Asked Question: “What is the traditional dress of Israel”? And, as a tourist, “What should I pack”?
When people I know are planning their first trip to Israel, after the initial excitement wears off, they need to plan their packing strategy. In thinking about how to advise my friends, clients and anyone who asks, I have to say that Israel is like every place else in the respect that dress is a reflection of climate and culture. In the case of Israel, religious culture comes into play as well but not to the point of distress. Differing Judaic sects add to the kaleidoscope of customary, religious attire. Modesty is essential to Orthodox and Hassidic tradition. Western influences have added style to monochromatic traditional dress.
Israel is really a healthy combination of Antiquity and Modern Cultures and you can expect styles of each. Israel, one of the most powerful and westernized nations in the Middle East, serves as a tapestry of old and new culture. The Jewish religion is dominant, yet it embodies several sects adding to the cultivation of custom and tradition.
Ancient ways are still revered while new customs and mannerisms are accepted. Temperatures vary in the desert land of Israel. Winters can be harsh with snow-fall up to a few inches a year in Jerusalem. Coastal cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa have a Mediterranean climate with cool, rain-filled winters and hot summers. The southern regions of Israel are desert climate cultures with temperatures well over 100 degrees.
The Israeli’s as well as tourists dress according to the climatic conditions of the territories. Many Israelis obtain two wardrobes, one more westernized and suitable for such severe climatic fluctuations and the other to reflect the dominant religion. Traditional Israeli woman’s attire or “Tznius” clothing (modest) is essential for Hasidic and Orthodox Israeli women as the female is to be revered for her introspection and devotion to G-d, not her physical form. Colors are subdued with very little pattern to the fabric. Tops are high at the neck and long sleeved. Skirts are chosen over pants and extra fabric is used not to accentuate her form.
The same is important for men and most wear black jackets, trousers and shoes. A white shirt is generally worn under the monochrome style.
I could go on and on forever in this regard and should you want more information I would be happy to provide it at firstname.lastname@example.org But, I am sure you simply want to pack from what you already have in your closet (within reason) so, let’s get down to it shall we?
Much depends on where you are going and staying in Israel. Tel Aviv is the most liberal city in Israel and certainly one of the most liberal in the world. Rule of thumb would be to pack exactly what you would wear in any other hot Mediterranean resort including swimwear, cover-ups and the like.
Jerusalem could be more conservative depending on where you go. If you wander around East Jerusalem in shorts or other revealing clothes you will probably receive unwanted attention in the form of stares, pointing or wolf whistles. Jeans and T-Shirts are acceptable if one covers as much skin as possible. Save the tank-tops and bare midriffs for Tel Aviv and, when visiting Jewish Orthodox neighborhoods (particularly Mea Sherim) for women the baring of flesh other than the hands or face simply is not done. Secular neighborhoods will be filled with folks in shorts and typical summer clothing.
When visiting places of worship (whether a mosque, synagogue or church) you may be refused entry if not suitably dressed. Some mosques provide cloaks to female visitors and it would be advisable to keep a head scarf in your purse just in case you need it.
For men it would be disrespectful not to cover his head at the Western Wall and in some other places. You do not have to be Jewish to wear a kippah. One will not be discovered as a “Jewish impersonator” and the respect shown will be greatly appreciated.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Israel loves to showcase itself. Israel knows it is a one of a kind destination for all sorts of people. Religious scholars, students, tourists, people visiting family or simply those looking for something extraordinary. Don’t let clothing etiquette worry you at all as Israeli’s will be help you get around any breech or mistake. After all, there is a little Israel in all of us and you must go to find the Israel in YOU!