I am planning to travel around Israel (from Oct 19 to Nov 5th), and I am wondering what effect the Sabbath will have on transport, restaurants and the sights. Should I be planning to not do anything from Friday night to Saturday night?
It has an impact, but it isn't problematic. The Sabbath runs from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown, though in practice it could extend from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. In planning your trip, it is much like planning in other countries where shops are closed on Sundays or museums are only open on certain days. The key thing is to plan your time carefully around these limitations.
From our trip to Israel, I was probably most surprised by the fairly large Arab population. Since their holy day is on Friday, their shops are open on Saturday during the Sabbath and the Jewish shops are open on Friday when the Arab shops are closed. At least in the places we visited, there was always something that was open.
I think the most problematic aspect of the Sabbath in our trip planning was public transport. However, we ended up renting a car, so it wasn't a concern for us.
The Shabbath (pronounced Shabbat in Israeli Hebrew) imposes some travel limitations but offers some exciting experiences. If you plan your trip correctly, you can greatly benefit from it.
The first important thing to know about Shabbat is that its character varies greatly among different areas in Israel. Ultra religous quarters in Jerusalem (like Mea Shearim) are literally closed for any transportation, and either smoking, talking on cellular phones will cause anger and irritation. In the mostly secular Tel Aviv, shops, night clubs and restaurants are open, there is reasonable public transportation and Shabbat is the unofficial hangout day.
So, what can you do?