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Symbols and Rituals: How to Greet People during the High Holy Days

Return to the InterfaithFamily Guide to the High Holy Days.

Knocking on a doorHow to Greet People during the High Holy Days

Throughout the High Holy Days season, it’s always appropriate to say “Happy New Year” to others in the Jewish community. Click on the links below to hear the greetings spoken aloud.

Sometimes people will greet each other with different versions of “Happy New Year” in Hebrew. The most common of these Hebrew greetings, which means “May you have a good year,” is:

Shana Tovah or L’shana Tovah

There are also versions of this greeting that incorporate one of the metaphors of the High Holy Days known as “The Book of Life.” The tradition imagines that at this time of year, while we are doing our own personal moral self-evaluation, God is preparing to inscribe us in a heavenly Book of Life for a year of whatever quality we have merited through our actions. Most Jews don’t take this idea literally, by the way, so don’t worry if you’re not sure how you feel about this religious metaphor. Anyway, you might hear people say the following greetings:

“May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.”

“May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.”

As the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, approaches, many Jews offer greetings expressing the hope that people will have an easy fast, or that they will be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year. You might hear:

“May you have an easy fast.”
“May you be sealed for good [in the Book of Life].”

It can be fun for people new to these holidays to practice these greetings, but rest assured that you can’t go wrong with “Happy New Year” in English, at any time throughout the High Holy Days season.

The InterfaithFamily Guide to the High Holy Days is also available in PDF. 

Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.

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