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Jewish Greetings Cheat Sheet

Ever hear someone use a Jewish greeting and aren’t sure what it means or how to respond? Happy and sad lifecycle moments, Jewish holidays and other occasions all have Jewish greetings attached. Here are some traditional Hebrew or Yiddish responses and their meanings—and a virtual pat on the back. You're doing fine!

The most common Jewish greeting is Shalom, a Hebrew word which means hello, goodbye and peace.
 

Happy Occasions
 

B’chatzlacha!

This means good luck!
 

B'sha'ah tovah

Don't say mazel tov when someone says they are pregnant. They don't have the baby yet. Instead say "b'sha'ah tovah," or "in a good hour"—meaning something like, I hope this works out perfectly. If you feel uncomfortable pronouncing that, say, "I'm so happy for you."

Mazel tov

Though this expression means literally good luck (or "a good sign"), it's always used to mean congratulations. It's something to say to couples getting married, parents of children becoming bar or bat mitzvah and new parents (but not to be said to expecting parents). It's also a nice thing to say to someone who has a birthday, or gets a new job or a new car.

One thing that makes Jewish subculture a little different from the dominant culture is that it's typical to congratulate the parents, siblings and friends of people getting married, having a baby or watching their relative become bar or bat mitzvah. If someone says "Congratulations!" to you when you say you are going to a friend's wedding, say, "Thanks," not, "It's not my wedding, you goofball."

You might also hear some wise guy yell "Mazel tov" in a Jewish delicatessen when someone drops dishes. That's because at Jewish weddings, it's traditional to break a glass and sometimes also a plate.

Tithadesh or tithadshi

When your friend gets new clothes, a new house or a new car, there is a special way to congratulate them—“Tithadesh,” may it renew you. (The feminine form of this word is "tithadshi.") There isn't a really a good English equivalent, because there's no specific way of congratulating people on getting new things—but you can always say, "Congratulations, enjoy it!"

Yasher Koach

When someone has an aliyah (is called up to the Torah during a service) or reads from the Torah, or does some public ritual in the synagogue, one traditional thing to say is "Yasher koach," may your strength increase. If you feel uncomfortable pronouncing that, you can say, "Good job" and shake their hand. If someone says that to you, reply, "Baruch tihiyeh"—or just, "Thanks!"

Sad Occasions

Next time, at a simchah

When you see someone you love at a sad occasion like a funeral, what do you say? There is a Yiddish expression, "Oyf simches" which means, "Let's only meet at happy occasions." A good substitute is, "Glad you could make it," or "Hope the next time we meet is at a happier occasion."

Ha-Makom yinachem etchem...

There is a traditional Hebrew phrase to say at funerals and houses of mourning, "Ha-Makom hu yinachem et chem b'toch avlei tsiyon v'yerushalayim." It means, "May the Merciful One comfort you among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem." It seems unlikely you will need to say this, but it's good to be in the know. You don't really have to say anything, just be there and listen. Or say, "I'm sorry."

May their memory be a blessing

When expressing condolences, a common Jewish saying is “May his/her memory be a blessing.” This can go along with “Sorry for your loss.”

For more about what to say when you vist a house of mourning, see "How to Pay a Shiva Call," and our booket, Mourning the loss of a Jewish loved one.

Times of Day

Boker tov

Literally, “good morning.” Nice replies are “boker tov” right back, or “boker or,” meaning “morning light.”

Erev tov

Literally, “good evening.” You can reply “erev tov” right back.

Lilah Tov

Literally, "good night." An appopriate response is to say "lilah tov" back. 

Holidays

For more on holidays, see our Jewish Holidays Cheat Sheet.
Chag Sameach
[Pronounced CHAHG sah-MAY-ach]
(Happy holiday) with a heavy gutteral h at the beginning of the first word and the end of the second. Or if you are really sophisticated, Moadim l'simcha, which means "festivals for joy." You may also hear "gut yuntuv," which is Yiddish for happy holiday. This is typically said on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Purim and Shavuot. It can really be said for any holiday, however.

Shabbat Shalom

The most traditional greetingon Shabbat  is the easiest: “Shabbat Shalom,” good Sabbath! You might also hear Gut Shabbes, which is Yiddish for good Sabbath. Saying Good Sabbath or Good Shabbes is a great way of greeting someone on Shabbat without speaking Hebrew. We say this to welcome one another or say goodbye on Shabbat.

 
Shavua Tov

Shabbat officially ends when there are three stars in the sky on Saturday night.  Some close Shabbat with the short ceremony of Havdalah, meaning “separation,” to mark the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week.  Starting on Saturday night, people often wish each other “shavua tov,” meaning “a good week,” as a wish for the coming week.  You might even hear people saying this through Sunday. You can repeat, “shavua tov!” to them right back.

Shanah Tovah

Traditional greetings on Rosh Hashanah include, "L'Shanah Tovah tikatevu," which means, May you be inscribed for a good year, or just "Shanah Tovah," which means “a good year.” Some say "Happy New Year!" or "a happy and healthy New Year." You might also hear people greet in Yiddish, "Gut yomtev," which means happy holiday.

Gamar hatimah tova

A traditional greeting for Yom Kippur is “Gamar hatimah tovah:” a good completion to your inscription (in the book of life). Some say "Gamar tov," a good completion. Some say “Shanah tovah” or Happy New Year, and some say “Tzom kal” or have an easy fast.

Happy Hanukkah

The big challenge here for many English-speakers is that initial heavy H sound, like the J in Jose or the ch in Loch Ness. (That's why the holiday is sometimes spelled Chanukah.) Say Happy Hanukkah, do your best with the initial guttural h, smile and don't worry.

Happy Purim

The best greeting is Happy Purim! Some say Chag Sameach, which means Happy Holiday or Purim Sameach which means Happy Purim! This is a very fun, festive holiday and it's all about the happy.

Happy Pesach or Passover

On Passover, some people say "Hag Sameah v' kasher"—have a happy and kosher holiday. Or try Happy Pesach (Hebrew for Passover) or Happy Passover.

Hebrew for "Sabbath [of] peace," a greeting on the Jewish Sabbath. Hebrew for "Joy of Torah," a fall holiday that celebrates the completion of the yearlong Torah cycle and the commencement of a new one. Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "a good year," a typical greeting on Rosh Hashanah. Hebrew for "happy holiday." Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Yiddish for "good Sabbath," a customary greeting leading into, and during, the Sabbath. 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. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew and Yiddish for "good luck," a phrase used to express congratulations for happy and significant occasions. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "separation" or "distinction," the ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath on Saturday evenings. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A Summer holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it is also known as the Feast of Weeks, as it comes seven weeks after Passover begins. Hebrew for "gladness" or "joy," it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris. A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino. 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.
Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the action of making something kosher (like cleaning a kitchen). Hebrew for "Booths," it's a fall holiday marking the harvest, like a Jewish Thanksgiving, complete with opportunities for dining and sleeping under the stars. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "going up," it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. "After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.") Hebrew for "Passover," the spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story. Hebrew term, synonymous with Jerusalem.
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