Expressions and Greetings
- There are a number of traditional greetings for Shabbat, holidays and general purposes in Hebrew and Yiddish
What is the proper Jewish thing to say when someone tells you she's pregnant?
How do you wish someone a happy holiday in Hebrew? Below are some common Jewish
phrases and expressions to answer these questions and more.
☰ Sabbath-Related Greetings
- Shabbat Shalom (shah-BAHT shah-LOHM)
- Hebrew. Literally, Sabbath peace or peaceful Sabbath. This is an
appropriate greeting at any time on Shabbat,
although it is most commonly used at the end of a Shabbat
- Gut Shabbes (GUT SHAH-biss; gut rhymes with put)
- Yiddish. Literally, good Sabbath. Like Shabbat shalom, this is a general,
all-purpose Shabbat greeting. In my experience, gut Shabbes is more likely to
be used in general conversation or when greeting people, while Shabbat shalom
is more commonly used at the conclusion of a service.
- Shavua Tov (shah-VOO-ah TOHV)
- Hebrew. Literally, good week. This greeting is used after
Havdalah (the ceremony marking the conclusion
of Shabbat), to wish someone a good forthcoming week.
- Chag Sameach (KHAHG sah-MEHY-ahkh)
- Hebrew. Literally, joyous festival. This is an appropriate greeting for
just about any holiday, but it's especially appropriate for
and Pesach (Passover), which are technically the
only festivals (the other holidays are holidays, not festivals).
- Gut Yontiff (GUT YAHN-tiff; gut rhymes with put)
- Yiddish. Literally, good holiday. This greeting can be used for any
holiday, not necessarily a festival.
- L'Shanah Tovah (li-SHAH-nuh TOH-vuh; li-shah-NAH toh-VAH)
- Hebrew. Lit. for a good year. A common greeting during
Rosh Hashanah and Days of
Awe. It is an abbreviation of L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem (May you be
inscribed and sealed for a good year). The second pronunciation above is the
proper Hebrew pronunciation, but I more commonly hear the first pronunciation,
which is Yiddish style.
- Have an easy fast
- This is the proper way to wish someone well for
Yom Kippur. Please, don't wish people a Happy
Yom Kippur; it's not a happy holiday.
- A Zissen Pesach (a ZISS-en PEH-sakh; zissen rhymes with kissin')
- Yiddish. A sweet Passover. Although the other generic holiday greetings are certainly appropriate,
this is a traditional old-fashioned greeting for Passover specifically, wishing the listener a
sweet holiday. It's an interesting choice of phrase for a holiday that is known for eating bitter herbs,
but it's a reminder of the sweetness of freedom after the bitterness of slavery
- Shalom (shah-LOHM)
- Hebrew. Literally, peace. A way of saying "hello" or "goodbye."
- Shalom Aleikhem (shah-LOHM ah-ley-KHEM) or Sholem Aleikhem
- Hebrew and Yiddish. Peace upon you. A traditional greeting. The second
version (the Yiddish version) is more common, at least in America. It is
related to the common Arabic greeting, salaam alaikum (not surprising, because
Hebrew and Arabic are in the same family of languages). Sholem Aleikhem is also
the pen name of a Yiddish author, best
known for a collection of short stories that was the basis for the musical
Fiddler on the Roof. The traditional response to the greeting is Aleikhem
Shalom (and upon you, peace).
- Mazel Tov (MAH-zl TAWV; MAH-zl TAHV)
- Yiddish/Hebrew. Literally, good luck. This is the traditional way of
expressing congratulations. "Mazel tov!" is the correct and traditional
response upon hearing that a person has gotten engaged or married, has had a
child, or has become a bar mitzvah. It can be used to congratulate someone for
getting a new job, graduating from college, or any other happy event. Note that
this term is not used in the way that the expression "good luck"
is used in English; that is, it should not be used to wish
someone luck in the future. Rather, it is an expression of pleasure at the good
luck someone has already had.
- Yasher koach (YAH-shehyr KOH-ahkh)
- Hebrew. Literally, straight strength. Figuratively, may you have strength,
or may your strength be increased. A way of congratulating someone for
performing a mitzvah or other good deed.
In essence, you are wishing this person the strength to continue doing this
good thing, and you are also recognizing the effort that the person put into
doing this good thing. It is most commonly used in
synagogue, to congratulate someone
after he or she has participated in some aspect of the
service. Strictly speaking, this is a
masculine form (to the extent that it is grammatical at all). Some people use
the feminine form when expressing the same sentiment for a woman, but that is
- L'Chayim (li-KHAY-eem)
- Yiddish/Hebrew. Literally, to life. The toast you offer before drinking
wine or other alcoholic beverages, used the way you would use "Cheers!" in
- Gesundheit (g'-SUND-hahyt)
- Yiddish. Literally, health. This is the normal response when somebody
sneezes. The same expression is used in German (Yiddish is largely based on
German), and is quite common even among non-Jews, but I thought it was worth
pointing out because some non-Jews have told me they were afraid of offending
by saying "bless you" to a Jew.