What are the Appropriate Greetings on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?

Posted on September 14, 2022

As a young adult, unfamiliar with the Jewish religion and with Hebrew, I was very uncomfortable during my first few High Holy Day experiences.  I did not know what to say to Temple members…I was too nervous to use a Hebrew phrase for fear of incorrect pronunciation or just not sounding authentic enough.  In fact, I had never heard Hebrew spoken before.  But now, many years later, I am both confident and authentic.  And the greetings are really quite simple – both meaningful and melodic.  Thanks to an internet link, 18DOORS, it is easy to greet people during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


Sometimes people will greet each other with different versions of ‘Happy New Year’ in Hebrew.  The most common Rosh Hashanah greeting is:  L’Shana Tovah, which means ‘May you have a good year.’  There are also versions of this greeting that incorporate one of the metaphors of Rosh Hashanah known as ‘The Book of Life.’   The tradition imagines that at this time of year, God is preparing to inscribe us in a heavenly Book of Life for a year of whatever quality we have merited through our actions.  You might hear people saying the following greeting: L’Shana Tovah Tee-kah-tay-voo-v’tee=kha-tay-moo.  This means ‘May you be inscribed 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 would say ‘Tzom Kal’, which means ‘May you have an easy fast.’  Or, you could say ‘Khah-tee-mah-Tovah’, which means ‘May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life.’


And, if you are uncomfortable with Hebrew, you cannot go wrong with ‘Happy New Year’ in English, at any time throughout the High Holy Days.