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How Jews do Holiday Greetings

How Jews do Holiday Greetings

Chag Same'ach or Gut Yom Tov?


When two Jews meet each other on holidays or even in the days prior, it is customary to wish each other a good, happy holiday. But what to say? Here are your options:

The traditional Ashkanazi greeting is Gut yom tov.” Yom tov,which literally means “good day” in Hebrew, denotes a holiday. In Yiddish, it is normally mangled into something that sounds more like “YON-tiff.” Thus, the greeting can sound like “Gut YON-tiff” or even “GutJONntiff.” (When translating “Gut yom tov” into English, you arrive at the strangely redundant-sounding “Good good day.”)

Sephardic Jews prefer the Biblical term for a festival, “chag.” Thus, when wishing someone a joyous festival, they say, “Chag same’ach.” (Note that you pronounce it “CHAHG sah-MAY-ach.”) This greeting has its roots in the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:14), where these two words are used in the commandment to rejoice on the festivals.

Now, not all holidays are considered equal. The holidays of Sukkot and Passover have intermediate days of lesser sanctity called Chol Hamoed, when many of the work restrictions are relaxed. On those days, the traditional Ashkenazi greeting is “Gut mo’ed” (or “Gut MOY-ed”) and Sepharadim say, “Moadim l’simcha,” to which some greetee responds, Chagim u’zemanim l’sason.” (As before, the Sepharadic salutation has liturgical roots; this phrase is lifted straight from the holiday kiddush.)

If you want to greet someone but are not sure what to say, just let them greet you first and then repeat their greeting back to them. Works every time.

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Anonymous Philadelphia April 11, 2017

"If you want to greet someone but are not sure what to say, just let them greet you first and then repeat their greeting back to them. Works every time."

...Except when someone says:
assalam alaikum Reply

Gershon December 14, 2016

Sepharadic Custom That's a really interesting notion, which makes sense, that moadim lesimcha was originally for the moed itself. However, it is quite widespread these days to use it just on chol hamoed. Reply

rivks April 26, 2016

your advice on greeting when in doubt I'm quite surprised about your advice to just wait to see what the other says, since Pirke Awot teaches us to always be the first one to greet?? Reply

Menachem Posner December 7, 2015

To Eric Miller Thanks for writing. I am not aware of such a distinction, but it may indeed be that your community has a unique custom, which is to be honored and cherished. Reply

Eric Miller now in Norwich, VT December 6, 2015

I was raised (--in Hamburg, Germany in the 1960s: our Schul was Yekkish Orthodox, with many refugees/survivors from the east, plus I had a Sephardic grandmother--) to reserve "Gut Yontiff" for just the High Holidays; and "Hag Same'ach" for just Pessach, Sukkes, and Shavoos. Were we making a wrong distinction? Reply

Anonymous Austin September 15, 2015

Hagim The festivals were times when Jews were commanded to bring an offering to special places, ie the Temple or certain cities. There were three Hag's or Hagim.
They became times when Jews made a PILGRIMAGE to the temple in Jerusalem to make offerings. The muslims HAJ has its roots in Judaism. They got the idea of the Haj from the Jewish Hag. They heard of Jews making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to bring offerings and made a holiday with the same name and similar purpose. Reply

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