My Rosh Hashanah machzor (prayer book) spells out the following at the conclusion of the evening prayer service: “After the services it is customary to greet friends with the following greeting: L’Shana tova…” A greetings cheat sheet – I love it.
Judaism offers many greeting opportunities with some customary guidelines on what, when, and to whom greetings are offered. We also have great flexibility (here in Northeastern NY) about the language of our greetings with Hebrew, Yiddish, or English all appropriate.
The best (based on its frequency) example is the “gut Shabbos” or “Shabbat shalom” well wishes at the end of a conversation on a Friday, or anytime on Shabbat, with the similarly popular “shavuah tov” or “gut voch” after Shabbat. In theory, we can use the “shavuah tov” through Tuesday and start with “have a gut Shabbos” on Thursday, leaving “shalom aleichem” for Wednesdays.
High holidays have special greetings as suggested above, adding reference to inscriptions and sealings. “Happy New Year” also always works.
“Chag sameach” is a very good generic holiday greeting, simply meaning “happy holiday.” When in doubt, this is a good guess and will usually work. This greeting also presents the opportunity to mix in some qualifying (but unnecessary) words. On Chanukkah, we could say, “chag urim sameach (happy holiday of lights)”. It’s nice, but not necessary. The Yiddish “gut yontiff” is also pretty flexible.
On Chol HaMoed (the non-holy intermediary days of Sukkot and Passover), the greetings get even more complicated. The Yiddish “gut moed” meaning “good festival” is certainly easiest. The Hebrew phrase “moadim l’simcha” adds three syllables and a fair amount of complexity and comes with its own response, the very complex “chagim u’zemanim l’sason”.
I should also mention the ordering of greetings. Tonight, we bring in Shabbat at the same time as the holy seventh day of Passover. The practice is to recognize the more frequent Shabbat first followed by the holiday by saying “Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.”
The bottom line is that greetings are good. They sync us with our calendar and give us opportunities to be friendly. Even when we make the mistake of wishing someone a gut Shabbos when we see them in shul on Shavuot, it’s ok, because everyone makes that mistake, and the sentiment is appreciated.
Final note: The above information is not applicable on the very solemn Tisha B’Av when it is customary to avoid greeting people entirely.
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