Shana Tova – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Jewish people living in predominantly Christian countries have long been used to wishing their friends a merry Christmas. If you would like to return the favor, you can wish a Jewish person in your life “shana tova” on Rosh Hashanah.

Read on to discover what it means and when to say it.

Meaning

The Hebrew saying shana tova literally means “good year”. It is the appropriate wish to offer an observant (religious) Jew on Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year.

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, and the dates on which Rosh Hashanah can fall therefore differ from year to year. However, this important Jewish holiday takes place in September or October.

Example Usage

Shana tova is, broadly speaking, used in the same contexts in which people wish each other a happy new year. Even as a gentile, meaning someone who isn’t Jewish, the religious Jews in your life who may appreciate being wished a shana tova include:

  • Coworkers
  • Neighbors
  • Acquaintances

You can wish someone a good year in person, on via a card, or on social media. Do be aware that religious Jews will avoid using the internet during the high holidays, however.

Origin

Shana tova (which may also be transliterated as “shanah tovah“) has long been the most common wish to convey to another person during the Jewish New Year. It is a Hebrew phrase that translates to “good year“. An extended version, “shana tova u’metuka“, means “a good and sweet year”.

By wishing someone shana tova, you are hoping that they will have a good year.

In Judaism, the high holiday Rosh Hashanah marks the anniversary of the creation of the universe and the beginning of the Jewish year. This holiday follows the somber day of atonement, Yom Kippur, and is especially festive.

Jewish religion and tradition dictate that Yom Kippur is the day on which God decides people’s fates for the following year. On Rosh Hashanah, they are sealed.

Rosh Hashanah falls on the the days of Tishrei 1 and 2 in the Jewish calendar, which generally take place between mid September and early October in the secular or Christian calendars. Owing to the fact that the Jewish calendar is lunar in nature, the dates shift each year.

Rosh Hashanah is marked by rest (refraining from work), lighting candles at sundown, and enjoying special meals. These meals should include plenty of sweet foods to hope for a sweet new year. Observant Jews attend services at their synagogues, during which a goat horn called a shofar is also sounded to usher in the new year.

Phrases Similar to Shana Tova

  • Should you wish to wish someone a good year on Rosh Hashanah in Yiddish, you can instead say “a gut gebentsht yohr”.
  • The phrase “gemar chatimah tovah”, which wishes someone “a good sealing”, is suited for use among Jews. If you are a gentile, you are better off simply wishing someone shana tova.

What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct saying is shana tova, meaning “good year”.

Ways People May Say Shana Tova Incorrectly

Some people may want to wish Jews in their lives “shana tova” on the secular new year (January 1). This would be incorrect, as you can wish someone shana tova only on Rosh Hashanah.

It is important to note that some non-religious Jews feel a deep connection with the Jewish holidays and celebrate them for cultural reasons, while others are not even aware of the days on which Jewish holidays fall. It may be best not to wish someone shana tova just because you know they are Jewish.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Shana Tova

You can use the saying “shana tova” to wish religious Jews a good year on or around Rosh Hashanah. No additional words are needed, and it is quite likely that the person you are wishing a good year will appreciate the fact that you remembered their religious holidays.

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