How to Say Happy New Year in Hebrew

Happy New Year in Hebrew

English: Happy New Year
Hebrew: שנה טובה


Ever notice that Jews don’t traditionally wish each other “happy new year”?

Instead we say the Hebrew phrase “shanah Tovah” which — in spite of the mistaken translation that appears on almost all greeting cards — has no connection at all to the expression “have a happy new year.”

Happy New Year in Hebrew

Happy New Year in Hebrew

Happy New Year in Hebrew

Happy New Year in Hebrew

Happy New Year in Hebrew

Happy New Year in Hebrew

Shanah Tovah conveys the hope for a good year rather than a happy one. And the reason for that distinction contains great significance.

This past January, the Atlantic Monthly had a fascinating article titled There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. The author, Emily Esfahani Smith, points out how researchers are beginning to caution against the pursuit of mere happiness. They found that a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a "taker" while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a "giver."

"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the author writes.

She quotes Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of a new study to be published this year in The Journal of Positive Psychology: "Happy people get joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others." In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants.

According to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study, “What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans.”

Long before all of these studies, Jews somehow understood this intuitively. Happy is good, but good is better.

To hope for a happy new year is to give primacy to the idea of a hedonistic culture whose greatest goal is “to have a good time.” To seek a good year however is to recognize the superiority of meaning over the joy of the moment.

The word “good” has special meaning in the Torah. The first time we find it used is in the series of sentences where God, after each day of creation, views his handiwork and proclaims it “good”. More, when God completed his work he saw all that he had done “and behold it was very good.”

What does that mean? In what way was the world good? Surely it was not in any moral sense that it was being praised. The commentators offer a profound insight. The word good indicates that every part of creation fulfilled God’s purpose: it was good because it was what it was meant to be.

That is the deepest meaning of the word good when it is applied to us and to our lives. We are good when we achieve our purpose; our lives are good when they fulfill what they are meant to be.

We know many people of whom it can be said that they had good lives in spite of their having had to endure great unhappiness. Indeed, the truly great chose lives of sacrifice over pleasure and left a legacy of inspiration and achievement that they never could have accomplished had they been solely concerned with personal gratification.

A shanah Tovah, a good year, from a spiritual perspective, is far more blessed than a simply happy one.

Meaning Leads to Happiness

A shanah Tovah may not emphasize happiness, yet it is the most certain way to ultimately achieve happiness.

Because another powerful idea discovered by contemporary psychologists is that happiness most often is the byproduct of a meaningful life. It’s precisely when we don’t go looking for it and are willing to set it aside in the interest of a loftier goal that we find it unexpectedly landing on us with a force that we never considered possible.

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Jews Don’t Say Happy New Year

Aug 31, 2013  |  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
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Jews Don’t Say Happy New Year

What’s the best wish for the new year?

Ever notice that Jews don’t traditionally wish each other “happy new year”?

Instead we say the Hebrew phrase “shanah Tovah” which — in spite of the mistaken translation that appears on almost all greeting cards — has no connection at all to the expression “have a happy new year.”

Shanah Tovah conveys the hope for a good year rather than a happy one. And the reason for that distinction contains great significance.

This past January, the Atlantic Monthly had a fascinating article titled There’s More to Life Than Being Happy. The author, Emily Esfahani Smith, points out how researchers are beginning to caution against the pursuit of mere happiness. They found that a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a "taker" while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a "giver."

"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the author writes.

    Happy people get joy from receiving while people leading meaningful lives get joy from giving to others.

She quotes Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of a new study to be published this year in The Journal of Positive Psychology: "Happy people get joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others." In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants.

According to Roy Baumeister, the lead researcher of the study, “What sets human beings apart from animals is not the pursuit of happiness, which occurs all across the natural world, but the pursuit of meaning, which is unique to humans.”

Long before all of these studies, Jews somehow understood this intuitively. Happy is good, but good is better.

To hope for a happy new year is to give primacy to the idea of a hedonistic culture whose greatest goal is “to have a good time.” To seek a good year however is to recognize the superiority of meaning over the joy of the moment.

The word “good” has special meaning in the Torah. The first time we find it used is in the series of sentences where God, after each day of creation, views his handiwork and proclaims it “good”. More, when God completed his work he saw all that he had done “and behold it was very good.”

What does that mean? In what way was the world good? Surely it was not in any moral sense that it was being praised. The commentators offer a profound insight. The word good indicates that every part of creation fulfilled God’s purpose: it was good because it was what it was meant to be.

That is the deepest meaning of the word good when it is applied to us and to our lives. We are good when we achieve our purpose; our lives are good when they fulfill what they are meant to be.

We know many people of whom it can be said that they had good lives in spite of their having had to endure great unhappiness. Indeed, the truly great chose lives of sacrifice over pleasure and left a legacy of inspiration and achievement that they never could have accomplished had they been solely concerned with personal gratification.

A shanah Tovah, a good year, from a spiritual perspective, is far more blessed than a simply happy one.

Meaning Leads to Happiness

A shanah Tovah may not emphasize happiness, yet it is the most certain way to ultimately achieve happiness.

Because another powerful idea discovered by contemporary psychologists is that happiness most often is the byproduct of a meaningful life. It’s precisely when we don’t go looking for it and are willing to set it aside in the interest of a loftier goal that we find it unexpectedly landing on us with a force that we never considered possible.

    Happiness is the byproduct of a meaningful life.

You would think that acquiring ever more money would make people happier. There are millions of people ready to testify from their own experience that it just isn’t so. But if getting more won’t do it, what will? Social scientists have come to a significant conclusion: while having money doesn’t automatically lead to happiness, giving it away almost always achieves that goal!

The prestigious Science magazine (March, 2008) tells us that new research reveals when individuals dole out money for gifts for friends or charitable donations they get a boost in happiness while those who spend on themselves get no such cheery lift. “We wanted to test our theory that how people spend their money is at least as important as how much money they earn,” said Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia. What they discovered was that personal spending had no link with a person’s happiness, while spending on others and charity was significantly related to a boost in happiness.

“Regardless of how much income each person made,” Dunn said, “those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not.”

In a fascinating experiment, researchers gave college students a $5 or $20 bill, asking them to spend the money by that evening. Half the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves, and the remaining students were told to spend it on others. Participants who spent the windfall on others — which included toys for siblings and meals eaten with friends — reported feeling happier at the end of the day than those who spent the money on themselves. Spending as little as $5 on other people produced a measurable surge in happiness on a given day, while purchasing supposedly pleasure -gratifying personal items produced almost no change in mood.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that people find giving money away very rewarding,” Aaron Ahuvia, associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, explained. “People spend a lot of money to make their lives feel meaningful, significant and important. When you give away money you are making that same kind of purchase, only you are doing it in a more effective way.” He added, “What you’re really trying to buy is meaning to life.”

Meaning is our ultimate goal; in our pursuit of the “good” life we will discover the reward of true happiness.

So shana tova, may you have a year filled with meaning and purpose. And happiness that will surely follow.

The Talmud tells us that our fate for the coming year is inscribed by G-d in the Book of Life on Rosh HaShanah, but it is not sealed and made permanent until Yom Kippur. The traditional Ashkenazic greeting, therefore, is “Hashanah Tovah tikateivu v’tikhateimu”, meaning “may you be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life] for a good year”. This is pronounced leh-shah-NAH to-VAH tee-Kah-TEH-voo veh-tee-Kha-TEH-moo, where the “kh” is a guttural like the “ch” in Loch or Bach.

This greeting is often shortened to a simple “Shana Tovah”, meaning “good year” [shah-NAH toh-VAH], or “Shana Tovah u’metukah”, meaning “good and sweet year” [shah-NAH toh-VAH oo-meh-too-KAH].

L’Shanah Tovah Tikateivu

In the days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, it is appropriate to wish each other a “gmar chatimah tovah”, meaning “a good final sealing [of your fate in the Book of Life]”. This is pronounced geh-MAHR khah-tee-MAH toh-VAH.

The traditional Sephardic greeting is “tizku l’shanim rabbot”, meaning “may you merit many years”, pronounced tiz-KOO leh-shah-NEEM rah-BOHT. The proper response is “ne’imot v’tovot”, meaning “pleasant and good ones” [neh-ee-MOHT veh-toh-VOHT].

Among Yiddish speakers, the usual greeting is “gut yom tov”, meaning “happy holiday”, or “gut yohr”, meaning “good year”.

Israel uses a Hebrew calendar alongside the Gregorian calendar which is used by most other countries. The Hebrew year begins on the first of Tishrei, and on that day people celebrate Rosh HaShanah—the holiday marking the beginning of the New Year. In 2015, it was celebrated on September 13th, and in 2016, it will be celebrated on October 2nd.

Do you know why it is customary to eat apples and honey on Rosh HaShanah?

If you don’t already know, keep reading! The answer will be revealed at the end!

The Jewish New Year is considered to be a Day of Judgement, or יום דין (yom din) in Hebrew. On this day, people are judged on what they did the previous year, and they predict what will happen in the coming year. The custom most associated with the festival is the shofar. Between holiday prayers, the shofar is loudly blown. The shofar is made from a ram’s horn, and the noise it makes, which sounds like crying, opens the heart and reminds people how important this day really is.

On the eve of Rosh HaShanah, each family meets for the festive holiday meal. They consume special New Year foods, like pomegranate seeds, cooked fish, dates, and desserts containing honey or in Hebrew דבש (dvash). The members of the family wish each other a new year that will be better and happier than the previous one.

Since Rosh HaShanah symbolizes a new beginning, one of the customs of the holiday is Tashlikh – during which, after lunch on the first day of the holiday, many people go to a seashore or חוף (ħof) in Hebrew, or to a river, recite a special prayer, and shake out their clothes and pockets to symbolically cast away the sins and wicked deeds they did the previous year, and to express their desire to improve next year.

Some people avoid sleep on Rosh HaShanah, following an ancient custom, which is an idea based on a Jewish tradition that says “He who sleeps on Rosh Hashanah, his luck sleeps too.” In Hebrew, this is מי שישן בראש השנה, מזלו ישן (mi she-yashen be-rosh ha-shana, mazalo yashen).

Now it’s time to answer our quiz question-

Do you know why it is customary to eat apples and honey on Rosh HaShanah?

On Rosh HaShanah, it is customary to dip slices of apple, or תפוח (tapuaħ) in Hebrew, in honey and greet each other by saying, “that we shall be renewed with a good and sweet year” or in Hebrew שתתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה (she-titħadesh alenu shana tova u-metuka). So, in other words, we are asking that the following year will be as good as the sweet taste of apples and honey.

Happy New Year!
שתהיה לך שנה טובה!
she`tihiye lekha shanah tovah!


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