The Jewish birthday blessing

Happy Birthday Jewish greeting

Are you afraid to open your mouth in Jewish settings because you don't know what to say? We can help! Happy and sad lifecycle moments, Jewish holidays and other occasions-we can provide you with a traditional Hebrew or Yiddish response and an English alternative-and a virtual pat on the back. You're doing fine!

Happy Occasions

Though this expression means literally good luck (or "a good sign") it's always used to mean congratulations. It's something to say to brides and grooms, parents of children becoming bar or bat mitzvah and new parents. It's also a nice thing to say to someone who has a birthday, or gets a new job or a new car. If you feel uncomfortable pronouncing it, say, "Congratulations!"

One thing that makes Jewish subculture a little different from the dominant culture is that it's typical to congratulate the mothers, fathers, siblings and friends of people getting married, having a baby or watching their relative become bar or bat mitzvah. If a Jewish person says "Congratulations!" to you when you say you are going to a friend's wedding, say, "thanks, " not, "It's not my wedding, you goofball."

You might also hear some wise guy yell "Mazel tov" in a Jewish delicatessen when someone drops dishes. That's because at Jewish weddings, it's traditional to break a glass and sometimes also a plate.

B'sha'ah tovah
Don't say mazel tov when someone says they are pregnant. They don't have the baby yet. Instead say "b'sha'ah tovah, " or "in a good hour"-meaning something like, I hope this works out perfectly. If you feel uncomfortable pronouncing that, say, "I'm so happy for you."

Yasher Koach
When someone has an aliyah to the Torah or reads from the Torah, or does some public ritual in the synagogue, one traditional thing to say is "yasher koach, " may your strength increase. If you feel uncomfortable pronouncing that, you can say, "Good job"-and shake their hand. If someone says that to you, say, "Baruch tihiyeh"-or just, "thanks!"

Tithadesh or tithadshi
When your friend gets new clothes, a new house or a new car, there is a special way to congratulate them-tithadesh, may it renew you. (To a female friend you say "tithadshi.") There isn't a really a good English equivalent, because there's no specific way of congratulating people on getting new things-but you can always say, "Congratulations, enjoy it!"

Sad Occasions

When you see someone you love at a sad occasion like a funeral, what do you say? There is a Yiddish expression, "oyf simches" which means, "let's only meet at happy occasions." A good substitute is, "Glad you could make it, " or "Hope the next time we meet is at a happier occasion."

Ha-Makom yinachem etchem...
There is a traditional Hebrew phrase to say at funerals and houses of mourning, "Ha-Makom hu yinachem et chem b'toch avlei tsiyon v'yerushalayim." It means, "May the Merciful One comfort you among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem." It seems unlikely you will need to say this, but it's good to be in the know. You don't really have to say anything, just be there and listen. Or say, "I'm sorry."

For more about what to say when you vist a house of mourning, see "How to Pay a Shivah Call, " and our Guide to Death and Mourning for Interfaith Families.


The most traditional greeting is the easiest: Shabbat Shalom! You might also hear Gut Shabbes, which is Yiddish for good Sabbath.

Traditional greetings include, "L'Shanah Tovah tikatevu, " which means, May you be inscribed for a good year, or just "Shanah Tovah, " which means A Good Year. Some say "Happy New Year!" or "A happy and healthy New Year." You might also hear people greet in Yiddish, "Gut yomtev, " which means happy holiday.

A traditional greeting for Yom Kippur is Gamar hatimah tovah-a good completion to your inscription (in the book of life.) Some say "Gamar tov, " a good completion. Some say Shanah tovah or Happy New Year, and some say tzom kal or have an easy fast.

Hag Sameah (Happy holiday) with a heavy gutteral h at the beginning of the first word and the end of the second. Or if you are really sophisticated, Moadim l'simcha, which means "festivals for joy." You may also hear "gut yontev, " which is Yiddish for happy holiday.

The big challenge here for many English-speakers is that initial heavy H sound, like the J in Jose or the ch in Loch Ness. (That's why the holiday is sometimes spelled Chanukah.) Say Happy Hanukkah, do your best with the initial guttural h, smile and don't worry.

The best greeting is Happy Purim! Some say Hag Sameach, which means Happy Holiday or Purim Sameach which means Happy Purim! It's all about the happy.

Some people say "Hag Sameah v' kasher"-have a happy and kosher holiday. Or try Happy Pesach or Happy Passover.

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