Appropriate Greetings for Yom Kippur, the Holiest Day in Judaism

Alesandra Dubin

For Jewish people, Yom Kippur, which translates to “day of atonement,” is the most solemn holiday on the calendar. As you may know, Purim and Passover occur in the spring, while Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot happen in early fall.

Yom Kippur is the culmination of the high holidays, a period of 10 days of repentance. These dates fall during the Hebrew month of Tishrei, which typically overlap with September or October in the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, Yom Kippur begins on the evening of September 24 and ends in the evening of September 25.

In the Jewish faith and tradition, God seals the fate of each person on Yom Kippur. So those who observe, work to make amends and ask forgiveness for any sins they have committed. As such, Yom Kippur is a time to reflect on the previous year and how to improve for the coming year ahead.

Observant Jews spend the holiday in synagogue, with five prayer services throughout the day. The services end with closing prayers and well as the blowing of the shofar, a horn. A 25-hour-long fast begins at sundown the night before and ends with a meal to break the fast the following sundown.

The first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Following their arrival at Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the 10 commandments tablets. Coming down from the mountain, Moses found his people worshiping a golden calf and, in anger, shattered the holy tablets. But because the Israelites atoned for their sin of idolatry, God forgave them and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

If you or someone you know is observing Yom Kippur, we reached out to Edana Appel, Director of Camp and Family Programs at the J Los Angeles (formerly the Westside Jewish Community Center), to find appropriate and traditional greetings to share.

What is the best way to greet someone for Yom Kippur?

Here are some more appropriate and standard greetings.

  • Tzom Kal: This Hebrew greeting translates to “an easy fast.” Appel says this greeting has two different meanings. The first meaning is literal, because “fasting is hard and it would be nice if it was easier,” she explains. “The second is that some people believe that if you have been good this past year that your fast should be easy as Yom Kippur is the day for settling the sins you have committed against God.”
  • Gmar Chatima Tovah: It directly translates to “that you should be sealed for goodness in the end.” It relates to the Jewish concept that at the end of the day on Yom Kippur, each person’s fate is sealed in the Book of Life “and throughout Yom Kippur, we are striving to be sealed for goodness,” Appel says.
  • Gmar Tov: This Hebrew greeting translates directly to “a good end” in English. “A good end really means that this coming year will be a good year for you,”Appel explains. “That your fate will be sealed for goodness in the coming year.”

Hebrew Yom Kippur greetings

  • Shana tova
  • Chag sameach
  • Tizku leshanim rabot
  • Yom tov (or “gut yontiff” in Yiddish)

English Yom Kippur greetings

  • Wishing you a good seal
  • Have a good holy day
  • A good final sealing
  • Good day
  • Have a meaningful fast
  • Have a good year (can be used during the entire season)

Should you say “Happy Yom Kippur?”

While it’s appropriate to say “Happy Hanukkah or even “Happy Rosh Hashana,” the same type of cheerful greeting is not appropriate for this holiday. “Happy Yom Kippur” is not a traditional greeting because this holiday is a time for solemn reflection and atonement, not for celebration.

“It is important to remember that the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is about asking for forgiveness from the people in your life,” Appel says, “whereas Yom Kippur is about each person and their relationship with God.”

Contributing Writer

Alesandra is a digital travel and lifestyle journalist based in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Prevention, Insider, Glamour, Shondaland, AFAR, Parents, TODAY and countless other online and print outlets. Alesandra has a masters degree in journalism with an emphasis on cultural reporting and criticism from NYU, and a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. An avid traveler, she trots the globe with her husband and their twins.

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