A Rabbi Explains What to Say to Someone Observing Yom Kippur

Remember, the holiday isn't quite as joyful as Rosh Hashanah.

Every year around this time, Jews around the world gather with their families to celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in Judaism. Yom Kippur is a time for contemplation, fasting, and prayer for members of the Jewish community. Because it is a holiday, many non-Jews tend to default to "Happy Yom Kippur," to wish their friends well who observe it. But because of the solemnity of Yom Kippur, it merits a less celebratory greeting. So, what should you be saying to acknowledge those observing the holiday? "For Yom Kippur, it is typical to wish someone an easy fast and that they be sealed in the Book of Life," says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor and the co-founder of The Marriage Restoration Project in New York, New Jersey, and Baltimore.

You see, Yom Kippur is the conclusion of the Days of Awe, which begin on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 10 days prior. In Judaism, it is said that these 10 days seal one's fate for the year ahead. Jews believe that God writes the names of those who are righteous in the Book of Life and those who are wicked in the Book of Death, sealing these books on Yom Kippur.

So, while many folks may greet their friends and family members with a "L'shanah tovah" ("for a good year") or a simple "Happy New Year" at Rosh Hashanah, which tends to be a joyful occasion, Yom Kippur merits a more serious greeting. In Hebrew, it's "G'mar chatimah tovah," which translates to "A good final sealing." If you're worried you might butcher the pronunciation, "G'mar tov" (a shortening of the aforementioned phrase) or "Yom tov" (Hebrew for "good day") will also work in its place, according to Slatkin.

Even if you aren't Jewish yourself, you likely won't rub anyone the wrong way by greeting them appropriately on Yom Kippur. Slatkin says that wishing a Jewish friend or family member an easy fast—or just acknowledging the holiday as a special time—is a totally acceptable gesture from non-Jews, too. And, as is the case with most things, if you're unsure of how those observing the holiday prefer to be addressed, there's a simple way to find out: Just ask! And for more insight into the Jewish holidays, check out these 15 Hanukkah Traditions Everyone Should Observe.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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