Speaking of Favorite Hebrew Expressions
Even outside Israel, Hebrew is an important part of Jewish life. Throughout history, the Jewish people have continued to hold onto the language of their native land. Today, although the majority of the world’s Hebrew speakers live in Israel, about a million Hebrew speakers live outside of the state of Israel, most of them in North America. Even if they don’t speak Hebrew fluently, most Jews know a Hebrew phrase or two. Here are ten Hebrew phrases you’re likely to hear in Jewish communities both inside and outside of Israel.
(mah-zahl tohv; Literally: A good sign.)
This phrase is used to mean congratulations. Guests shout it at Jewish weddings when the groom stomps on a glass, breaking it in memory of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and as a reminder that the world is still broken today. You can also say Mazal Tov to someone on other happy occasions — a birthday, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a new job, or an engagement. Here’s something funny: In Israel, whenever someone accidentally breaks a glass or a dish in a restaurant, the entire restaurant shouts out Mazal Tov in unison.
(buh-kah-rohv ehtz-lehch; Literally: Soon so shall it be by you.) (F)
This expression is a good way to respond when someone wishes you a hearty Mazal Tov. Its most common use is by brides in response to their single women friends congratulating them on their wedding, but you can use it in any circumstance. If you want to say B’Karov Etzlech to a guy, you should say B’Karov Etzlecha (buh-kah-rohv ehtz-leh-chah).
(teet-chah-dehsh; Literally: You shall be renewed.) (M)
This is a nice thing to say to males when they make a new purchase, whether they’ve bought clothing, a new car, or a new house. If you’re speaking to a girl or woman you should say Titchadshi (teet-chahd-shee). To a group of people, say Titchadshu (teet-chahd-shoo).
(buh-tay-ah-vohn; Literally: With appetite.)
B’Teavon is the Hebrew equivalent of bon appetit! A host may say this when presenting a dish, and a waiter or waitress may say it to customers in a restaurant. When you dine with someone, you can say this phrase to each other before digging in.
(beh-ehz-raht hah-shehm; Literally: With help of the Name.)
In religiously observant circles, Jews often refer to the Holy One (God that is) as HaShem, which literally means the Name. Because God’s name is so precious, you never even recite it in prayer, let alone in conversation. But sometimes, you do want to talk about God in the course of conversation, so religiously observant folks mention God by referring to HaShem. People often use this phrase when they speak about the future and want God’s help.
(yih-shahr koh-ach; Literally: Straight power.)
You can use this expression when you want to say, good for you, way to go, or more power to you when someone has accomplished something. People often use this phrase in the synagogue after someone has received an honor such as leading a portion of the prayer service or reading Torah. The proper response to this phrase is Baruch Teheyeh (bah-rooch teeh-hee-yeh) to a guy and Brucha Teeheyi (bh-roo-chah tee-hee-yee) to a girl or a woman. Both phrases mean you shall be blessed.
Dash is an acronym for Drishat Shalom (duh-ree-shaht shah-lohm), which literally means wishings or demands of peace. Dash is used to mean regards. You ask someone to send Dash just like you’d ask to someone to send your regards. For the full Hebrew phrase, use either of the following:
- Timsor Lo Dash Mimeni (teem-sohr loh dahsh mee-mehn-nee; Send him my regards.)
- Timseri La Dash Mimeni (teem-sah-ree lah dahsh mee-mehn–nee; Send her my regards.)
You can also send warm regards with Dash Cham (dahsh chahm).
This phrase has no literal translation into English. After a friend has gone out on a hot date the night before, when your mother has an important interview, or when your child has a big test at school, you’ll probably want to inquire about how everything went. So you say Nu? expectantly and wait for a reply.
(kohl hah-kah-vohd; Literally: All of the respect.)
You can use this little phrase when you want to say all right, way to go, or a job well done. You’re picking up all kinds of new information with this focus on phrases, Kol HaKavod!
(lecha’im; Literally: To life.)
L’Chaim reveals a lot about the Jewish approach to life. The phrase is not to a good life, to a healthy life, or even to a long life. It is simply to life, recognizing that life is indeed good and precious and should always be celebrated and savored. L’Chaim!