The Meaning of Shana Tova: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of shana tova? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word shana tova, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does shana tova mean?

According to Express, Chabad, and AS, shana tova is an expression that is used on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It can also be spelled “shanah tovah” or שנה טובה in Hebrew, and directly translates to good year. Sometimes, the Hebrew word for sweet, u’metuka ומתוקה, is added to the end as “Shanah Tovah um’tukah.” Before Rosh Hashanah, people will wish each other “Ketivah v’chatima tovah” which means “A good inscription and sealing in the Book of Life.” After synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah eve, people greet each other with “Leshana tovah tikatev v’tichatem” or “Leshana tovah tikatevee v’tichatemee” which mean “may you be written and sealed for a good year.” The first one is used for men, and the second one is used for women. In Yiddish, one might wish someone else “A gut gebentsht yohr,” or “a good and blessed year.”

Rosh Hashanah is usually celebrated in September or October and is a two-day event that marks the first day of the Jewish new year, beginning on the first day of Tishrei. It starts on a Friday sundown and goes until the evening of Sunday. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and marks the beginning of the Days of Awe. This is heralded by the blowing of the shofar, an ancient ram’s horn. People also perform Tashlich, a symbolic prayer said by a body of water. Rosh Hashanah is a time for friends, family, and tzedakah, the act of giving to those who are less fortunate. Rosh Hashanah culminates in Yom Kippur after a 10-day period of reflection, repentance, introspection, and resolution. Yom Kippur is also known as the Day of Atonement.

What might you expect at a Rosh Hashanah feast?

Sweet foods are normally eaten during the Rosh Hashanah celebration. According to Taste of Home, these sweet foods are richly symbolic and meaningful, and are served to usher in a sweet year of abundance and blessings. One might eat apples and honey, which is symbolic due to the apples being offered to protection by trees, yet thriving regardless. The honey symbolizes the start of the new year. Today, many bake honey apple cakes.

You might also eat new fruit and seasonal produce like a pomegranate. This is eaten for its biblical significance, since the Land of Israel was known for its pomegranates. You may also eat Challah bread, which is a braided loaf of egg bread served on Shabbat. During Rosh Hashanah, the bread is woven into spirals to symbolize community. One may also eat honey cake that contains spices such as cloves, cinnamon and allspice, with some variations calling for coffee, tea or rum mixed in for greater flavor.

Fish is also served on Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah literally translates to head of the year, so people might serve the head of a fish or a whole roast fish to symbolize fertility, abundance, and a new year of awareness and hard work. Couscous with seven vegetables are served for an abundance of blessings, and the number seven is fortuitous since the world was created in seven days.  Leeks, chard and spinach are eaten as well as sweet dates and raisins. These traditional meals full of sweet delicacies are usually eaten after temple service during the high holiday season to wish a sweet new year. People may also light candles during these festive meals. 

What are other Jewish greetings?

There are many different Jewish greetings that you might hear. Since these are often in Hebrew or Yiddish, you will want to make sure you know the correct greeting to use during different holidays so you do not cause offense. You might say a different thing on a different holiday in the Hebrew calendar like Passover or another holiest day. The below list of Jewish greetings is below, from 18 Doors and My Jewish Learning.

  •  B’chatzlacha! B’sha’ah tovah – Good luck
  •  Mazel tov – Congratulations
  •  Tithadesh or tithadshi – May it renew you
  •  Yasher Koach – May your strength increase
  •  Ha-Makom yinachem etchem – May the Merciful One comfort you among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem
  •  May their memory be a blessing
  •  Boker tov – Good morning
  •  Erev tov – Good evening
  •  Lilah tov – Good night
  •  Chag Sameach – Happy Holiday, said on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Purim and Shavuot. It can be said for any holiday, however.
  •  Shabbat Shalom – good Sabbath, sometimes the Yiddish use Gut Shabbes.
  •  Shavua Tov – A good week, saif on Saturday night to wish someone a good next week
  •  Gamar hatimah tova (gmar tov) – Greeting used on Yom Kippur, meaning “a good completion to your inscription (in the book of life).”
  •  Teshuvah – Return
  •  Yom Tov – Used on the Yom Tov holidays

Overall, the phrase shana tova means happy new year and is used in the celebration of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is an important Jewish holiday and marks the beginning of the 10-day period before Yom Kippur, which is a time of repenting for one’s sins. During Rosh Hashanah, people eat sweet and symbolic food to bring a prosperous and happy new year. Try using this phrase during Rosh Hashanah!


  1. Shana tova translation: What does shana tova mean in English? Rosh Hashanah greetings | Express 
  2. Rosh Hashanah Jewish holiday 2020: what does ‘Shana Tova’ mean? | AS 
  3. What Is Shanah Tovah? Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Greetings – The meaning of the traditional New Year wishes | Chabad 
  4. Your Guide to Symbolic Rosh Hashanah Food | Taste of Home
  5. How To Use Jewish Greetings: An Easy Cheat Sheet | 18 Doors 
  6. Must-Know Rosh Hashanah Words and Phrases | My Jewish Learning