What Does 'Shana Tova' Mean?

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 
shana tova
Shana Tova u'metuka means to wish someone a "good and sweet new year" and may also be accompanied by one or more of nature's sweet foods, including honey, apples, pomegranates or dates. tomertu/Shutterstock

Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday that marks the Jewish new year, occurs each autumn — and it's the time to give your Jewish friends, colleagues, co-workers and neighbors a holiday greeting: Shana Tova!(pronounced ShaNAH ToVAH).

In 2022, Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Sept. 25 and concludes at nightfall Sept. 27. The holiday falls on the first and second days of Tishrei for the Hebrew year 5783, which aligns annually to dates ranging from mid-September to early October on the Gregorian calendar.

Advertisement

Although Rosh Hashanah is known as a "new year" for people of the Jewish faith, it isn't celebrated with fireworks or party-going. Rosh Hashanah, translated into English, means "the head of the year" and signals a time of "intense moral and spiritual introspection" that will continue for 10 days until it culminates on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah is often set aside as a time to spend with family and friends, and to give to the less fortunate — an act known as tzedakah.

Specifically during Rosh Hashana — one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar — it's appropriate to wish people of the Jewish faith a particular greeting: Shana Tova! This popular phrase means "happy new year" and directly translates to "good new year" in Hebrew.

Sometimes, variations of Shana Tova are also used as greetings during Rosh Hashanah. For example, on occasion, the Hebrew word for "sweet" may be added to the end of the greeting: Shana Tova u'metuka (pronounced ShaNAH ToVAH oohMehTooKAH).

Wishing someone a "good and sweet new year" may also be accompanied by one of nature's sweet foods, including honey, apples, pomegranates or dates.

The apple, particularly apple slices dipped in honey, is one of the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah. In addition to being literally sweet, apples and honey have historically significant origins for people of the Jewish faith. One of several origins is the story of Jacob, who, when he entered his father's tent for blessings, was told by his father Isaac that "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed."

The mention of the sweet-smelling scent is believed to have referenced the fragrance of the biblical Garden of Eden, and on Rosh Hashanah people of the Jewish faith pray to receive blessings just as Jacob did; eating apples invokes the blessing.

Take caution, though. Shana Tova is a nuanced greeting. "If you wish your neighbor, the auto repair mechanic, a good year, this means a year that is not as good for those who own and drive cars. The mechanic surely has good intentions, but his livelihood depends on other people having problems with their cars," wrote Shmuel Rosner in a commentary for the Jewish Journal. "A good year is a year in which a reasonable balance is achieved between what is good for me and what is good for you, between what is good for the individual and what is good for society, between what is good for a nation and what is good for the world. Shana Tova — a good year — is a year that must be less than perfect. Because nothing can be perfect, neither for all of humanity, nor for all the members of a certain group — say, the Jews who will celebrate Rosh Hashana."

Advertisement

Featured

Advertisement

Loading...