Even today, Jewish toasts and blessings are still made using the ancient words of Hebrew or Yiddish, a Hebrew dialect with roots in a number of other early languages. Many young Jews are sent to special schools before their teen years to learn and understand the Hebrew they speak in prayer. Regardless of the occasion, all Jewish toasts and blessings are united not only by language, but by a sense of gratitude toward God and one's community.
Toasting to Life
One of the easiest ways to toast friends and family is to say "L'Chayim" (pronounced "li-KHAY-eem"). Translated literally from the Hebrew or Yiddish, the toast means "To life." This is the go-to toast when drinking wine or other spirits in good company and is akin to saying "cheers" in English. (See: Reference 2, page 53, published 2005)
Toasting to Acknowledge Good Deeds
In formal settings, members of a congregation often toast or congratulate someone after he has performed some ritual or service, saying: "yascher koach" (pronounced "YAH-shehyr KOH-ahkh"). The literal translation of this Hebrew phrase is "straight strength." However, the toast tends to be viewed figuratively as a wish that increased vitality and strength might be bestowed upon the person of honor. It is also common to say "yascher koach" after someone has performed an altruistic deed, also known in Hebrew as a "mitzvah." In these cases, it is hoped that the do-gooder will have the strength to continue her kind works. (See: Reference 2, page 31 and 114, published 2005)
Toasting for Luck
"Mazel tov" (pronounced "MAH-zl TAWV") is literally translated from Hebrew and Yiddish as "good luck." This particular toast is a popular form of offering congratulations among Jewish people. Oddly enough, even though "mazel tov" technically means "good luck," it is used in Jewish gatherings not as a means to hope or wish for luck on behalf of another person, but instead to celebrate the luck that an individual already seems to have. For example, you may offer the toast in honor of an engagement, the birth of a child or a promotion at work. (See: Reference 2, pages 31 and 121, published 2005)
Blessing the Shabbat Candles
The Jewish sabbath, called "Shabbat," begins at nightfall each Friday and lasts until dusk on the following Saturday. The lighting of two Shabbat candles is commonly the first act performed in celebration of the holy day. When the candles are lit, the person performing the blessing will say: "Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel shabbat." This translates from the Hebrew as, "Blessed are you, lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to light Shabbat candles."
Whenever bread is present at any meal, observant Jews will bless the food by saying, "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam hamotzi lehem min ha'aretz." Translated from Hebrew, this means, "Blessed are you, lord our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." A similar blessing is said when wine is served.
Blessing All the Rest
Technically, there are individual Jewish blessings for almost any food and any ritual act you can think of. However, if a person does not know the specific blessing attached to the act or food she means to bless, that person may say, "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam shehakol niyah bidvaro." In Hebrew, this simply means, "Blessed are you, lord our God, ruler of the universe, at whose word all came to be."
- Project Genesis
- Jewish Traditions – A JPS Guide: Ronald L. Eisenberg
- Everyman's Talmud: Abner Cohen
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