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Greeting, Forms of

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Greenhut, Joseph B.
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Fixed modes of address on meeting acquaintances. With the ancient Hebrews the form of greeting depended upon the relationship of the persons. It expressed interest and sympathy, love and affection, or reverence and honor. It included any or all of the following: inquiry regarding health; embracing and kissing; blessing; bowing; kneeling; prostration.

—Biblical Data:

Joseph asked his brothers about their welfare (Genesis 43:27) when they supposed him to be a stranger. David sent a message of greeting to Nabal: "Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast" (1 Samuel 25:6). Elisha sent Gehazi when meeting the Shunammite to inquire: "Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child?" When hastening Gehazi to revive the child, Elisha told him: "Go thy way: ifthou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not" (2 Kings 4:26,29). No time could be lost in so urgent a matter.

A more intimate form of welcome was to embrace and kiss, as Laban did Jacob (Genesis 29:13). David and Jonathan exchanged kisses (1 Samuel 20:41). A more passionate form was to fall on the neck and cry for joy (Genesis 33:4). Kissing a female in public was apparently against the prevailing custom (Song of Solomon 8:1; but comp. Genesis 29:11). The kissing of the hand is mentioned in Job 31:27 (see See Kissing).

A specially reverential form of greeting was to bow toward the ground (Genesis 18:2). Jacob rendered homage to his brother by bowing seven times as he approached (Genesis 33:3). On meeting a prince or a king the custom was to bless him, as Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh (Genesis 14:19, 47:7). The angel greeted Gideon with the words: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor" (Judges 6:12). Boaz greeted his field-workers with: "The Lord be with you," and they answered him, "The Lord bless thee " (Ruth 2:4; see Ber. 9:1).

Moses' Greeting.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

In the ethics of the Fathers it is said: "Be beforehand in the salutation of peace to all men" (Abot 4:20). Greeting to Gentiles is the road leading to peace (Giṭ. 5:9). Johanan b. Zakkai anticipated in salutation those whom he met, even Gentiles on the street (Ber. 17a). R. Judah greeted the Gentiles at work by saying "Aḥaziḳu" (strength to you). R. Sheshet greeted them with "Asharta" (success). R. Kahanah said "Peace, sir" (Giṭ. 62a). The dignity of a teacher must not be lowered by greeting him or by answering his greeting in the ordinary manner. A teacher should be greeted with, "Peace to thee, my master!" His greeting should be answered by, "Peace be with thee, my master and teacher" (Ber. 27b and Rashi ad loc.; ib. 3a; comp. Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 242, 16). R. Joshua b. Levi gives an object-lesson by relating this legend: "When Moses ascended to heaven he found the Almighty engaged in crowning the letters of the Law. Moses was silent, and God said to him: 'Bringest thou no peace from thy town?' Moses replied, 'May a servant greet his lord?' to which God rejoined, 'Even so, it was proper to wish Me success.' Then Moses said: 'And now, I beseech Thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as Thou hast spoken'" (Shab. 89a; see Numbers 14:17).

The Babylonian rabbis held, contrary to the opinion of the Palestinians, that it is improper for one person to greet another more prominent than himself before being recognized by him (Yer. Sheḳ. 2:7).

Other rules are: "One must not send a message of greeting to a woman, unless through her husband" (B. M. 87a). One must not greet a person at night if the speaker can not be recognized (Meg. 3a). One must not greet a person in a bath-house or in a lavatory (Shab. 10b). One engaged in his work need not greet nor answer greetings. Abba Hilkiah, the grandson of Ḥoni ha-Me'aggel, being a very pious man, the rabbis sent two of their representatives to request him to pray for rain. They found him plowing in the field and greeted him, but he did not turn his face toward them. Afterward he apologized by explaining that being a laborer for hire he did not wish to waste his master's time (Ta'an. 23a, b).


Greeting by kissing on the mouth or cheek was not approved by the rabbis. They usually kissed on the forehead. R. Akiba said he favored the custom of the Medians, who kissed only the back of the hand (Ber. 8b). 'Ula, on his return home from the rabbinical academy, kissed his sisters on the chest or bosom; according to another statement, on the hand (Shab. 13a). The wife of R. Akiba, meeting him after a prolonged absence, kissed him on the knee, as did his father-in-law Kalba Shabua' (Ket. 63a).

Prostration was deemed the most reverential form of greeting. It is related of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel that he prostrated himself in the following manner: He stuck his big toes in the ground and, bowing straight downward, kissed the earth. There was no one who could imitate this "ḳidah"; R. Levi, an athlete, who attempted to do so before Rabbi ha-Nasi, became a cripple (Suk. 53a). On taking leave of a dignitary it was the custom to take three steps backward, and to bow with each step, to right, left, and center respectively. This form is observed at the end of the "Shemoneh 'Esreh" prayer, as though the worshiper were taking leave of the Almighty King (Yoma 53b).


At the consecration of the New Moon, after reciting the outdoor benediction, the members of the congregation greet each other with "Shalom 'alekem," and answer "'Alekem shalom," which is the form of greeting used on returning from a journey, or when meeting a stranger. When meeting on New-Year's eve the usual greeting is: "A good year," or, "May thou be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a good year." Late in the nineteenth century it became the custom to send to acquaintances New-Year's greeting-cards of various designs, colors, and inscriptions.

The ordinary daily greetings are: "Good morning"; "Good day" (not "Good evening," as night is ominous); "Good Shabbat"; on the eve following Sabbath, "Good week"; "Good ḥodesh" (new moon); "Good yom-ṭob" (holiday). In Jerusalem and the Orient the Sephardic custom is for men to greet each other before prayers with, "Good morning, sir," and, after prayers, with "Peace" ("Shalom"), answered by "Peace, blessing, and good" ("Shalom berakah we-ṭobah"). At night the form at parting is, "Sleep well, sir"; it is answered by, "Awake, sir, with His help and grace"; on Sabbath, "A peaceful and blessed Shabbat"; on Sabbath night, "A good and blessed week," answered by, "On you and ourselves"; on holidays, "Time of gladness," answered by, "Festivals and seasons of joy"; on intermediate holidays ("ḥol ha-mo'ed"), "Many good and sweet years," answered by, "Long life and happiness." The greetings to bride and groom and at births and on other joyful occasions is, "Mazzal ṭob" (good star, or luck), answered by, "May God let thee live to enjoy the same at thy off-spring's wedding." One who has finished reading the portion of the Torah assigned to him in the synagogue,or who has delivered a lecture, is greeted with, "Strength and blessings," answered by, "Be strong and mighty" (Lunez, "Jerusalem," 1:10).

On entering a house one is greeted with, "Blessed be he that cometh." If he find the host at table he says: "Blessed be he who sits [at the table]." It will be noticed that the answer invariably differs from the greeting. This is to distinguish the saluter from the one saluted, so that one may run no risk of being considered ill-bred through leaving a greeting unanswered. ETIQUETTE; PRECEDENCE.

  • Wunderbar, in Orient, Lit. 1846, pp. 215-247.
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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Greeting, Forms of'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​g/greeting-forms-of.html. 1901.
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