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Jewish Holiday Greetings Don't Make Much Sense

On the overuse of ḥag same’aḥ and the redundancy of gut yuntif.
October 7, 2020 | Philologos
About the author: Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.

Two boys share a laugh at the end of a Purim parade at the Alpert Jewish Community Center in Long Beach, Calif., on March 9, 2012. Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images.

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My father, a Judaic scholar and a stickler for correct Hebrew, always scolded anyone who greeted him with ḥag same’aḥ, “happy holiday”—or as American Jews more commonly spell it, chag sameach—during ḥol ha-mo’ed, the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot. The right expression, he told the greeter, was mo’adim l’simḥah, “[May] Sacred times [be] for happiness.” Only the first and last days of the holiday, he insisted, were true ḥagim, days whose customs of lighting candles, reciting the Kiddush, and abstaining from travel, work, and commerce resembled the Sabbath’s, and ḥag same’ah should be reserved for them alone.

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