Shalom Aleichem: Greeting Friends and Angels

Shalom Aleichem is a traditional Jewish phrase to greet friends and family throughout the week. However, many also use it to greet angels on Shabbat.

Shalom Aleichem is a customary Jewish greeting that means “peace be upon you.” No word in Hebrew translates literally to “hello.” Jews often acknowledge each other by passing along wishes for peace. Interestingly, Shalom Aleichem is also a poem, commonly sung at the Shabbat meal to welcome the sabbath. Keep reading to explore more about why this expression is so popular and how it fits into the Shabbat festivities.

Within this article, you can find topics about:

  • * Greeting one another with “Shalom Aleichem”
  • * The history of “Shalom Aleichem” as a greeting
  • * A brief description of Shabbat
  • * The importance of Shalom Aleichem in Shabbat
  • * English translation of the Shalom Aleichem
  • * The history of Shabbat Aleichem
  • * Other common Jewish greetings

Greeting One Another with “Shalom Aleichem”

“Shalom Aleichem” is one of the most common greetings that Jews say to one another. When passing by, they say the phrase to express friendliness and to wish good things upon their acquaintance. Some Jewish greetings can only be used on certain days of the week. However, “Shalom Aleichem” is a phrase used for any time.

To respond, swap the two words. The proper reply is to say, “Aleichem Shalom.” This phrase means “peace upon you.”

The History of “Shalom Aleichem” as a Greeting

The Talmud states that it is a requirement for Jews to greet each other with messages of peace. The Talmud is one of the principal sources for the religious laws of Judaism. It also states that if someone offers a greeting of peace, then you must present peace as well.

The Talmud explicitly indicates that people who do not respond are robbers; essentially, they rob their acquaintance of peace. To prevent any confusion over whether someone responds or not, there is an emphasis on the reply. The two words swap to form “Aleichem Shalom” to emphasize that someone replied appropriately.

Since the Talmud is an ancient text, Jews have practiced this tradition for thousands of years. The lengthy existence of the “Shalom Aleichem” greeting is a reason why the expression is so popular.

A Brief Description of Shabbat

Shabbat is the sabbath day in Judaism. This takes place every Saturday, technically beginning at dusk on Friday and ending at sunset on Saturday. Jews treat this as a holy day where they celebrate the creation of the world and recognize the vital role that humans play within it.

Shabbat is the day when Jews typically go to the synagogue. Here, they worship, pray, and listen to religious texts. Another weekly tradition of Shabbat is to eat meals with family. There are three customary meals that Jews take part in, each consisting of traditional food and prayers. This is where the Shalom Aleichem plays a role in the Shabbat festivities.

The Importance of Shalom Aleichem in Shabbat

Shalom Aleichem is a poem sung to greet and welcome angels into one’s home for Shabbat. Families recite or sing the verses before the Friday night meal of Shabbat. Since Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday, this is the first meal of the special day.

While the poem welcomes the angels, it also asks for blessings and wishes them a peaceful stay and departure through the course of Shabbat.

Four stanzas make up the entire poem. Some families repeat them three times before eating their meal. Other Jewish communities, such as Sephardic Jews, add another verse.

English Translation of the Shalom Aleichem

Peace unto you, ministering angels,
messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King,
the Holy One, blessed be He.

May your coming be in peace angels of peace,
messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King,
the Holy one, blessed be He.

Bless me with peace, angels of peace,
messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King,
the Holy one, blessed be He.

May your departure be in peace, angels of peace,
messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King,
the Holy one, blessed be He.

The History of Shabbat Aleichem

The origins of the Shabbat Aleichem poem come from the kabbalist community of northern Israel around the 16th or 17th century. Kabbalah is a discipline of Judaism rooted in mystical tradition. The central teachings deal with the relationship between God and the mortal world.

The Shabbat Aleichem comes from the kabbalists who based the poem on a story from the Talmud. Many believe that two angels accompany people home after the Shabbat services. One angel is good, while the other is evil. After arriving at the home, the angels decide if the person made an effort to prepare for Shabbat.

If the home is clean, then the good angel declares that the next Shabbat be full of harmony for the person. The evil angel must abide. However, if the home is messy and there is no apparent effort of preparation, then the evil angel declares that the next Shabbat be just like the home: disorganized and not full of harmony.

Singing the Shalom Aleichem has since become a popular tradition in which Jewish families participate. It reminds them to prepare for Shabbat, so that next week is just as harmonious as the current one.

Rabbi Israel Goldfarb wrote the tune to this well-known poem in 1918. He was born towards the end of the 19th century in Poland. After immigrating to the United States, he wrote the melody to the verses that families sing before eating their Friday night Shabbat meal.

Other Common Jewish Greetings

Saying “Shalom Aleichem” is one of the most popular ways to say “hello” in Hebrew. However, some other expressions can send the same message.

“Shabbat Shalom” is a saying dedicated to the sabbath. Jews say it to one another on Saturdays to wish for a peaceful Shabbat.

After the Shabbat services, Jews often say “Shavua Tov” to wish each other a successful upcoming week.

Finally, “shalom” is also another way to say “hello” in Hebrew. In English, it translates to “peace.”

All in all, Shalom Aleichem is a way to greet others within the Jewish community. People use the expression among friends, family, strangers, and even religious figures.

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