Friday, March 1, 2013

The Etiquette of Wishing Someone a Good Shabbos

In a small community, the etiquette of saying "Gut Shabbos" or "Shabbat Shalom" is so obvious: you say it to any Jew you meet on the street. In New York...this is not so clear cut. 

Based on rants to various people and their responses, everyone seems to agree that, in principle, it is still good manners to greet every Jew with Shabbat (or yom tov) good wishes. However, in practice, this can be difficult when you're seeing 60 people on the way to shul and you don't know 4/5 of them. In a small community, you'll likely know (or at least recognize) almost everyone you might give good wishes to. In large communities, the greetings get more awkward both because of the number required and the increased stranger factor. 

And who goes first? It's a vicious form of chicken. "Is she looking at me? Should I say it? Will she say it first? Oh crap, I think I just heard her mumble it! CHAG SAMEACH!" after she has already passed you by.

Adding an even further wrinkle into this conundrum of awkward is when the two people approaching each other are of different genders. In some communities (or as individuals), men may not give a greeting to a woman or respond to a greeting from a woman. In my own community, I have had awkward situations where I've greeted men with Shabbat shalom and they've looked at me like I've slapped them. You can't always tell by clothing which people will take it poorly. In my experience, the yeshivish and chassidic people in my community are generally very happy to return my greeting warmly. But you always run into people who feel my behavior is untznius. This makes me even more nervous to speak to a stranger when I can't predict who will have a bad reaction.

So what do you do? When I lived in small communities (or was traveling abroad), I was excited to wish everyone a Gut Shabbos, but now that I'm in the NYC area, I find that I mostly give strangers awkward smiles and then quiet good wishes if they look friendly. And many times, I just look away and keep walking, just like everyone else. I think that's not right, but some days you just don't have the strength to put yourself out there.

Any particularly awkward stories you'd like to share? Or ways to deal with this without constantly doing the awkward turtle?


  1. Baltimore is huge, so the chance of knowing people on the street is significantly diminished. I still try to say Good Shabbos to most everyone I can. Definitely all the girls and ladies, and, depending on my mood, the men, too. I spare boys and yeshivah bochurim, usually, though. People are, in general, pretty friendly, though sometimes I don't get a response.

    One Shabbos, we were walking to a meal, and there was a distinguished-looking rabbi type walking toward men. The type that I was 99.99% certain would NOT say Good Shabbos to a woman, but, lo and behold, he looked me in the eye (in the eye!!) and said Good Shabbos. After he passed, my husband remarked that he was a prominent rabbi in the community. I was super impressed. Just thought I'd share that nice, happy moment. Have a great Shabbos!

  2. I guess this is one of the trade-offs of living far from a large Jewish community. Yes, we have no kosher restaurants, but I pretty much know everybody and can freely say "Good Shabbos!" :)

  3. Wow, that's incredible. This is TOTALLY different from any average shlub passing by and saying "Hello" or "Good Morning". No, this was a "prominent rabbi" - SUPER impressive that he looked at you and said Good Shabbos! Amazing!

  4. Even more awkward is when you're not sure if the person is even Jewish! I once was rushing by a gentleman at the front of shul who was wearing black pants, white shirt quickly said "good shabbos" only to realize later that he was wearing a black hat that was labeled ' security'. I felt so silly,

  5. I'm a ffb New Yorker and was raised by my parents (also ffb and also both native New Yorkers) to greet my fellow Jews with a "Good Shabbos" whether I know them or not. I live in Queens and say it to everyone of my gender (female) I pass. Sometimes they beat me to it, but even if they don't, they almost always return the greeting. With men, I make a judgement call the way you do. I decide based on clothing and how open their facial expression seems to be.

    I used to live in Brooklyn, in Midwood/Flatbush, and it was pretty much the same. I nearly always got a "Good Shabbos" in return, though I think on average I had to be the initiator more over there than I have to in Queens. In Boro Park, however, I found the opposite. The limited number of times I found myself there on Shabbos, those strangers who DID return my greeting were the exception. It made me sad.

  6. Don't spend any more time worrying about the reaction you will get from wishing a fellow Jew a Good Shabbos. It's a natural, wonderful, Jewish thing to do. Either you will receive an equally uplifting response, or not - in which case...don't worry about it.

    There are plenty of non-negative reasons why the person didn't reply - they didn't hear you, they were preoccupied with something, they were in the middle of a bracha (somebody late for shul trying to "catch up"), opposite sex with different ideas of tznius, etc.

    Just be happy it's Shabbos, be happy that you're a Jew, and be happy that the Ribono Shel Olam loves you!