If you tell someone in Israel that you’ve made a new purchase or started a new venture (like a new Israel news website or a new blog on that site), you are likely hear the blessing, “Tit’chadesh!”. What does that word mean?

It is often mentioned that English is a richer language than Hebrew, particularly considering the number of words in each language (approximately 120,000 in Hebrew to around 1 million in English). Whether quantity of words is the best measure is open to debate, but there’s no denying that Hebrew has some phrases that are lacking in English. For example, before eating, a Hebrew speaker can wish his friend “B’Teavon!”. This isn’t a native Hebrew phrase, but rather borrowed from the European languages (e.g. Bon Appetit). However, there’s no parallel term in English (some cynics might say that Americans don’t need to be instructed to have a decent appetite…).

Tit’chadesh is also not found in English, and this is not a borrowed term (perhaps a reader can inform me if there is a similar wish in any other language). Since the Hebrew word for new is chadash, many people assume that the phrase means “renew yourself” (the form of the verb indicates reflexive action). But where did this phrase originate?

Rabbi Moses Isserles

In the Shulchan Aruch, the Ashkenazi commentator Rabbi Moses Isserles writes that there is a custom to greet someone wearing new clothes with the blessing “tibale v’tit’chadesh“. Other parallel sources have the phrase as “tibale v’tichadesh” (renew “it” instead of renewing “yourself”). This fits better grammatically, and is likely the original phrase. It means “May you wear out (this garment) and buy a new (one).” It is therefore a blessing for long life – that you may outlive the garment. (Rabbi Isserles rules that this blessing should not be said on shoes or other leather goods, as we should not wish for the death of another animal.)

Therefore it’s perhaps less appropriate for new things that you hope will last a very long time – like a pet, a house or a new website. I certainly hope to be writing here for a long time to come!

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