How 'Shalom Aleykhem' Originated and Why It Doesn't Appear in the Bible

Greeting First Showed Up in Early Rabbinic Period

Shalom Aleykhem: The greeting is an ancient one, but in the Bible, the expression is simply shalom.
Forward Association
Shalom Aleykhem: The greeting is an ancient one, but in the Bible, the expression is simply shalom.

By Philologos

Published December 22, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Samuel Sislen of Washington, D.C., writes:

“Jews have traditionally greeted one another ‘Shalom aleykhem’ and responded with the words inverted. Arabic speakers greet each other, ‘Salaam aleykum’ and also respond with the words reversed. And I have been told that some Christian services begin with the leader saying, ‘Peace be unto you,’ and the congregation responding, ‘And unto you.’ Where does this greeting originate and how did it spread?”

The greeting Mr. Sislen asks about is an ancient one. It does not, it is true, appear in the Bible. There, the expression is simply shalom, “peace,” or shalom lekha [“peace to you,” second-person masculine singular], shalom lakh [second-person feminine singular], etc. It seems to have originated in one of two ways.

One would have been as an assurance, when two people met, that the greeter had peaceful intentions; this is how it is used in several biblical passages, as in the story of Joseph, whose servant says to his frightened brothers, “Shalom lakhem,” i.e., “Don’t worry, you’ll be treated well.”

Or perhaps it started as a question, as in the story in Kings in which the prophet Elisha asks the Shunamite woman, “How are you? (“Ha-shalom lakh? “ — literally, “Is all well with you?”), and is answered “All is well” (“Shalom”). Besides meaning “peace,” the biblical shalom has the sense of “well-being,” and to this day the standard way of asking “How are you” in Hebrew is “Ma shlomkha?” – literally, “What is your well-being?”

In its form of shalom aleykhem, the greeting is first found in Hebrew in the early rabbinic period. By then, though, it was an everyday one. We know this from a comment in the Jerusalem Talmud on the Mishnaic tractate of Shevi’it, which deals with agricultural matters. In the Mishnah, the ruling is found that a Jew encountering a non-Jew farming the field next to his should always say hello “for the sake of good relations.”

How, the Talmud asks, should this be done? The answer is: “As one greets a fellow Jew, with a shalom aleykhem.”

Why the expression had aleykhem, with the plural form for “you” rather than alekha, the singular form, is difficult to say.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.