Did Millions of Germans Just Wish Each Other ‘Shana Tova’?

(JTA) — While the rest of the world is busy exchanging Happy New Year wishes, Germans are greeting each other with a peculiar expression: “guten Rutsch,” which means “good slip.”

Some believe the greeting is a lighthearted reference to the country’s ice-glazed streets, possibly born of superstition similarly to how performers wish each other “Break a leg!” before taking the stage.

But some etymologists and history enthusiasts trace the greeting back to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, arguing that guten Rutsch is one of hundreds of influences on Germanic languages by Yiddish.

The case for viewing “Rutsch” as a distortion of “Rosh” relies partially on the fact that guten Rutsch dates from about 1900. This fits the Yiddish-origins theory because the late 19th century was a period of relative openness and cross fertilization between Jewish and German cultures .

Even if guten Rutsch didn’t originate from Yiddish, there is little doubt that Germanic languages have seen significant influences from the Jewish lingua franca of Europe prior to the Holocaust.

“I wish you therefore simply a Happy New Year,” wrote German linguist Christoph Gutknecht, who is skeptical of the theory.

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Did Millions of Germans Just Wish Each Other ‘Shana Tova’?

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