Word of the Day / Shavua Tov: Getting Your Week Off to a Good Start

Israelis use this greeting starting Saturday night, when the Sabbath ends and the sacred transitions to profane.

So there’s this guy who took his sex life to Yahoo! Answers with the intent of finding out whether, when a girl says “Have a good week” after a hookup, she means that the guy should leave her alone for the rest of the week. For what it’s worth, most of the respondents agreed that by wishing him a good week, she was putting some distance between them and implying that she wouldn’t be seeing him for at least a few days, if at all.

I can pretty much guarantee that this is not a question you’ll see on Israeli forums, given that “Have a good week” – shavua tov, literally just “Good week” – is a standard greeting at the beginning of the week, starting from Saturday night.

As with yom tov, the synonym for “holiday” that turned into “have a nice day,” shavua tov also has religious roots but has spread to the population at large.

Just as Israelis often use the Sabbath greeting “Shabbat shalom” on Friday and Saturday, regardless of whether or how they observe Shabbat, so too the post-Sabbath greeting has taken hold in the general population.

Traditionally, Jews make havdalah (literally “separation”) after dark on Saturday. It is a rite that marks the end of the Sabbath and the beginning of the week, and includes a blessing on aromatic spices, whose scent is meant to make the week easier by infusing it with something of the Sabbath spirit.

This transition from the sacred to the profane is considered both something of a weekly spiritual letdown and a clear line dividing one week from the next. In the spirit of both those elements of Sabbath’s end, it is traditional to wish one another a shavua tov right after havdalah.

Though the greeting is usually reserved for Saturday night or Sunday morning, in Israel I’ve had people, whether religious or not, wish me shavua tov as late in the week as Tuesday, which, as it happens, is also the latest day one is permitted to make havdalah according to Jewish law.

Perhaps one of the reasons the greeting has caught on in Israel like a havdalah candle on fire is that Saturday night really does feel like it’s on the brink of a new week, since in this country Sunday morning means it’s time to wake up and head back to work or school, not time to sleep in and eat French toast while reading the comics.

Whether you start your workweek on Sunday or you find yourself singing that Mamas & Papas song when the alarm goes off every Monday (you know the one: “But whenever Monday comes / You can find me cryin’ all of the time”), I hope you have a shavua tov.

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.