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    In memory of Michael
    Laves z”l, a good friend
    who always greeted
    people enthusiastically

    I. Have a Good Year
    Many people greet each
    other on Rosh Hashanah
    with blessings for a good
    year, “Shanah tovah.” Rav

    Ya’akov Ben Asher, the 14th century German-
    Spanish author of the Tur, quotes an Ashkenazic

    custom to greet people on Rosh Hashanah with
    the phrase “Tikaseiv be-shanah tovah, may you
    be written in a good year” (Tur, Orach Chaim
    582). Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema, 16th cen.,
    Poland; ad loc., 8) quotes this with a minor
    variation, “Le-shanah tovah tikaseiv, may you
    be written for a good year.” However, the exact
    phrasing of this greeting generated debate. While

    this may seem pedantic, and really any well-
    intended greeting is fine, the underlying debate is

    about the theological meaning of Rosh Hashanah.
    What exactly happens on this important day and
    how does it affect our future’s ? Two forms of
    greeting offer different visions of Rosh Hashanah
    but there is a third, little-mentioned greeting that
    serves as a compromise between the opinions.
    Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., Poland;
    Magen Avraham, ad loc., 8) quotes a slightly
    different greeting than that of the Tur and Rema.
    He says the greeting is “Le-shanah tovah tikaseiv
    ve-seichasem, may you be written and sealed
    for a good year.” As he points out, the greeting

    included in the 1547 Machzor Ma’agalei
    Tzedek is similar — “Tikaseiv ve-seichasem
    le-shanah tovah.” However, the Vilna Gaon
    (Commentary, ad loc.) disputes the addition of
    the word “techaseim, sealed” because it does not
    reflect what actually happens on Rosh Hashanah.
    There are two important Talmudic passages that
    underlie this discussion.
    II. Signed, Sealed, Not Delivered
    The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16a) quotes a
    baraisa: “At four times of the year the world
    is judged… Man is judged on Rosh HaShana
    and his sentence is sealed on Yom Kippur.”
    What does it mean for a judgment to be sealed?
    Procedurally, it seems that changing the
    judgment is easier before it is sealed. Before it is
    sealed, you only have to tip the scales by doing
    more good (particularly teshuvah). After it is
    sealed, only an extraordinary effort can change
    the judgment.
    While the above passage places the sealing of
    the judgment on Yom Kippur, the Gemara says
    on the next page (16b): “R. Kruspedai said, Rabbi
    Yochanan said: Three books are opened on Rosh
    HaShana: One of the completely wicked, one
    of the completely righteous and one of those in
    between (beinonim). The completely righteous
    are immediately written and sealed for life; the
    completely wicked are immediately written
    and sealed for death; and those in between are
    suspended and waiting from Rosh HaShana until
    Yom Kippur. If they merit, they are written for
    life; if they do not merit, they are written for

    death.” According to this passage, judgments
    for the righteous and the wicked are written and
    sealed on Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur is only
    necessary for those in between. Yet, it seems
    from the prior passage that Yom Kippur is for
    There are two main approaches to reconciling
    these passages. Ramban (13th cen., Spain; Sha’ar
    Ha-Gemul), quoted by R. Nissim of Gerona (14th
    cen., Spain; Commentary to Rif, Rosh Hashanah
    3b s.v. tzadikim), explains that the first passage
    is speaking about those in between. Those who
    are judged as completely righteous or completely
    wicked for the year are written and sealed on
    Rosh Hashanah. In this case, the judgment is
    for the upcoming year and the terms “righteous”
    and “wicked” are used as technical terms and
    not descriptive of the individual’s overall merits.
    Righteous here means someone who is judged
    for life, who has prevailed in the judgment.
    Even if he has done many bad things, if he is
    judged to live and succeed in the upcoming year
    then he falls into the category of “righteous.”
    Similarly, “wicked” is used here to refer to the
    outcome of the judgment, even if the individual
    is a very good person. Everyone has done good
    and bad things in their life. Sometimes we are
    rewarded for the good and sometimes punished
    for the bad. Righteous and wicked here refer to
    what the upcoming year will bring. In contrast
    to those who are not judged righteous or wicked,
    those whose judgments depend on additional
    repentance and good deeds, are judged on Rosh
    Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur. Yom
    Kippur is only for those in the “in between”
    III. This World and the Next
    In contrast, Tosafos (Rosh Hashanah 16b s.v.
    ve-nechtamin) explain the second passage
    as referring to the World-to-Come. On Rosh
    Hashanah, we are judged whether we will
    go straight to Heaven (Gan Eden) or Hell
    (Gehinom). The completely righteous are
    immediately written and inscribed for Gan
    Eden (i.e. life) and the completely wicked
    are immediately written and inscribed for
    Gehinom (i.e. death). Meaning, based on their
    actions over the past year, should they receive
    Gan Eden or Gehinom? Even though this can
    change in future years through repentance
    and good deeds, this is their judgment for
    the World-to-Come as it stands at that point.
    Those in between righteous and wicked have
    their judgments written on Rosh Hashanah
    and sealed on Yom Kippur. According to
    Tosafos, every Rosh Hashanah (and for some,
    Yom Kippur also) is a spiritual checkup for
    the World-to-Come, an annual performance
    review that will yield results after your time
    in this world is over.
    The Vilna Ga’on (ibid.) explains that
    according to Tosafos, the first passage —
    everyone’s judgment is written on Rosh
    Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur —
    discusses our experiences in this world. The
    second passage — only the judgment of those
    in between are sealed on Yom Kippur —
    discusses judgment for the World-to-Come.
    According to Tosafos, when we say in the
    U-Nesaneh Tokef prayer that we are written
    on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur,

    we are talking about everyone’s judgment for
    the next year. According to Ramban, this must
    be discussing only those in between, not the
    righteous or wicked.
    Bringing it all together, Magen Avraham follows
    Ramban who believes that the righteous and the
    wicked are judged, written and sealed on Rosh
    Hashanah. Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah we
    greet people with a blessing that they be judged
    as righteous by saying in our greeting that they
    should be written and sealed for a good year.
    In contrast, Tur and Rema follow Tosafos that
    when it comes to this world, no one’s judgment
    is sealed on Rosh Hashanah. Everyone is judged
    and written on Rosh Hashanah but their judgment
    is sealed only on Yom Kippur. Therefore, you
    should only wish people to be written — not
    sealed — for a good year on Rosh Hashanah.
    IV. Creative Greetings
    Rav Avraham Danzig (19th cen., Lithuania;
    Chayei Adam 139:5) says that the proper

    greeting is “Tikaseiv ve-seichasem le-alter le-
    chaim tovim, you should be written and inscribed

    immediately for good life.” He includes both
    writing and sealing but excludes the upcoming
    year. The phrase “le-shanah tovah, for a good
    year” in the standard blessing refers to the
    upcoming year, a judgment on this world. By
    omitting that phrase, Rav Danzig makes the
    greeting ambiguous so it can apply either to
    this world or to the next world. You are wishing
    someone a good judgment — written and sealed.
    If the judgment is about the World-to-Come,
    according to Tosafos that is appropriate for
    Rosh Hashanah when the righteous are written
    and sealed. If the judgment is about this world,
    according to Ramban it is appropriate for Rosh
    Rav Danzig’s ambiguous phrasing satisfies
    all opinions. It is common in yeshiva circles to
    wish people a “kesivah va-chasimah tovah, a
    good writing and sealing.” I believe that this is
    a variant of Rav Danzig’s compromise greeting
    that conforms to all views. With that, I wish all
    readers a kesivah va-chasimah tovah for this
    world and the next.