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  • Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz

Haazinu, Erev Yom Kippur, 5781/2020~"Sign Language"​

Tish Talk” by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz

Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table 

Yesterday, a respected Talmid Chacham (Torah Scholar) challenged me with a “ Research Project”. Here is what he asked me:

Where does the greeting, wish, or holiday-period salutation of “Gmar Chatima Tova” (גמר חתימה טובה ) come from?

The popular “blessing” shared between the Jewish faithful in the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is a wish and prayer that the recipient be “signed and sealed” in the book of life for a great and wonderful new year. That’s what it essentially means, or is intended to mean. But an analysis of the actual Hebrew verbiage that makes up this aspirational wish is troubling from a linguistic point of view. Here’s why:

“Gemar” means the end of something the “finale”.

“Chatima” means signature, or “seal” (that’s how ancient documents were signed-by the stamping of a seal).

“Tovah” means “good”.

Given the above, “Gemar Chatima Tova” should be translated as : “Have a great final seal”.

The problem is, when documents or “judgments” are signed, there are no “preliminary signatures”. The document is signed once, and then it’s done!. “Gemar Chatima” implies there is a beginning, middle and end to a seal, and we are wishing you a good “final” signature! Does that make sense?

Even more simply, why couldn’t the wish simply be “Have a Chatima Tovah”-have a great “Seal” (of judgment)! Why the need for the confusing word of “Gemar”?

This question was significant to this respected scholar who tasked me with figuring out the origin of this phrase, because, as he pointed out, it is utilized and has been utilized by so many great scholars, people who were known to parse their words (and blessings) very carefully! Thus, he wan