Q&A: Jewish friends, mazel tov or l’chaim?

Question by Filida: Jewish friends, mazel tov or l’chaim?
When is it appropriate to say mazel tov and when it is appropriate to say l’chaim? Are they both a form of congratulations, or is l’chaim more of a toast?

Thank you.

Best answer:

Answer by Brandon
You’ll be fine either way. There’s some dissent over the exact usage of both. Literally, mazel tov means “good luck” and l’cheim means “to life” so take that as you will.

Know better? Leave your own answer in the comments!

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7 Responses to Q&A: Jewish friends, mazel tov or l’chaim?

  1. Rachel

    Literally, mazal tov means good luck and l’chaim means to life.
    But in practice, mazal tov means congratulations and l’chaim is what you say when you’re toasting. Let’s put it this way, it would sound funny for you to say l’chaim without some kind of alcohol in your hand.

  2. kaganate

    Basic rule of rhetoric —
    if you’re not absolutely sure of a technical term, use a more normative one.

    Just use English.

    Le Haim is for drinking.
    Raise the cup, say “‘le haim”, clink glasses, drink.

    Mazel Tov is Good Luck
    But it may not always be apropriate.
    For example – we never say “Mazel Tov” to a pregnant woman – only once the baby has been born.
    Maybe its better characterised as “Congradulations”

  3. The angels have the phone box.

    If you forget what you learn here, you could always say something like “Erm, is it mazel tov or l’chaim for this one?” You’re sweet enough to pull it off successfully. 🙂

    We appreciate the intent and don’t expect others to have the details down.

  4. ✡mama pajama✡

    L’chaim …meaning TO LIFE is most frequently used as a toast, but I’m at a loss as to how a fellow Jew could say it’s only said with alcohol in hand..when it is printed on so many Jewish Birthday Greeting cards and is shouted ..whether drink in hand or not at Jewish birthday celebrations after singing Yom Huledet Sameach ( Happy Birthday to you) by the whole crowd..even if it’s a room full of children with nothing more than fruit punch in hand.
    Then later when a glass of wine or spiked punch is raised and someone wants to toast the birthday boy you can say L’Chaim again 🙂
    So, to life is indeed appropriate at birthdays, too.
    L’Chaim is the most common “toast” said before raising a glass of alcohol, yes..and L’Chaim tovim u’ l’shalom is a longer “toast” meaning to a good life and peace! and is appropriate at a wedding or anytime you toast

    Mazel tov literally means good luck but it IS often used for congratulations and it can be confusing becausd there are times when both L’Chaim and Mazel tov are either appropriate. Such as birthdays! Mazel tov is used especially upon a new venture or achievement or like passing a really tough test. It is a combination of congratulatory expression and wish for continued success..oh and everyone at a wedding shouts mazel tov when the groom stomps the glass
    You shout mazel tov at bar and bat mitzvahs, engagement announcements, graduations, the news of a new job, a promotion, AFTER the birth of a child.
    And I’ll repeat what kaganate said, many (especially older Jews) would shudder if you wished a pregnant woman Mazel Tov..perhaps it’s superstitious..but that’s just what I discovered as a child in grade school.. the hard way from all the horrified looks expressed by my mother and my Bubbe and several aunts and cousins present in the room when I wished a cousin Mazel Tov when she told us all she was expecting. I was looking around..WHAT??? I wished her congratulations and good luck?? That’s how I learned not to say it to a pregnant woman.
    Perhaps now there isn’t so much superstition surrounding a pregnancy..but to be safe..refrain from Mazel tov to a pregnant woman.

    It’s very sweet you want to know what is appropriate..but even if you make a gaffe..I don’t think you’d get the kind of looks I got because my family thought I knew better. Jews never expect our non Jewish friends to get it always right..but we love the attempts showing genuine concern and you’re such a sweet person you could get it all backwards and I don’t think anyone would raise an eyebrow.
    Remember when I taught you what mensch meant? Well..that’s you my friend. a mensch. You always try to do the nice thing. So now I’ll teach you another that describes what I often think when I see your answers to do the right thing. “Yishar ko’ach! ” said as if to say.. good for you! or way to go! BUT even though it can mean that as I used it to you…it is MORE often used after someone has received an honor..and means you should have strength. Some sayings can have more than one proper meaning and application.
    We have a lot of other greetings, sayings and even toasts..but the most well known are the two you mentioned.
    Shalom y’all 🙂

    My southern way to say that!

  5. Punk Rock and Minerals

    l’chiam is a toast
    mazel tov is congratulations

  6. Shani

    Your friend just graduated college…”Mazel tov!”
    Your friend gave birth to a baby girl…”Mazel tov!”
    Your friend got a new iphone…”Mazel tov!”

    It’s New Years Eve and you and your friends are about the clink your glasses full of champaign… “L’chaim!”
    You woke up without a hang over and can remember everything that happened the night before… “Mazel tov!”

  7. Melkha

    Mazal tov is – good fortune/luck said for any good announcement except pregnancy.

    L’chaim is – to life ! Said at birthdays, as a toast, etc.