6

When a person hears that someone is pregnant the traditional response is besha tova, instead of mazal tov. Why is that?

4

"Mazel Tov" is for something that's happened, like a wedding or a birth.

We recognize not to take healthy pregnancies for granted. To say "mazel tov" would imply "we're sure this will make it to birth", which sadly doesn't always happen. Thus, to show that it's in G-d's hands and not ours, we offer a prayer instead, "may the birth happen at a good time."

  • 1
    conception itself is certainly a milestone, one which many couples are sadly not able to achieve. We say mazal tov at a bar mitzvah even though the boy has not yet accomplished anything, and may end up being a bad person. Also, can you cite a source for your statements? – pokemon Aug 9 '13 at 15:03
  • 1
    @Pokemon, a bar mitzva boy is now obligated in mitzvahs. That in and of itself is something -- recall that we have a framework of responsibilities, not rights. "Conception is a milestone" -- great, but with the whole reproductive process we have the humility to acknowledge it's not under our control. I have also heard pregnancy news greeted with "mazel tov, b'sha'ah tova" -- congratulations on the conception, and may it come to fruition. But ask any couple who've -- lo aleinu -- lost a pregnancy if conception that didn't make it was cause for celebration. – Shalom Aug 9 '13 at 15:10
  • As for sources, I guess it's oral law. Just something I've grown up hearing from a lot of good Jews. – Shalom Aug 9 '13 at 15:11
  • @Shalom I agree, but in my experience, even among traditional but non-religious Jews, there is also a good amount of ayin-hara-related narishkeit here. Like - don't say mazel tov lest, G-d-forbid, the ayin hara makes it not happen. – Charles Koppelman Aug 9 '13 at 16:24
  • 1
    Do you have a source? – Mbrevda Oct 7 '16 at 10:05
1

As this article on Balashon makes clear, mazal tov was originally used in the same way as we would say "good luck" in English - ie: an expression of goodwill for an event yet to occur. It was an expression, therefore, that was used when congratulating pregnant women, and not said after the child's birth.

In time, the phrase came to be associated with events that had already transpired, making its pronouncement inappropriate when the event had not yet occurred. In the words of David Curwin, whose article on Balashon I link to above:

And because it [the phrase, mazal tov] became associated with happy events like marriages and britot, it eventually transformed into a general phrase of congratulations. So you could say to someone mazal tov on something that had occurred entirely in the past. If someone won a contest – you could say to them “mazal tov”, even though there was no wish for the future. On the other hand, to say to someone who is about to take a difficult test or have a job interview “mazal tov” would be considered strange (even though you would say to them “good luck” in English.)...

After mazal tov made the transformation from wish to congratulations, a linguistic vacuum was created. That gap was eventually filled by the phrase “be’shaa tova” בשעה טובה, which really has the same meaning as mazal tov (literally "at a good hour"), and is used for something up and coming (like a pregnancy or engagement), but doesn't have the “evil eye” aspect of congratulating on something that’s already happened (which isn't an issue after a birth or marriage).

Curwin notes in that article that he has not found a pre-20th century source for the phrase besha'ah tovah being used in relation to an event that has not yet occurred. Saying it to a pregnant women would appear to be a very recent development in Jewish tradition.

0

At a good time or at the right time. Divine providence has a role in birth as HaShem holds the key to birth. Timing seems critical for birthing as well as the soul being brought to life amongst our people.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .