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Living people sometimes have "שליט״א" added after their respective names. This means, roughly, "may he live a good, long life". That seems like a nice blessing for anyone; yet, in my experience, only great people (rabbis and the like) and forebears are so blessed. I wonder why this is.

  • Does anyone know of a source that discusses, specifically, the use of "שליט״א" either only for special people or for all (not unworthy) people? What does that source say?

But I'm guessing there's no such source. In that case:

  • How long has this blessing been in use? Did it start as a blessing only for special people or for all (not unworthy) people? If it started general, when did it become specific?
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3 Answers 3

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The Rama (CM 49:7) and the Levush (ibid.) use the expressions שליט"א and שלי"ט as an example of a siman on a document that could be used to distinguish two people of the same name and same father's name if only one of them had a father still living. This example is also mentioned in the works of subsequent acharonim. Apparently, this appellation was even for ordinary people.

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Rabbi David Sperling responds on Ask the Rabbi

Shalom, Thank you for your question. You are absolutely correct that we wish everyone a long and healthy life. The appellation "Shlita" is generally applied exclusively for rabbis only because of common usage – there is no reason other than as a sign of respect (just as I as a boy called all my teachers "Sir"). But in fact it could well apply to everyone – and Rabbi Avigdor Neventsal Shlita, the rabbi of the old city of Jerusalem, uses the term after everybody's name, be they rabbi or not. (Though in practice you might make people feel uncomfortable if you started writing "shlita" after everybody's names, because they will think that you think they are more important than they actually are or think they are).

Blessings - May you live for many good days, amen – Shlita!

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  • I'm with this rav, Mr. Gold, Shlita. I'm going to try using shlita for my wife and kids. Now, if I can find a bracha requesting that they all live longer than me.
    – DanF
    Jul 5, 2019 at 13:19
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Looking at contracts in the Cairo Geniza, שליטא was added after someone's name if they were the head of the household or patriarch. It was simply the Aramaic word for ruling, from the root \שלט\ . So, you would see contracts that read פלוני בן פלוני שליטא כאן or פלוני בן פלוני שליטא באיפה ("So-and-so son of so-and-so, who is in charge here", or "... who is in charge in ...")

(Source: Aramaic Documents from Egypt: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance, by Bezalel Porten and Jerome A. Lund, Eisenbrauns (Penn State U. Press) 2002. Entry: שליטא.)

This reaches the rest of Europe in the 16th century CE but with an acronym sign thrown in and a new meaning. שליט"א was actually a reengineering of an existing idiom into an acronym for שיחיה לימים טובים אמן ("who should live for good days, amen!")

In Choshein Mishpat 49:6, the Rama discusses the case where the town has two people named Yoseif ben Shim'on. If one Shim'on is alive, and the other not, and a contract reads Yoseif ben Shim'on shlit"a, we can take this as identifying that party as the one with the living father.

But since the original usage was one of leadership, I am unsurprised that some of that legacy remained even with the new interpretation. We simply got used to its use being an honor before we decided it has anything to do with being alive.

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  • What's the Rama's usage like in his responsa?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Feb 24 at 6:38
  • Bar Ilan doesn't show any. In fact, the only hit in shu"t that was before the 19th cent CE was the teshuvos of the Maharil -- which got me excited, until I saw it was in a footnote. Feb 24 at 20:35
  • The point is that Rama signs his Teshuvos שלי"ט (not שליט"א) after his fathers name. Also this is present in Shut Maharshal (cuz).
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Feb 24 at 23:39

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