Saying Hello to Everyone on the Street?

Ask the Rov: Am I obligated to say shalom aleichem to everyone I meet on the street?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah

It is a mitzvah to greet every person and inquire into their welfare or at least bless them with peace (shalom). The term shalom is also a reference to Hashem, thus Hashem’s name is included in the blessing.1

One should endeavor to greet the other person first and not just respond to the other’s greeting.2 It is said of the esteemed tana R’ Yochanan ben Zakai that he would always greet others first, even a gentile in the marketplace.3 If you meet a person a second time on the same day, you should greet them again, but there is no need to greet someone more than once in the same setting.4 If someone greets you and you don’t respond, it is akin to stealing, even if one isn’t on friendly terms with that person.5

When responding, it is the customary to add an additional blessing.6 For example, when you are greeted with shalom you should respond shalom ubracha, to “gut morgen,” many respond with “a gut yahr” or “a gutten tamid.” It is also customary to flip the greeting and respond to “shalom aleichem” with “aleichem shalom.”7

One should greet every person, even one unfamiliar to him. While some raise a concern that the stranger may not respond and you have then caused them to be “stealing,”8 the Mishna seems to instruct us to be makdim shalom to every person without exception.9 Yet, if greeting an enemy, one must ensure that it won’t fan the flames of animosity.10

For members of the opposite gender, a friendly greeting is forbidden, but a standard salutation like “Good morning” can be appropriate (see issue 631).

In a large city where one encounters dozens of people wherever one turns, it is impractical and not expected to greet everyone. Yet, one should endeavor to greet people whenever possible, as this adds in love and friendship between people.

See Sources (open PDF)

From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash

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