The Hebrew phrase mazel tov (also spelled mazal tov, or mazel tof) literally translated means “good luck.” In practice, mazel tov is usually said to mean “Congratulations!”
One can expect to hear people shout “mazel tov” at Jewish weddings just after the groom breaks the glass, at brit milah (bris) ceremonies, and at bar/bat mitzvahs. Mazel tov is an appropriate response to any good news, from an engagement to a graduation, a new job, a new house, or any other honor or milestone.
Some people avoid saying mazel tov to a pregnant woman out of superstition that something might happen to the baby. Instead, it is customary to say “b’sha’ah tovah,” (buh sh’AH toVAH) meaning “at a good time.” The implicit wish is that the baby will be born healthy and safe — at which point mazel tov would be an appropriate greeting.
Below is a performance of the song “Siman Tov uMazel Tov,” which is frequently sung after calling out “Mazel Tov” at weddings and other joyous events.
For lyrics in Hebrew, English and transliteration, click here:
Pronounced: MAHZ-ul tahv or mah-ZAHL tove, Alternate Spelling: mazal tov, Origin: Hebrew, literally “good luck,” but usually used to mean “congratulations.”