Mazel Tov! August 17, 2011 – Posted in: Aberrant Normalcy

The EclipticSo in my ongoing research for my ongoing (and going and going) novel, I discovered a little history of the phrase ‘Mazel Tov!’  The phrase is often uttered as a congratulatory exultation by Jews of European descent.  Wife just had a baby?  Mazel tov!  Just got married? Mazel tov!  It’s even uttered in a popular dance tune.  The phrase is often translated as “Good luck.”  The word “tov” means “good” in Hebrew, and “mazel” is generally assumed to mean “luck” or “fortune.”

But upon my reading of the Book of Job, I came across this passage. (Job:31-32)

Canst thou bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season? Or canst thou guide the Bear with her sons?

The Pleiades and Orion are well-known constellations across many cultures.  The Bear is most likely Ursula Major, the Great Bear, also known as the Big Dipper.  But what, I wondered, is Mazzaroth?  The annotated text I was reading from said the true meaning was unknown.  But surely in this day of instant information, someone had an opinion on it, right?  A very similar word, I soon discovered via Google & Wikipedia, occurs in the book of Kings (23:3-5), where it is translated as “constellations.”

The consensus I found after some research is that Mazzaroth is an ancient word for “Zodiac,” the belt of stars on the ecliptic and the constellations therein.  It’s also supposed that the word “mazel” in “mazel tov” was derived from this word, Mazzaroth.  So you could say that “mazel tov!” really means, “good constellations!”  And since to the ancient (and modern) astrologers, a good constellation means good fortune, the phrase “mazel tov” came into use as a way to congratulate people on their good fortune.