Translatable but Debatable: שלום רב ("shalom rav")

The greeting שלום רב is such a fixture of the Israeli media, and so little heard on the street, that seems to believe it means “Hello.  I’m a news announcer.”  Well, their exact definition is: “(radio, television) hello, peace be with you (usually follows ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’).”

But you can find the expression elsewhere, for example at the start of a letter or notification.  And like the quality of mercy, the quantity of hello isn’t strained.  That is, nobody forced the writer to choose the more formal, more expansive שלום רב rather than the everyday שלום so presumably there is an intentional difference worth translating.

However, Babylon joins Morfix in its inability to put the extra something into English.  All it has to say for שלום רב is “good-bye, hello.”  I haven’t found a Hebrew-to-English dictionary with a definition distinguishing שלום רב from שלום by meaning.

At times, not embracing the awkwardness gladly but unwilling to banish it by downgrading accuracy, I’ve used a makeshift translation of my own such as “Best greetings.”  If, for example, the translation is requested by someone who has received a letter in Hebrew and wants to know what it says, there is no importance to the fact that an English-language letter seldom if ever starts with “Best greetings.”  No one involved has an interest in disguising the fact that the original letter was written in a language that differs from English; the only interest is in getting the meaning across as fully as possible.

If on the other hand the client is a Hebrew speaker who wishes to send a letter in English that will make the same impression as a letter from a native English speaker, then the translator may be constrained  to a standard English salutation and left to seek another way, somewhere close to the start of the letter, to convey a similar sense of courtly affability.

I’m told that far from the workaday keyboard where business letters are translated, academics seriously ponder the question of how much foreignness a translation should be allowed to convey, or even encouraged to convey. 

What’s the most graceful way to intensify the hello without going too distractingly foreign?  Comments are welcome below, and suggestions for future columns are welcome at


Mark L. Levinson

Born 1948 a few trolley stops from Boston, Massachusetts. Bachelor's degree from Harvard College. Moved to Israel in 1970. Worked and learned Hebrew on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. Moved to Haifa and worked teaching English to adults. Did similar work in the army. After discharge, turned to technical writing, initially for Elbit. Then promotional writing for Scitex, and more technical (and occasionally promotional) writing for Edunetics, Daisy Systems (later named Dazix, SEE Technologies, and Summit Design), Memco, and Gilian. Also translated from Hebrew to English, everything from business articles to fiction, filmscripts, and poetry. Served as local chapter president for the Society for Technical Communication, editor of several issues of local literary journals, occasional political columnist and book reviewer for the Jerusalem Post, and husband & father.