The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” (“May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year, three books – a book for those who are completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle – are opened. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalm 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses, when begging for God to forgive the people, actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “…blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts cited in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balanced between extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked…in other words, the majority of humanity. Thus, it is assumed that there is a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but, “the judgment of the intermediate group is written on Rosh Hashana, but not finalized until the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Since the righteous and the wicked have their fates determined immediately on the first night of Rosh Hashana, and the status of average people is suspended between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it would be insulting to wish someone after the first night of Rosh Hashana, “K’tiva v’chatima tova,” (“May you be written and sealed for good”) implying that they may not be totally righteous. Therefore, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” (“May your conclusion be sealed for good”).

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers “l’shana tova tikatayhvu v’taychataymu.”