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Why Write B”H or BS”D at Head of a Letter, and What Does It Mean?

Why Write B”H or BS”D at Head of a Letter, and What Does It Mean?

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Although not a requirement, there is indeed an old Jewish custom to write B”H or BS”D, or to be more accurate, their Hebrew equivalents ב״ה or בס״ד, at the beginning of a letter.

What does it mean?

B”H (ב״ה) is an acronym for the Hebrew words baruch Hashem (“blessed is G‑d”) or b’ezrat Hashem (“with the help of G‑d”). Others opt for BS”D (בס״ד), which is an acronym for the Aramaic phrase b’syata d’shmaya (“with the help of heaven”).

(The quotation mark before the last letter is the Hebrew way of signalling that this is an acronym or an otherwise non-standard word.)

Reason and Origin of the Custom

This old Jewish custom has in fact led to all sorts of wild speculation about Christopher Columbus. Apparently, in almost all of his letters to his son, he included at the top left-hand corner what appears to be the Hebrew letters ב”ה, written in the Sephardic script of that era. (Yes, I was also skeptical of the claim, which even if true, does not necessarily prove anything, but there are images available online, so feel free to judge for yourself).

The idea behind this custom is that even when we go about our mundane daily tasks, G‑d should always be on our minds, our tongues and our pens. This is in line with the verse in Psalms “I have placed the L‑rd before me constantly; because [He is] at my right hand, I will not falter,”1 and the verse in Proverbs “Know Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths.”2

The habit of peppering our ordinary conversation with thankful mentions of G‑d was even displayed by our forefather Jacob. According to the Midrash, when he masqueraded as his unruly brother as a ruse to have his father, Isaac, bless him, Jacob almost blew his cover by repeatedly mentioning G‑d in his conversation with his blind father.3

When did it transfer to the written word as well? That’s not clear. Some point to Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid (Rabbi Judah the Pious, 1150-1217) and his work Sefer Chassidim as a possible source for the custom of mentioning G‑d before writing a regular letter.4

We find the use of various phrases in the letters of earlier generations. Nowadays, it has been narrowed down to B”H or BS”D (and their equivalents).

What to write? Can I throw it out?

Some are of the opinion that one should be careful of writing B”H (ב״ה), since the second letter stands for G‑d’s name. That would be a problem when discarding the letter, since G‑d’s name may not be erased or treated in a disrespectful manner.5 For this reason, many prefer BS”D (בס”ד).”6

Most, however, rule that the letter may be discarded (although preferably not in a disgraceful manner), since the H (ה) does not stand for G‑d’s real name but for Hashem (השם), which simply means “The Name.”7

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, had the custom of starting off his letters with ב״ה, as can be seen in his thousands of published letters, and he encouraged others to start off their letters acknowledging G‑d in a similar fashion.8

In this way, not only are we more aware of G‑d in our daily lives, but whomever we come in contact with also gains an awareness of G‑d in his or her personal life, leading to the day when the entire world will recognize that “G‑d is one and His name is one.”9

Footnotes
3.
See Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 65:19 and Likutei Sichot, vol. 6, p. 190.
4.
See Sefer Chassidim, 884 and commentaries ad loc. See also Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin in Kovets Razash, p. 71.
5.
Rabbi Yosef Rosen (the Rogatchover Gaon), Tzofnat Pane’ach 196-197 (also found in Piskei Teshuvah 3:293. See also Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 276:13.
6.
See Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deiah 2:138.
7.
See Yechave Daat 3:78; Ginzei Hakodesh 7, note 13.
8.
See, for example, Likutei Sichot, vol. 6, p. 190, and vol. 24, p. 599.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Discussion (40)
August 17, 2016
Rabbi i was interested in your comments about Christopher Columbus, so I'll just add this. His wife was a Moniz princess from a line of people who traced their ancestry to Manasseh son of Joseph in the Bible (this btw is their name stay: Mani). These people are Sephardic Jews who believed they were descended from princes of the Jewish people and carried themselves appropriately. They were for centuries one of the leading families of European royalty. Their descendants are still prominent families scattered throughout Europe, the America's, Asia, India and Africa today. And Most still keep the faith. So I'm not surprised because he buried himself next to his wife after one of history's most dramatic long distance relationships. And you know the power of our good Jewish women. My mother is a descendant of a Moniz, and the information here is public knowledge through some scholarly historical works I've read.
emmanuel
Frankfurt, Germany
August 13, 2016
Better not to write than write something offensive
Is there a penalty because of writing (B"H) at the end of a commentary like this one. Also, will there be an issue if this commentary is sent to the trash because, somehow, it would mean treating Hashem's name in a disrespectful manner?
Jorge
Qro. Mexico
August 12, 2016
Response to anonymous from vancouver
The symbol which is written with two apostrophes '', is not two yods, this is a punctuation used in acronyms, to show that the given word is an acronym.
Anonymous
Israel
August 11, 2016
As a second grade morahs for Morah for many years I've been known to tell the story of the BH Bubby. An original. The importance of writing BH on our papers. The story of my mom AH who could only remember two letters in the aleph bais and scraped together 5$ a week for her daughters to attend Hebrew school. She wrote BH on everything she wrote. Even shopping lists.
She was rewarded by having all her children and 17 grandchildren and over 100 great grandchildren keep shabos kashrus etc. many things post WWII survivors did not. 15 years after I told this BH Bubby story to my students I met one of them on shelichus. He showed up at our house "by accident " his car broke down and while he was with us told the BH Bubby story to my children. I was in shock. BH. Whatever the reason. It works. Ty for your message.
Sara rubinstein
Brooklyn
August 11, 2016
I would feel uncomfortable putting ב"ה on a Kipah at all, being concerned for the view cited in the article above that one should treat ב"ה with respect. A person might enter a restroom while wearing this Kipah - which would be considered disrespectful.
Simcha Bart for Chabad.org
August 11, 2016
Been trying to remember
​ב"ה
I have been trying to remember to include B"H on the top of my emails. Since it is written and sent much faster than regular mail, I often forget. Any ideas how to remember?
And what about texts?
Anonymous
MI
August 11, 2016
Can I put ב״ה on personalized wedding kippot on the last line? I'm thinking of the logo that says Wedding of, then (bride and groom's names, then מזל טוב ב״ה. Or should the Mazel tov and ב״ה be switched? Or is it not done at all this way?
Anonymous
New York, NY
August 10, 2016
B'H is not God's name. Hashem means "the name". It's a way to not write God's name.
Abe
London
December 9, 2014
We were taught it means B’Yeshuat YH. With the help of G-d. (Which explains the 2 Yods.)
Anonymous
Vancouver
August 13, 2014
Kindly add the phrase BS"D to your explanation.
BS"D. This is an abbreviation for the Aramaic phrase "B'Sayata Di'shamaya," which means "With the Help of Heaven."
Hershel