Everyone is familiar with standard letter form: the return address here, the date there, salutation and signature each have a place, etc. When looking at letters, or documents, written by observant Jews, many people notice some strange markings created by specific Hebrew abbreviations that often appear on the page.

The most prominent of these Hebrew abbreviations usually appear in the upper right-hand corner and consist of either Beit-Hey or Beit-Samech-Daled (some people write these in English as B”H or BS”D). Beit-Hey generally stands for B’ezrat Hashem, with the help of God (or, alternately, Baruch Hashem, blessed is God). Beit-Samech-Daled is an abbreviation of the Aramaic B’siyata Dish’maya,* which means “with the help of Heaven.” These words are added to documents as a reminder to both the writer and the reader that God observes all of our activities and one should therefore be careful with the words he/she chooses to write. The hope is that “with God’s help” the letter will serve for the betterment of both the writer and the reader.

Another interesting abbreviation that people add to correspondence is “amu”sh” (Ayin-Mem-Vav-Shin), which means Ahd May’ah V’esrim Shahna “until 120 years.” Amu”sh is added after the salutation, as a blessing of long life to the person being addressed.

The third abbreviation one may find added to the salutations of letters is shlit”a, which is also often written after the name of the addressee or a third party mentioned in the document. Shlit”a (Shin-Lamed-Yod-Tet-Aleph) is the abbreviation of She’yichyeh L’yamim Tovim Aruchim, May he/she live pleasant and long days (life).

*While B”H and BS”D have the same basic meaning, there is an opinion that one should avoid writing even a single, original letter of the name of God (hey), and therefore, it is preferable to use Beit-Samech-Daled or not to mark the paper at all.

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