I seldom disagree with Gil Student, whose Hirhurim is the only other blog I routinely look at. I don’t share his misgivings about the widespread use of a Hebrew legend invoking Hashem’s assistance – like BS”D – crowning the top of every scrap of paper people produce.
Gil points out that the Chasam Sofer and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik were apparently not in the habit of writing such a formula. Why, he asks, are we frummer than the giants of the past?
The answer, I believe, is in a Mishna in Berachos 54A, where Boaz is credited with a halachic innovation – apparently not practiced by the Gedolim of generations antecedent to his – of incorporating the Name of G-d while greeting people. The words of Rav Yosef Zev Lipovitz (Nachalas Yosef, Rus 2:4) are telling. He first explains that the practice seems to reduce the Majesty of G-d, by joining Him to the pedestrian and ordinary affairs of common folk. Of course, he writes, our mesorah actually insists on viewing Hashem as connected with the most mundane of our concerns and tasks. He continues:
Boaz and his beis din (court) were the first to incorporate this outlook into the Jewish life-style. They decreed that we should incorporate the Name of G-d in extending greetings to people, and to bless their handiwork with the Name of G-d. It appears that this was something that the times necessitated. They sought to repair breaches in the Jewish nation, and to offer a cure to the maladies of the times…
It seems reasonable to me that something similar is behind this rather recent custom of ours. Arguably, we live in times in which our focus upon Hashem is easily dulled, when much of our consciousness of G-d is diluted by far more involvement in non-Jewish activity than our immediate ancestors dealt with. Writing BS”D atop a letter serves as a reminder to bring HKBH into every activity, no matter how mundane.
Not everything that we do needs to march lockstep with the actions of those who preceded us. Klal Yisrael knows how to adjust to new times, how to react to new influences and trends. (Unfortunately, some of them also know how to overdo it, but we’ll save that for another occasion.) There is nothing wrong with a practice that does something for people, even if the Chasam Sofer didn’t need it in his day. (This is why I disagree so vociferously with Dr Haim Soloveitchk’s “Rupture and Reconstruction” article.)
[Speaking about new practices. I am stunned about the popularity of the insistence – largely non-halachic – of replacing the vowel in the word G-d with a dash. I have seen in my own correspondence a broad cross-section (no pun intended) of Christian authors take to this practice when exposed to it by Orthodox writers. From Evangelicals to Jesuits, something about the practice and its statement of reverence for G-d resonates with them. Maybe we are on to something.]
It is my understanding that not only didn’t R Chaim Soloveitchik write bs”d or some equivalent acronym on his papers, he actually OPPOSED the idea. His feelings were that these acronyms were imbued with the status of kinnuim and therfore the papers attain the status of shaimos, requiring a proper geniza.
I responded to Gil Student’s blog on this issue as well. The problem I have is similar to that of Gil’s. To me it looks like a display of “Frumkeit” which can d be defined as showing off one’s religiosity. This is a trait that no less a Jewish ethicist than Rabbi Wolbe railed against. Add to that Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik’s opposition and explanation of creating innumerable Shaimos (holy references to God) (or at least possible Shaimos) and you have reason enough to be against it. Rabbi Soloveichik did not distinguish between the Hebrew letters Bes Heh (BH) and Bes Samech Daled (BSD), although I believe that Rav Moshe Feinstein did. Rabbi Soloveichik said that those references were both holy references to and should be avoided.
Think about how many people send out hundreds of invitations to weddings, Bar Mitzvos, or whatever Jewish celebration that put a BH or BSD in the upper right corner of the invitation. All those invitations just get thrown out. Is writing a BH then an appropriate way of showing deference to God? I think the answer is clearly: No.
Although the question when it comes to Bo‘az including God in greetings is how was he pronouncing the name?
The words “Baruch Hashem” are similarly overused, with dual results. It work for us but some non-frum people tell me that it makes them feel uncomfortable, as if we are making overstating a belief that can be better expressed just one time in a conversation. If one would use “Blessed be God” in conversation it would seem overdone. Yet, it works for us.
Shmuel and Harry,
Apparently there are those who see halachic issues in such usage. But this was not Gil’s point. He objected to the hubris/frumkeit combination of showing greater piety than previous generations. It is this point alone that I dispute.
As far as the halachic issue, I spent a good deal of my youth in the halachic shadow of Rav Moshe, and am very comfortable with his more lenient psak on this matter.
Reb Yaakov – I agree that frequent peppering of speech with “Baruch Hashem!!!!!!!” can be off-putting to the uninitiated or less demonstrative. But that’s not what I’m talking about, nor was it part of Boaz’s contribution. I’m talking about adding a few letters on top of correspondence, nothing more. It seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate way of bringing a bit of G-d consciousness into the writing exercise, and to be a junior version of the Chofetz Chaim’s practice (or so I’ve heard) of beginning ANY activity with the verbal declaration “lichvod Hashem v’Toraso – for the honor of Hashem and His Torah.” This in turn is likely derived from the mandate in Shulchan Aruch (OC 231) that all our intentions should be for the sake of Heaven.
I’m very glad to see this defense. I’m a contributor to the group blog “Beyond BT” and when Gil posted on this topic, several people pointed it out to me because I regularly put BS”D at the top of all my Internet posts. Some people even suggested that it was my use of BS”D that provoked Gil to post about it in the first place, but he said it was someone else. In any case, it sparked a bit of discussion behind the scenes at “Beyond BT” and people suggested that I consider discontinuing. After all, I was the only one there who did it.
It seemed like a shailoh for my Rov, and he said that there’s nothing wrong with stopping, so I stopped, at least on that blog. On my own website, livejournal, and personal email, I continue to use it.
My Rov did not tell me any of what you said about Boaz. He said there was an old minhag to write the Hebrew date on top of every correspondence, followed by the Hebrew phrase for “since Hashem created the world.” People were actually writing Hashem’s name, and sometimes those letters were discarded. Therefore, the minhag was mevattel and the Rabbonim made a celebration about it. BS”D and B”H became substitute methods which avoided the Shaimos problem, but there are poskim who say even those initials are Shaimos, as cited by a commenter above.
Anyway, thanks for posting. It’s nice to feel supported on the issue!