Alternative Spellings

b'samim, bsamim, bisamim, besomim, b'somim, bsomim, bisomim


  • "Literally, 'spices.' It almost always refers to the spices in the spice box used for the Havdalah ceremony" (JPS).
  • Spices
  • "Modern Israeli slang for illegal drugs" (JPS).

Example Sentences

  • "Shari, bring me the wine and the besamim box. Bobbie, bring me the candle." (Glinert)
  • "The purpose of the besamim is to cheer us up from the loss of our “extra souls” (neshama yetaira) which depart at the conclusion of Shabbat (Rashbam to Talmud Pesachim 102b)." (
  • "In the course of the havdalah ceremony, we sniff at besamim -- aromatic herbs, spices, or fruit (whole cloves are very popular)." (

Languages of Origin

Textual Hebrew, Yiddish, Modern Hebrew


Hebrew בשמים besamim 'spices, specifically those used for Havdalah', Yiddish בשׂמים bsomim 'spices, generally'

Who Uses This

Religious: Jews who are engaged in religious observance and have some Jewish education
Orthodox: Jews who identify as Orthodox and observe halacha (Jewish law)
Israel: Diaspora Jews who feel connected to Israel and have spent time there
Ashkenazim: Jews with Ashkenazi heritage


North America


The Joys of Hebrew, by Lewis Glinert (New York, 1992).
The JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words, by Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, (Philadelphia, 2001)

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