Word of the Day HYD: To Err Is Human; to Take Revenge Is God's Business

This abbreviation after the names of the dead doesn't mean they were in line for the throne.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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At the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery.
At the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery.Credit: Nir Keidar
Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

If you have been reading news-related comments in Hebrew, you might have come across the initials HYD (in Hebrew, those letters are hay yud dalet) right after the names of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza.

This isn’t one of the many military acronyms with which Hebrew abounds. Rather, it’s a religious abbreviation that stands for the phrase Hashem yikom damo (for one man), or other variations like dama (for one woman) or damam (for multiple people), meaning “May God avenge his death” or, in the plural, “their deaths.”

All this talk of vengeance can seem kind of bloodthirsty. However, the reference to Hashem – which means “the name” and is a common euphemism for God, a way of simultaneously referring to God and still circumventing the commandment not to take his name in vain – also very clearly spells out the idea that vengeance is in the hands of God, not of angry vigilantes.

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The phrase, which is typically appended to Jewish people’s names after they have been killed, especially in war or a terror attack or because of their Jewishness in some way, literally refers to a divine blood vengeance. Yikom means “he will take revenge [nekama],” and damo means “his blood” (damam is “their blood”).

The concept, if not the abbreviation, makes an appearance in Deuteronomy: “Sing aloud, o ye nations, of his people; for he doth avenge the blood of his servants [ki dam avadav yikom], and doth render vengeance to his adversaries, and doth make expiation for the land of his people” (32:43).

Just to confuse matters, the initials HYD can also mean “the 14th,” since hay, the first letter in the abbreviation, also functions as a definite article, and yud and dalet add up to 14 in the commonly used numerological system in which each Hebrew letter represents a different number. But that’s almost never the meaning of HYD if it comes right after a name. Jewish families do not, as a rule, have hand-me-down names that end in “Jr.” or “the Third,” or, like the Sun King, “XIV.”

To contact Shoshana Kordova with column suggestions or other word-related comments, email her at shoshanakordova@gmail.com. For previous Word of the Day columns, go to: www.haaretz.com/news/features/word-of-the-day.

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