The word yad (Heb. יד) means “hand.” It can also refer to the pointer used during the public reading of the Torah scroll. The traditional shape of the pointer is a long arm topped with a closed fist and the index finger pointing. The pointer helps the person reading the Torah follow the words inside the scroll.

Just as a hand is on the side of the body,1 the term yad can also be used to describe a place other than one’s regular location, such as the outskirts of a city or an encampment.2

This was the intention when the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem was named Yad Vashem. The words are from Isaiah (56:4–5):

For so says the L‑rd to the eunuchs who will keep My Sabbaths and will choose what I desire and hold fast to My covenant: “I will give them in My house and in My walls yad vashem, better than sons and daughters; an everlasting name I will give him, which will not be discontinued.”

The words yad vashem can be translated here “as a place specifically to memorialize.”3 So the verse would read, “I will give them in My house and in My walls a place [to memorialize] their deeds, and thus their name (“shem”) [will be continued].”

The museum was given this name, then, because it functions as a memorial for those murdered in the Holocaust. According to their mission statement, “As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning to future generations.”