When writing the name of a Jew who was murdered, G‑d forbid, it is common to append the honorific, “may G‑d exact retribution for his/her/their blood.”

The Hebrew words are:

  • For a man:Hashem yikom damo (השם יקום דמו), meaning “may G‑d exact retribution for his blood.”
  • For a woman: “Hashem yikom damah” (השם יקום דמה), meaning “may G‑d exact retribution for her blood.”
  • Plural form: “Hashem yikom damam” (השם יקום דמם), meaning “may G‑d exact retribution for their blood.”

The phrase is often abbreviated using the three Hebrew letters הי”ד or “HYD” in English.

It seems to have first come into use following the brutal massacres of Jewish communities by the Crusaders. It was used for victims of pogroms and of the Nazi gas chambers. In more recent times, it was applied to the victims of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Massacre and to the 1,200 victims of barbaric slaughter on Simchat Torah, Oct. 7, 2023.

Among Jews, deaths of Jews murdered for being Jews are referred to as Kiddush Hashem, “sanctification of G‑d’s name, and the victims are called Kedoshim (singular: kadosh), “holy ones,” for whom there is a special place in the afterlife.

Any Jew who is murdered for being a Jew is considered a kadosh. This applies regardless of religious standing or affiliation. Every soldier of the Israeli Defense Forces who dies on duty is considered a kadosh. The athletes who were murdered by terrorists in the Munich Olympics Massacre of 1972 were also called kedoshim by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.1

Following millennia of antisemitic murders of Jewish people around the globe, there have, sadly, been far too many occasions for these words to be said and written.

Concerning Divine Retribution

While punishment for crime is within the purview of human courts and their appointed agents, retribution in the Torah belongs to G‑d alone. For a human being to righteously exact retribution outside of the law would require prophecy, something we do not have today.

Human beings must do what is necessary to protect their lives and the lives of others, as well as to carry out justice as prescribed by Torah law. That’s why nations have courts and police forces to deal with internal threats and military forces to deal with external threats. But to the Torah, justice is not executed out of a thirst for revenge, but simply because this is what G‑d requires from us in order to sustain a safe and peaceful world.

There can't be peace in the world when crime goes unpunished and attacks go unanswered. Justice in Hebrew is tzedek (צדק), which also means a state of balance. Crime upsets the balance of the world, making peace impossible. Without justice, violence dominates, as before the Flood, when “each man swallowed the other alive.”2

On the other hand, when human beings act out of rage and vengefulness, the world is far from peaceful. That is why there must be fixed laws and courts of justice.

So, when our hands are tied, whether by the laws of Torah or by those created by human beings, we ask G‑d to take care of justice and reset the balance of His world for us.

This is especially so in the case of a Jew murdered for being a Jew.

G‑d assigned the Jewish people the task of making His oneness, omnipresence, and desire for justice and peace known in the world. In this murder, the opposite has occurred, and G‑d’s name has been disgraced.

So we plead to Him, demanding, as Abraham did, “Shall the Judge of all the Earth not do justice?” And we say, “Avenge the blood of this Jew, so that the world will see our blood is not cheap, that we are Your people, and our message of morality and justice for all humanity is true.”3

Divine vengeance, then, serves somewhat the same function as the police force. Because we see police cars roaming the streets, we refrain from forming vigilante gangs to make justice our way. We stick to the justice and self-defense prescribed by G‑d in His Torah. Because we can pray to G‑d to exact retribution, we can refrain from seeking it ourselves.