Honorifics for the dead in Judaism
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Among the honorifics in Judaism, there are several traditional honorifics for the dead which are used when naming and speaking of the deceased. Different honorifics might be applied depending on the particular status of the deceased. These honorifics are frequently found on gravestones, on memorial walls inside the sanctuary of synagogues, in speeches, and in writing such as in obituaries.
In writing, it is most common to use the name followed by an abbreviation of an honorific either in Hebrew or English. For examples, see chart.
The following chart shows different honorifics used, along with their abbreviation in Hebrew and English, their translation, the masculine and feminine forms, the type of person which the honorific is applied to, and examples.
|Full phrase in Hebrew||English translation||When used||Example|
|For a man||For a woman|
|of blessed memory; or
may his/her memory be a blessing
or non-rabbinical figure
|David Randomberg Z"L or David Randomberg ז״ל or Rabbi David Randomberg Z"L or Rabbi David Randomberg ז״ל|
|may peace be upon him/her||non-rabbinical
or biblical figure
|Albert Peretz A"H or Albert Peretz ע״ה or Avraham Avinu A"H or Avraham Avinu ע"ה|
|זצ״ל||זכר צדיק לברכה
zekher tzadik livrakha
|may the memory of
the righteous be a blessing
|a holy or a
|Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT"L or Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZTz"L or Rabbi Moshe Feinstein זצ״ל|
|ZK"L||זק״ל||זכר קדוש לברכה
zekher kadosh livrakha
|may the memory of the holy be a blessing||holy person, not necessarily a martyr||Judah Halevi ZK"L or Judah Halevi זק״ל|
|ZTVK"L||זצוק״ל||זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה
zekher tzadik v'kadosh livrakha
|may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing||righteous and holy person, not necessarily a martyr||Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Bloch ZTVK"L or Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Bloch זצוק״ל|
|n/a||זצוקללה״ה||זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה
לחיי העולם הבא
zekher tzadik v'kadosh livrakha,
l'chayei ha'olam ha-ba
|may the memory of
the righteous and
holy be a blessing
for the life of the world to come
|outstandingly holy person||Rabbenu Tzadok Hacohen (may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing for the life of the world to come) or Rabbenu Tzadok Hacohen זצוקללה״ה|
|ZY"A||זי"ע||זכותו יגן עלינו
zechuso yagen aleinu
|may his memory be a shield unto us||outstandingly holy person||Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneersohn ZY"A or Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneersohn זי"ע|
|HY"D||הי״ד||השם יקום דמו
Hashem yikkom damo
|השם יקום דמה
Hashem yikkom dama
|May Hashem avenge his / her blood||Martyred Jews or Jews killed by anti-Semites||Hana "Hanička" Bradyová HY"D or Hana "Hanička" Bradyová הי״ד|
Some honorifics may be used for any individual. These honorifics are generally not used for rabbis or other special persons, since the specific honorifics for those people are used instead, as a sign of honor and respect. See below.
Of blessed memory
The most common honorific is "of blessed memory" or "may his/her memory be a blessing." The Hebrew transliteration is "zikhrono livrakha" (m.) / "zikhronah livrakha" (f.) (Hebrew: (f.) "זיכרונה לברכה" \ (m.) "זיכרונו לברכה"). It is often abbreviated in English both as OBM and as “Z"L” The Hebrew abbreviation is "ז״ל."
Although in the past it was common to use this expression for living people as well In the Babylonian Talmud, it is mentioned that a person should say this expression about his dead father, in addition to the phrase "I am the atonement of his bed".
Peace be upon him/her
An alternative honorific is "Peace be upon him/her." The Hebrew version is "alav ha-shalom" (m.) / "aleha ha-shalom" (f.) (Hebrew: (m.) "עליו השלום" / (f.) "עליה השלום"). It is abbreviated in English as “A"H.” The Hebrew abbreviation is "ע״ה."
This phrase is the same as the Islamic honorific "peace be upon him" (which is used for all prophets of Islam). However, unlike in Islamic usage, the English abbreviation "PBUH" is not commonly used for the Jewish honorific.
The above two may be used interchangeably; however "of blessed memory" is the most common.
It has been argued that in the Talmudic era and earlier, the acronym ע"ה stood for עבד השם (servant of God), and was only applied to specific Biblical personages whom the Bible had described as servants of God. However, according to this theory, after the Arab conquest the Arabic phrase عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ (peace be upon him) was translated to Hebrew עליו השלום and was used for any deceased person, a usage which spread to the Jews of Christian Europe beginning in the 12th century. The phrase עליו השלום came to predominate over עבד השם, and by 1600 usage of עבד השם had disappeared, leaving עליו השלום (or its feminine/plural forms) as the only expansion of ע"ה.
May HaShem avenge his/her blood
This honorific "May HaShem avenge his/her blood" is generally used for an individual who are considered to have been martyred through acts of anti-Semitism such as pogroms, genocide, or terrorist attacks. The term is also applied to any innocent Jew killed, whether for anti-Semitic reasons or others. The Hebrew phrase is "HaShem yikom damo" (m.) / "HaShem yikom dama" (f.) / "HaShem yikom damam" (pl.) and in the Hebrew: "השם יקום דמו" (m.) / "השם יקום דמה" (f.) / "השם יקום דמם" (pl.). The English abbreviation is “HY"D” and in Hebrew "הי״ד."
Other expressions used to add to the names of people who died: "the deceased", "rest of Eden", "rest in peace." It is customary to sign the tombstones with the initials תַּנְצְבָ"ה (תְּהִי נִשְׁמָתוֹ צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים (, according to the language of the verse: and the soul was a pure soul in the chorus of life).
Holy and the righteous
The abbreviation “זי״ע/zy"a” stands for "zekhuto yagen `aleinu/May his merit shield us," and often follows the mention of meritorious righteous ones. A variant is “זיע״א/zya"a” which adds "Amen" at the end. This expression stems from the belief that a righteous person who passes to the next world can serve as an advocate before God for his remaining community. Other acronyms of this type are נבג"מ (נשמתו בגנזי מרומים; his soul in the heavenly vineyards) and נלב"ע (נפטר לבית עולמו; died to his world).
Memory of the righteous
The honorific "May the memory of the righteous be a blessing" is used after the names of holy rabbis and other holy people, and "the name of the wicked shall perish" on a wicked person. both from Proverbs 10:7.
In Hebrew transliteration: "zekher tzadik livrakha" and in Hebrew: "זכר צדיק לברכה." The English abbreviation commonly used is “ZT"L” and in Hebrew, "זצ״ל" is used. It is pronounced in reading as "zatzal." It may be also written as “ZTz"L”.
It is used primarily in reference to rabbis who have been deceased in recent memory. Thus, one is likely to write “Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ZT"L” (d. 1986) but far less likely to write "Rashi ZT"L" (d. 1105).
In the course of time, additional versions of the above expressions were created, for example: "זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה"; "may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing" (ZTVK"L; זצוק״ל), "may the memory of the righteous and holy be a blessing for the life of the world to come" (זצוקללה״ה).
Memory of the wicked
While the above mentioned positive honorifics are added to the names of beloved people, the names of particularly wicked (evil, despised) people are sometimes embellished with the phrase "Yimakh shemo" ימח שמו, "May his name be blotted out".
- Birnbaum, Philip (1964). Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company. pp. 564–565. ISBN 0-88482-930-8.
- "Tractate Yoma 38a". Yoma. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
- Ben-Yehuda, Ehud; Weinstein, David, eds. (1961). Ben-Yehuda's Pocket English-Hebrew Hebrew-English Dictionary. New York: Pocket Books. pp. xx–xxvi. ISBN 0-671-47211-9.
- Why Jews Say ‘May Her Memory Be a Blessing/Revolution’ When Someone Has Died, by Emily Burack, September 2020
- Dandrowitz, Rabbi Yisrael. "Zichrono Livrocho on a Living Man". Nezer HaTorah, Av 5765 (in Hebrew). 11. HebrewBooks. pp. 157–168.
- In tractate Kiddushin, 31:b
- “Is the Epitaph Acronym ע״ה an Abbreviation of עליו השלום or עבד השם?” Michael J. Broyde Hakirah #3 pg. 17
- The Book of Samuel I, chapter 25, verse 29.