Yimakh shemo

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The Hebrew phrase yimakh shemo יִמַּח שְׁמוֹ "May his name be obliterated" is a curse placed after the name of particular enemies of the Jewish people.[1] A variant is yimakh shemo ve zikhro יִמַּח שְׁמוֹ וְזִכְרוֹ "Obliterate his name and his memory."[2] Yimakh shemo is one of the strongest curses in the Hebrew language.[3]


The term although Hebrew, may be inserted as a set phrase in languages other than Hebrew, including Yiddish,[4] e.g. "Dos iz a kol-boynik, yemakh-shmoy!" ("He is a scoundrel, yemakh-shmoy!")[5] and English.[6] When the phrase is used in English of plurals the Hebrew plural -am ("their names and their memories" yimach shemam ve-zichram) is applied.[7] The epithet may be abbreviated as "Y. S." in some English texts.[8] In Hebrew the abbreviation is (יש"ו) y-sh"u[9][10] The curse connects with examples of erasure of names in other cultures (damnatio memoriae).[11] It has been called "the classic Jewish curse."[12]

Haman and others[edit]

The phrase originates with Purim[13] and Haman,[14][15] but can be applied to any abhorrent enemy of the people[16] such as Sabbatai Zevi,[17][18] Spain,[19] Joseph Stalin[20] Russians,[21] Poles,[22] Adolf Hitler,[4][23][24] Adolf Eichmann,[25] Josef Mengele,[26] or any other Nazi[27][28] Or even in cases of personal slight, such as of a bullying father,[29] or conversely as the father of Israel Zangwill of his playwright son.[30] Chofetz Chaim used the epithet of the man who tried to persuade him to abandon his studies.[31]

There are only a very small number of texts where yimakh shemo is used of Jesus,[32][not in citation given] though the tradition that Yeshu (יֵשׁוּ minus the ayin [יֵשׁוּעַ]) is related to the yimach shemo has a little popular circulation, this may be an inheritance from medieval polemical traditions.[33] An early introduction of this connection into Lutheran literature was made by convert Johan Kemper.[34]


Although the immediate context of the phrase yimakh shemo vezikhro is related to Haman, some sources[35] suggest that the second part of the phrase "and his memory," (vezikhro) harks back to the instruction to "obliterate the memory of Amalek" (תִּמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק) in Deuteronomy 25:19, and Exodus 17:14.[36] This connection is supported in some sources by the idea that Haman is a descendant of Amalek.[37]

Usage in English and Yiddish literature[edit]

Saul Bellow places the phrase in the mouth of the titular character of his novel Herzog[38] to comically depict his anger.[39] Leo Haber's The Red Heifer (2001) set in New York's Lower East Side in the 1940s includes the term in a glossary.[40]

Related terms[edit]

In Yiddish a derived noun, formed with the Slavonic -nik nominalizing suffix, is yemakh-shmoynik "scoundrel" (feminine, yemakh-shmoynitse) but this is not used with the strength of the original epithet yemakh-shmoy.[41]

The term yimakh shemo is often used in combination with the term meshummad from the root shamad, which signifies to destroy.[42][43]

The obliteration of Amalek's memory has been compared to the Latin damnatio memoriae by several European academics.[44][45][46][47]


  1. ^ Steinmetz, Sol (2005). Dictionary of Jewish Usage: A Guide to the Use of Jewish Terms. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 39. ISBN 9780742543874. yimach shemo! 'May he be cursed! Literally, 'May his name be blotted out!' Also, yimach shemo vezichro!, plural, yimach shemom (vezichrom). (Literally) 'May his name and memory be blotted out!' Used after an individual's name, as in Haman yimach shemo! 
  2. ^ Chaim Bermant The walled garden: the saga of Jewish family life and tradition - 1974 "The darkest curse in the Hebrew language is yemach shemo vezichro, 'may his name and remembrance be obliterated"
  3. ^ Lawrence Schimel Found tribe - 2002 "The worst curse in Hebrew is "Yemach shemo!" May his name be erased!"
  4. ^ a b Jewish Currents 1990 reprinted Max Rosenfeld Festivals, folklore & philosophy: a secularist revisits Jewish ... 1997 "When you utter his name, you add (with feeling) yimakh shemoy! — may his name be obliterated! This phrase has become a kind of formula in Yiddish writing, whenever the name of Hitler occurs, but of course it originated with Haman"
  5. ^ A Yiddish dictionary in transliteration Harry Coldoff - 1988 Jewish language review: Volume 4 Association for the Study of Jewish Languages - 1984 "Mikoyekh hayntike tsaytn, mikoyekh emigratsye, Palestine, veys ikh! Veys ikh? Epes dakht zikh mir - - oykh dos zelbe?. Nu, un der Voskhod? Der Voskhod? Dos iz a kol-boynik, yemakh-shmoy! Ir hot gezen, vi tsederboym raybt im a morde?"
  6. ^ American voices: how dialects differ from coast to coast - Page 254 Walt Wolfram, Ben Ward - 2006 - 269 "Expressions include wishful terms, eg, halevai 'would that it were so', greetings, eg, boruch habo 'welcome', curses, eg, yemach shemo 'may his name be blotted out', and interjections, eg, nu 'well, so'. "
  7. ^ Dictionary of Jewish usage: a guide to the use of Jewish terms - Page 39 Sol Steinmetz - 2005 A. M,yimach shemo vezichro!. plural, yimach shemom (vezichrom). (Literally) 'May his name and memory be blotted out!'" [e.g.; Who's who in Lubavitch: Volume 1 Chaim Dalfin - 2003 "...sent Rabbi Rafael Kahn, who was Rav in Usvet, replacing his father-in-law Rabbi Yoel Dovidson, to replace Rabbi Estrin in Shtzedrin. Later he was rav in Nevel and finally in Riga, where he was murdered by the Nazis yimach shemom.]
  8. ^ Osher M. Lehmann, Oscar M. Lehmann Faith at the brink: an autobiography of the formative years 1996 "The abbreviation YS is added in this book, following the initial mention of committed German evildoers. YS, "Yemach Shemom" literally translates to "May his/her/their name be erased"."
  9. ^ Hebrew Wiktionary - abbreviation y-sh"-u
  10. ^ Gershom Scholem Tagebücher: nebst Aufsätzen und Entwürfen bis 1923 2 - 1995 "Und den Nathanael gelesen. Gefährlich! Herren Professoren Strack und Dalman! יש"ו [Abk. für ימח שמו (jimach schemo, sein Name sei ausgelöscht)]."
  11. ^ Mordechai Rotenberg Damnation & deviance: the Protestant ethic and the spirit of failure Page 92 2003 "and the Hebrew expression "erased be his name" ("yimach shmo") is known to be a most powerfully devastating curse."
  12. ^ The Jewish moral virtues 232 Eugene B. Borowitz, Frances Weinman Schwartz - 1999 "The Classic Jewish Curse: Yimakh Shmo, May His Name Be Blotted Out."
  13. ^ Shulamis Yelin Shulamis: stories from a Montreal childhood - 1984 "And every time his abhorrent name was mentioned, it was followed by an extended roll of wooden noise- makers, graggers, and the curse, Yemach Shemoh!, May his name be wiped out. Thus had Jews revelled in the miracles of their survival ..."
  14. ^ Sarah Silberstein Swartz, Margie Wolfe From memory to transformation: Jewish women's voices 1998 "Part of the ritualized story includes repeating Haman, the villain's name, frequently. ... After mentioning his name, many will say, yemakh shemo, may his name be erased, eradicated."
  15. ^ Hebrew phrasebook Klara Ilana Wistinetzki, Justin Ben-Adam Rudelson Lonely Planet 1999 "Under Italian influence, Purim carnivals have become common in many countries, with performances retelling the story of Purim. As part of the holiday, Jews are commanded to obliterate Haman's name throughout the generations."
  16. ^ First things: Issues 129-133 Institute on Religion and Public Life - 2003 "The phrase is yemach shemo, which means, may his name be erased. It is used whenever a great enemy of the Jewish nation, of the past or present, is mentioned.
  17. ^ Alpert, Reuven (2002). Caught in the Crack: Encounters with the Jewish Muslims of Turkey: A Spiritual Travelogue. Wandering Soul Press. p. 71.  Spellings of the name שַׁבְּתַי צְבִי in Latin script include Sabbatay Sevi, Shabbethai Sevi, Shabsai Tzvi, and Sabbatai Ṣevi, see Gershom Scholem: Sabbatai Ṣevi: The Mystical Messiah: 1626–1676.
  18. ^ Kastein, Josef (2002). The Messiah of Ismir: Sabbatai Zevi. The Viking Press. p. 327. 
  19. ^ The essential Ilan Stavans p126 Ilan Stavans - 2000 citing Alberto Gerchunoff, The Jewish gauchos of the pampas Spanish 1910, English translation 1998 Prudencio de Pereda - 1998 "The Dain shrugged indignantly, and said in Hebrew: "Yemach Shemam Vizichrom!, May Spain sink in the sea! May she break into pieces! May her memory be obliterated! I can never think of Spain," the old man said, "without having the blood .."
  20. ^ Jewish currents: 44 1990 "To the youth, Yiddish is a foreign language, thanks to Stalin, Yemach shemo (May his name be erased)! In five schools and four kindergartens, Yiddish is now taught to 200 pupils (including non-Jews)"
  21. ^ The National Jewish monthly: Volume 43 B'nai B'rith - 1928 ""Do you think the Germans are any worse than the Russians — yimach shemom — who're on our side?" "You don't understand, dad. Anyhow, Australia's been jolly good to us Jews. The least we can do is to defend her when she is attacked."
  22. ^ Yair Weinstock Holiday tales for the soul: a famous novelist retells holiday Libby Lazewnik - 2002 -"The words "yemach shemam" ("may their names be erased!") were frequently on Meyer's lips — referring as much to the Poles as to the Nazis themselves. "There is no forgiveness," he would declare. "The Poles are the lowest and most ..."
  23. ^ New York Magazine - 31 Mar 1997 - Page 49 Vol. 30, No. 12 "... relatives to whom they sent letters, clothes, and, once, curtains for a wedding present. By war's end, only a cousin or two remained alive. Every time the rabbi at yeshiva mentioned Hitler, he spat out afterward, "Yemach shemo"
  24. ^ Judah Lifschitz, Aharon Sorsḳi The Klausenberger Rebbe: the war years - Page 184 2003 -"Our Sages teach us that if the Jewish people are not worthy of redemption at the end of days, the Almighty will issue harsh decrees against them — decrees which we have already suffered at the hands of Hitler, yemach shemo "
  25. ^ David Kranzler, Eliezer Gevirtz To save a World 1991 " "...for Jewish affairs to Eichmann, yemach shemo." He was referring to Adolf Eichmann, the supreme implementer of the Nazi scheme to deport and murder the Jews."
  26. ^ Nachman Seltzer In the blink of an eye: and other stories p145 2006 "Mengele, yemach shemo. How could such a creature breathe the same air as everyone else?"
  27. ^ Sh'ma 485-515 1995 "yemach shmam vezikhbram (may the name and memory be blotted out), the colloquially used epithet that accompanies all mentions of Hitler or the Nazis in some people's vernacular"
  28. ^ Yaffa Eliach Hasidic tales of the Holocaust 1982 "When one said in the ghetto, "The dog, may his name be obliterated," it was clear to all to whom the reference was made: to the Hauptsturmführer (captain) in the Passport Division."
  29. ^ Dovid Kaplan, Elimelech Meisels The Kiruv Files 2003 Page 82 - " He carried a physical scar from when his father had attacked him with a broken bottle and no shortage of emotional scars as well. One day he mentioned his deceased father to me and added the words yemach shemo (may his name be erased)."
  30. ^ From the ghetto to the melting pot: Israel Zangwill's Jewish plays p6 Israel Zangwill, Edna Nahshon - 2006 -"Moses reproached his friend privately, saying he did not wish to be known as the father of a "renegade" and used a fierce epithet: "yimakh shmo" (may his name be obliterated)/ In his later years, the father left London to live in Jerusalem."
  31. ^ Bergman, Asher (2004). Rav Shach On Chumash. ArtScroll / Mesorah. ISBN 9781578193615. There was one exception — the leader of the Maskilim in Vilna, Adam HaKohen Sherry, to whose name the Chofetz Chaim would add yemach shemo (may his name be erased). And why? Because when the Chofetz Chaim studied in Vilna in his youth, he became well known as a very bright young man who held great promise as a future Torah giant. Adam HaKohen himself came to him and tried to convince him to abandon his studies. 
  32. ^ Proceedings: Volume 4 Aḳademyah ha-leʼumit ha-Yiśreʼelit le-madaʻim - 1969 "Perhaps the most significant of these is the passage where instead of the printed 'that certain man' we find 'Jesus the Nazarene — may his name be obliterated' (thus also in a Genizah MS, British Museum, Or. 91842). "
  33. ^ Klauck, Hans-Josef (2003). The Apocryphal Gospels: An Introduction. A&C Black. p. 213. ISBN 9780567083906. An unfriendly interpretation of the child's name is offered: 'But the name Yeshu means: "May his name be blotted out, and his memory too!"' (§ 58). The three letters of which the name Jesus in Hebrew consists, yod, sin and waw, function here as an acrostic, forming the initial letters of the three words which make up this sentence. 
  34. ^ Mats Eskhult Rabbi Kemper's Case for Christianity in His Matthew Commentary, with Reference to Exegesis (per Mats Eskhult (Uppsala University) Hebrew Studies within Seventeenth Century Swedish Lutheranism) in Religious polemics in context: papers presented to the Second International Conference of the Leiden Institute for the Study of Religions (LISOR) ed. Theo L. Hettema, Arie van der Kooij - Page 161 2004 - "This is applied to Jesus: "It is easy to see that Jesus is spoken of," Kemper says, "and still today they mock him by rendering his name without 'ayin as Yeshu, ie, yimmah stud wezikro 'may his name and memory be wiped out."
  35. ^ I didn't know that! - Page 370 Joe Bobker - 2008 "The term Yemach shemo vzichro (which I heard regularly in my home in the context of Adolf and his Hitlerian hordes) was originally associated with the ultimate enemy, Amalek, "
  36. ^ Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods Michael Wex - 2006 "A few names that have nothing to do with Amalek are also blotted in the Bible, but the association of yemakh shmoy with Amalek remains strong: the traditional way of testing a new pen is to write "Amalek" (in Hebrew letters, of course) and then scribble over it until it is "blotted out. "
  37. ^ Picturing Yiddish: gender, identity, and memory in the illustrated ... - Page 145 Diane Wolfthal - 2004 also Artful armies, beautiful battles Page 199 Pia F. Cuneo - 2002 "On Purim, some Sephardic congregants write Haman's name on the soles of their shoes and pound the floor until his name is erased.'2 Deuteronomy 25:19 commands Jews to blot out Amalek's name. Since Haman is Amalek's descendant, "
  38. ^ Saul Bellow: a critical essay Robert Detweiler - 1967 -"Or listen to Herzog in a comically vengeful mood: "Yemach sh'mol Let their names be blotted out!"
  39. ^ Liela H. Goldman Saul Bellow's moral vision: a critical study of the Jewish experience He says: "Yemach sh'mo!" Let their names be blotted out!" (250). The Hebrew noun for the word name is shem ... If Herzog is referring to his enemies, he would have to say yemach sh'mom. His anger does not justify incorrect usuage"
  40. ^ Haber, L. The Red Heifer (2001) Glossary yemach shemoy (shetno) (pl. yemach shemum): may his name be erased (used in reference to an evil tyrant or an oppressor); when v'zichroy (v' zichro) is added (pl. v'zichrum), the phrase is extended to mean, May his name and his memory be erased
  41. ^ Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods Michael Wex - 2006 "Yemakh shmoy is so serious that the noun that derives from it is never used about anyone about whom you'd actually say yemakh shmoy. A yemakh-shmoynik (feminine, yemakh-shmoynitse) is "a scoundrel, an evildoer," but not evil enough to ."
  42. ^ God's sacred tongue: Hebrew & the American imagination - Page 96 Shalom Goldman - 2004 "One of the names by which such a person is called, is meshummad, from the root shamad, which signifies to destroy; and to this name they generally add yemach shemo vesichro; ie let his name and memory be blotted out.
  43. ^ Judah and Israel: or, The restoration and conversion of the Jews p5 Joseph Samuel Christian Frederick Frey - 1812 "One of the names by which they call him or her is Meshummad or Meshummedeth, from the root Shamad, which signifies to destroy ; and to this name they generally add, Yemach Shemo vesichro, ie, Let his name and memory be blotted out."
  44. ^ Internationales Archiv für Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur: 23 Walter de Gruyter & Co - 1998 Cf. Dtn 25,17-19: Erinnere dich, was dir Amalek angetan hat auf dem Weg, als du auszogst aus Ägypten. ... Hier geht es um ein absichtsvolles, aktives Vergessen, eine damnatio memoriae, um verleugnen, bestreiten, verschweigen, ...
  45. ^ Henoch Paul Kahle - 1985 - La stessa damnatio memoriae è avvertita come un obbligo, un comando di vino, cui dover assolvere. La versione deuteronomistica di Esodo 17,14 [J] ("lo cancellerò completamente la menzione di Amalek sotto il cielo") suona:
  46. ^ Herrenworte im Johannesevangelium Michael Theobald - 2002 Immerhin verschweigt er den Namen des Kultbildes und gibt ihn so „der damnatio memoriae" preis . ... „Solange Mose seine Hand erhoben hielt, war Israel stärker ; sooft er aber die Hand sinken ließ, war Amalek stärker. ...
  47. ^ Stanislaus Hafner Serbisches Mittelalter- 1962 5S) Amalek, der Stammvater der Amalekiter, eines Nomadenvolkes im Norden der Sinaiinsel. Sie galten als die schlimmsten Feinde Israels, cf. Ex 17,8f. u. ö. •*) Cf. damnatio memoriae, see Studien, p. 106112 ff. 61 ) Cf. Ps 79 (78),