History of the Hebrew alphabet

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The History of the Hebrew alphabet dates back several thousand years.


Aleppo Codex: 10th century Hebrew Bible with Masoretic pointing
A page from a 16th-century Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary by Elijah Levita

According to contemporary scholars, the original Hebrew script developed alongside others in the region (the region is the Land of Cannan and Arabia) during the course of the late second and first millennia BCE; it is closely related to the Phoenician script, which itself probably gave rise to the use of alphabetic writing in Greece (Greek). It is sometimes claimed that around the 10th century BCE [1][verification needed] a distinct Hebrew variant, the original "Hebrew script", emerged, which was widely used in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah until they fell in the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, respectively. It is not straightforward, however, to distinguish Israelite/Judahite scripts from others which were in use in the immediate area, most notably by the Moabites and Ammonites.

Following the Babylonian exile, Jews gradually stopped using the Hebrew script, and instead adopted the "square" Aramaic script (another offshoot of the same family of scripts). This script, used for writing Hebrew, later evolved into the Jewish, or "square" script, that is still used today.[2] Closely related scripts were in use all over the Middle East for several hundred years, but following the rise of Christianity (and later, the rise of Islam), they gave way to the Latin and Arabic scripts, respectively.

The Hebrew alphabet was later adapted in order to write down the languages of the Jewish diaspora (Karaim, Judæo-Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish, etc.), and was retained all the while in relatively unadapted form throughout the diaspora for Hebrew, which remained the language of Jewish law, scriptures and scholarship. The Hebrew alphabet was also retained as the alphabet used for writing down the Hebrew language during its rebirth as an everyday modern language starting in the 18th to 19th century.

According to one Jewish tradition,[3] however, the block script seen today in Hebrew Torah Scrolls, known as Kthav Ashurith, was the original Hebrew script carved into the Ten Commandments.[4] According to this opinion, the Ktav Ashurith was lost over time, as the masses used Paleo-Hebrew and its cousins, known as Kthav Ivri, for day to day writing, just as Jews today use a non block script for everyday writing.[5] According to the Talmud, the original script was known as Lebonae and was associated with the Samaritan community who continued to preserve the script even after the Jews switched to Ashurith.[6]

Ancestral scripts and script variants

Letter[7] Name Scripts
Hebrew Ancestral Related
Cursive Rashi Braille[8] Hieroglyphic base
of Proto-Sinaitic
(reconstructed)[citation needed]
Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew Aramaic Greek Latin Cyrillic Arabic
א Alef Hebrew letter Alef handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Alef Rashi.png ⠁ (braille pattern dots-1)
Aleph Aleph Aleph Aleph.svg Αα Aa Аа ا
ב Bet, Vet Hebrew letter Bet handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Bet Rashi.png ⠧ (braille pattern dots-1236) ⠃ (braille pattern dots-12)
Bet Beth Bet Beth.svg Ββ Bb Бб
ﺑ ﺏ
ג Gimel Hebrew letter Gimel handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Gimel Rashi.png ⠛ (braille pattern dots-1245)
Gimel Gimel Gimel Igimel.png Γγ J or Cc
Гг ﺟ ﺝ
ד Dalet Hebrew letter Daled handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Daled Rashi.png ⠙ (braille pattern dots-145)
Dalet Daleth Daled Daleth.svg Δδ Dd Дд دذ
ה Hei Hebrew letter He handwriting.svg Hebrew letter He Rashi.png ⠓ (braille pattern dots-125)
Heh He Heh He0.svg Εε Ee Ее
ه هـ
ـهـ ـه
ו Vav Hebrew letter Vav handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Vav Rashi.png ⠺ (braille pattern dots-2456) ⠬ (braille pattern dots-346) unknown Vov Waw Vav Waw.svg Υυ
ז Zayin Hebrew letter Zayin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Zayin Rashi.png ⠵ (braille pattern dots-1356) unknown Zayin Zayin Zayin Zayin.svg Ζζ Zz Зз
ח Het Hebrew letter Het handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Het Rashi.png ⠭ (braille pattern dots-1346)
Khet Heth Khet Heth.svg Ηη Hh Ии ﺣﺡ or خ
ט Tet Hebrew letter Tet handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Tet Rashi.png ⠞ (braille pattern dots-2345)
Tet Teth Tet Teth.svg Θθ T heavy Ѳѳ
י Yud Hebrew letter Yud handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Yud Rashi.png ⠚ (braille pattern dots-245)
Yud Yodh Yud Yod.svg Ιι Jj
ﻳ ﻱ
כ ך Kaf, Khaf Hebrew letter Kaf handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Kaf-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Kaf-nonfinal Rashi.png Hebrew letter Kaf-final Rashi.png ⠡ (braille pattern dots-16) ⠅ (braille pattern dots-13)
Khof Kaph Khof Kaph.svg Κκ Kk Кк ﻛ ﻙ
ל Lamed Hebrew letter Lamed handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Lamed Rashi.png ⠇ (braille pattern dots-123)
Lamed Lamedh Lamed Lamed.svg Λλ Ll Лл ﻟ ﻝ
מ ם Mem Hebrew letter Mem handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Mem-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Mem-nonfinal Rashi.png Hebrew letter Mem-final Rashi.png ⠍ (braille pattern dots-134)
Mem Mem Mem Mem.svg Μμ Mm Мм ﻣ ﻡ
נ ן Nun Hebrew letter Nun handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Nun-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Nun-nonfinal Rashi.png Hebrew letter Nun-final Rashi.png ⠝ (braille pattern dots-1345)
Nun Nun Nun Nun.svg Νν Nn Нн ﻧ ﻥ
ס Samech Hebrew letter Samekh handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Samekh Rashi.png ⠎ (braille pattern dots-234)
Samekh Samekh Samekh Samekh.svg Ξξ
S heavy or Xx Ѯѯ
ص or س
ע Ayin Hebrew letter Ayin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Ayin Rashi.png ⠫ (braille pattern dots-1246)
Ayin Ayin Ayin Ayin.svg Οο Oo Оо ﻋ ع
غـ غ
פ ף Pei, Fei Hebrew letter Pe handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Pe-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Pe-nonfinal Rashi.png Hebrew letter Pe-final Rashi.png ⠋ (braille pattern dots-124) ⠏ (braille pattern dots-1234)
Pey Pe Pey Pe0.svg Ππ Pp Пп ﻓ ﻑ
צ ץ Tsadi Hebrew letter Tsadik handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Tsadik-final handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Tsadik-nonfinal Rashi.png Hebrew letter Tsadik-final Rashi.png ⠮ (braille pattern dots-2346)
Tsadi Sade Tzadi Sade 1.svg, Sade 2.svg Ϻϻ S heavy Цц
ﺻ ص
ضـ ض
ק Kuf Hebrew letter Kuf handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Kuf Rashi.png ⠟ (braille pattern dots-12345)
Quf Qoph Quf Qoph.svg Ϙϙ Qq Ҁҁ ﻗ ﻕ
ר Reish Hebrew letter Resh handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Resh Rashi.png ⠗ (braille pattern dots-1235)
Resh Res Resh Resh.svg Ρρ Rr Рр
ש Shin, Sin Hebrew letter Shin handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Shin Rashi.png ⠩ (braille pattern dots-146) ⠱ (braille pattern dots-156) unknown Shin Sin Shin Shin.svg Σσς Ss Сс
سـ س
شـ ش
ת Tav Hebrew letter Taf handwriting.svg Hebrew letter Taf Rashi.png ⠹ (braille pattern dots-1456) ⠳ (braille pattern dots-1256) unknown Tof Taw Tof Taw.svg Ττ Tt Тт ﺗ ﺕ
ﺛ ﺙ

See also


  1. 10th century BCE script
  2. Jewish Encyclopedia: Alphabet, The Hebrew: Samaritan Alphabet: "While the Jews adopted the Aramaic alphabet, gradually abandoning their own, the Samaritans held fast to the original forms, in order to show themselves the veritable heirs of ancient Hebraism. ... It is the same character used in all the Samaritan books of to-day, and remains the only offshoot of the old Hebrew script extant, while the modern Hebrew Alphabet is of Aramaic origin."
  3. "The Script of the Torah". Jerusalem, Israel: Aishdas. 2002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, Sanhedrin 21b-22a
  4. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 104a, Tractate Megilla 2b. "Rav Chisda says that the (final) mem and samech in the tablets were miraculously hanging in the air." This can only happen in Kthav Ashurith and not in Kthav Ivri.
  5. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megilla 3a.
  6. Klein, Reuven Chaim, Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew. Mosaica Press 2014. pages 185-205. ISBN 978-1937887360.
  7. A second print letter is the form found at the end of a word.
  8. A second braille letter corresponds to the letter plus dagesh (dot) in print.