Hebrew alphabet

This article is about the alphabet derived from the Aramaic alphabet (135 CE – present). For the alphabet derived from the Phoenician alphabet (10th century BCE – 135 CE), see Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. For the Samaritan alphabet, see Samaritan alphabet. For the insect, see Hebrew character.
Hebrew alphabet
Abjad (can also be a Abugida or a true alphabet)
Languages Hebrew and other Jewish languages
Time period
3rd century BCE to present
Parent systems
Child systems
Yiddish alphabet
Sister systems
Direction Right-to-left
ISO 15924 Hebr, 125
Unicode alias

The Hebrew alphabet (Hebrew: אָלֶף־בֵּית עִבְרִי[a], Alefbet Ivri), known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script and block script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as of other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Judaeo-Spanish, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two script forms in use; the original old Hebrew script is known as the paleo-Hebrew alphabet (which has been largely preserved, in an altered form, in the Samaritan alphabet), while the present "square" form of the Hebrew alphabet is a stylized form of the Aramaic alphabet and was known by Israel's sages as the Ashuri alphabet, since its origins were alleged to be from Assyria.[1] Various "styles" (in current terms, "fonts") of representation of the letters exist. There is also a cursive Hebrew script, which has also varied over time and place.

The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters. It does not have case, but five letters have different forms when used at the end of a word. Hebrew is written from right to left. Originally, the alphabet was an abjad consisting only of consonants. As with other abjads, such as the Arabic alphabet, scribes later devised means of indicating vowel sounds by separate vowel points, known in Hebrew as niqqud (plural niqqudot). In both biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, the letters א ה ו י are also used as matres lectionis (the use of certain consonants to indicate a vowel) to represent vowels.

A modified version of the Hebrew alphabet is used to write Yiddish, known as Yiddish alphabet, which is a true alphabet (except for borrowed Hebrew words). In modern usage of the alphabet, as in the case of Yiddish (except that ע replaces ה) and to some extent modern Modern Hebrew, vowels may be indicated. Today, the trend is toward full spelling with these letters acting as true vowels.


The Aleppo Codex, a tenth century Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. Book of Joshua 1:1

According to contemporary scholars, the original Hebrew script developed during the late second and first millennia BCE alongside others used in the region. A distinct Hebrew variant of the Phoenician script, called by scholars the paleo-Hebrew alphabet, emerged by the 10th century BCE,[2] examples of which are represented in the Gezer calendar and the Siloam inscription.

The paleo-Hebrew alphabet was used in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah.[3] Following the exile of the Kingdom of Judah in the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian captivity, Jews began using a form of the Assyrian Aramaic alphabet, which was another offshoot of the same family of scripts. The Samaritans, who remained in the Land of Israel, continued to use the paleo-Hebrew alphabet. During the third century BCE, Jews began to use a stylized, "square" form of the Aramaic alphabet that was used by the Persian Empire (and which in turn had been adopted from the Assyrians),[4] while the Samaritans continued to use a form of the paleo-Hebrew script called the Samaritan alphabet. After the fall of the Persian Empire in 330 BCE, Jews used both scripts before settling on the Assyrian form. For a limited time thereafter Jews retained the paleo-Hebrew script only to write the tetragrammaton, but soon that custom was also abandoned.

The square Hebrew alphabet was later adapted and used for writing languages of the Jewish diaspora – such as Karaim, the Judeo-Arabic languages, Judaeo-Spanish, and Yiddish. The Hebrew alphabet continued in use for scholarly writing in Hebrew and came again into everyday use with the rebirth of the Hebrew language as a spoken language in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in Israel.


Features: Abjad  Mater lectionis  Begadkefat
Variants: Cursive  Rashi  Solitreo  Braille
Numerals: Gematria  Numeration
Ancillaries: Diacritics  Punctuation  Cantillation
Translit.: Romanization of Hebrew  Hebraization of English  IPA  ISO
Computers: Keyboard  Unicode and HTML


In the traditional form, the Hebrew alphabet is an abjad consisting only of consonants, written from right to left. It has 22 letters, five of which use different forms at the end of a word.


In the traditional form, vowels are indicated by the weak consonants Aleph (א), He (ה), Vav (ו), or Yodh (י) serving as vowel letters, or matres lectionis: the letter is combined with a previous vowel and becomes silent, or by imitation of such cases in the spelling of other forms. Also, a system of vowel points to indicate vowels (diacritics), called niqqud, was developed. In modern forms of the alphabet, as in the case of Yiddish and to some extent modern Israeli Hebrew, vowels may be indicated. Today, the trend is toward full spelling with the weak letters acting as true vowels.

When used to write Yiddish, vowels are indicated, using certain letters, either with or without niqqud-diacritics (e.g., respectively: "אָ", "יִ" or "י", "ע"), except for Hebrew words, which in Yiddish are written in their Hebrew spelling.

To preserve the proper vowel sounds, scholars developed several different sets of vocalization and diacritical symbols called niqqud (ניקוד, literally "applying points"). One of these, the Tiberian system, eventually prevailed. Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, and his family for several generations, are credited for refining and maintaining the system. These points are normally used only for special purposes, such as Biblical books intended for study, in poetry or when teaching the language to children. The Tiberian system also includes a set of cantillation marks, called "trope", used to indicate how scriptural passages should be chanted in synagogue recitations of scripture (although these marks do not appear in the scrolls). In everyday writing of modern Hebrew, niqqud are absent; however, patterns of how words are derived from Hebrew roots (called shorashim, or root letters) allow Hebrew speakers to determine the vowel-structure of a given word from its consonants based on the word's context and part of speech.


Neither the old Hebrew script nor the modern Hebrew script have case, but five letters have special final forms,[c] called sofit (Hebrew: סופית, meaning in this context "final" or "ending") form, used only at the end of a word, somewhat as in the Greek or in the Arabic and Mandaic alphabets.[b] These are shown below the normal form in the following table (letter names are Unicode standard[5][6]). Although Hebrew is read and written from right to left, the following table shows the letters in order from left to right.

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ
ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת
ם ן ף ץ



Main articles: Biblical Hebrew phonology, Modern Hebrew phonology, International Phonetic Alphabet for Hebrew, and Yiddish phonology

The descriptions that follow are based on the pronunciation of modern standard Israeli Hebrew.

letter IPA Name of letter
Unicode[5][6] Hebrew[7] Modern Hebrew
Yiddish / Ashkenazi
א[ʔ], Alefאָלֶף/ˈalef//ˈaləf/
בּ[b]Betבֵּית/bet//bɛɪs/, /bɛɪz/
ב[v]בֵית/vet//vɛɪs/, /vɛɪz/
ד[d]Daletדָּלֶת/ˈdalet/, /ˈdaled//ˈdaləd/, /ˈdaləs/
ה[h~ʔ], Heהֵא, הה, הי/he/, /hej//hɛɪ/
ו[v]~[w]Vavוָו, ואו, ויו/vav//vɔv/
ז[z]Zayinזַיִן/ˈzajin/, /ˈza.in//ˈzajin/
ח[χ]~[ħ]Hetחֵית/ħet/, /χet/ /χɛs/
י[j]Yodיוֹד/jod/, /jud//jud/
ךּ[k]כַּף סוֹפִית/kaf sofit//ˈlaŋɡə kɔf/
ך[χ]כַף סוֹפִית/χaf sofit//ˈlaŋɡə χɔf/
םמֵם סוֹפִית/mem sofit//ˈʃlɔs mɛm/
ןנוּן סוֹפִית/nun sofit//ˈlaŋɡə nun/
ע[ʔ]~[ʕ], Ayinעַיִן/ˈʕajin/, /ˈʔa.in//ˈajin/
פּ[p]Peפֵּא, פה/pe/, /pej//pɛɪ/
פ[f]פֵא, פה/fe/, /fej//fɛɪ/
ףפֵּא סוֹפִית,
פה סופית
/pe sofit/, /pej sofit/ /ˈlaŋɡə fɛɪ/
צ[t͡s]Tsadiצַדִי, צדיק/ˈtsadi//ˈtsadi/, /ˈtsadək/
ץצַדִי סוֹפִית,
צדיק סופית
/ˈtsadi sofit//ˈlaŋɡə ˈtsadi/, /ˈlaŋɡə ˈtsadək/
ק[k]Qofקוֹף/qof/, /kuf//kuf/
ר[ʁ]~[r]Reshרֵישׁ/reʃ/, /ʁejʃ//ʁɛɪʃ/
תּ[t]Tavתָּף, תּו /tav/, /taf//tɔv/, /tɔf/
תתָף, תו/sɔv/, /sɔf/

Note that dotless tav, ת, would be expected to be pronounced /θ/ (voiceless dental fricative), but this pronunciation was lost among most Jews due to its not existing in the countries where they lived (such as in nearly all of Eastern Europe). Yiddish modified this /θ/ to /s/ (cf. seseo in Spanish), but in modern Israeli Hebrew, it is simply pronounced /t/.

Shin and sin

Further information: Shin (letter)

Shin and sin are represented by the same letter, ש, but are two separate phonemes. They are not mutually allophonic. When vowel diacritics are used, the two phonemes are differentiated with a shin-dot or sin-dot; the shin-dot is above the upper-right side of the letter, and the sin-dot is above the upper-left side of the letter.

Symbol Name Transliteration IPA Example
שׁ (right dot) shin sh /ʃ/ shop
שׂ (left dot) sin s /s/ sour

Historically, left-dot-sin corresponds to Proto-Semitic *ś, which in biblical-Judaic-Hebrew corresponded to the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative /ɬ/, as evidenced in the Greek transliteration of Hebrew words such as balsam (בֹּשֶׂם) (the ls - 'שׂ') as is evident in the Targum Onkelos. The retention of /ɬ/ is evident in the Soqotri language.


Main article: Dagesh

Historically, the consonants ב beth, ג gimel, ד daleth, כ kaf, פ pe and ת tav each had two sounds: one hard (plosive), and one soft (fricative), depending on the position of the letter and other factors. When vowel diacritics are used, the hard sounds are indicated by a central dot called dagesh (דגש), while the soft sounds lack a dagesh. In modern Hebrew, however, the dagesh only changes the pronunciation of ב beth, כ kaf, and פ pe, and does not affect the name of the letter. The differences are as follows:

Name With dagesh Without dagesh
Symbol Transliteration IPA Example Symbol Transliteration IPA Example
beth בּ b /b/ bun ב v /v/ van
kaf [8]כּ ךּ k /k/ kangaroo כ ך kh/ch/x /χ/ loch
pe פּ p /p/ pass פ ף f/ph /f/ find

In other dialects (mainly liturgical) there are variations from this pattern.

Sounds represented with diacritic geresh

Main articles: Geresh and Hebraization of English

The sounds [t͡ʃ], [d͡ʒ], [ʒ], written "צ׳", "ג׳", "ז׳", and [w], non-standardly sometimes transliterated וו or ו׳[e3], are often found in slang and loanwords that are part of the everyday Hebrew colloquial vocabulary. The apostrophe-looking symbol after the Hebrew letter modifies the pronunciation of the letter and is called a geresh. (As mentioned above, while still done, using ו׳ to represent [w] is non-standard; standard spelling rules allow no usage of ו׳ whatsoever[e4]).

Hebrew slang and loanwords
Name Symbol IPA Transliteration Example
Gimel with a geresh ג׳ [d͡ʒ] ǧ[9] ǧáḥnun [ˈd͡ʒaχnun] גַּ׳חְנוּן
Zayin with a geresh ז׳ [ʒ] ž[9] koláž [koˈlaʒ] קוֹלַאז׳
Tsadi with a geresh צ׳ [t͡ʃ] č[9] čupár (treat) [t͡ʃuˈpar] צ׳וּפָּר
Vav with a geresh
or double Vav
וו or ו׳(non standard)[e5] [w] w awánta (boastful act) [aˈwanta] אַוַּנְטַה

The pronunciation of the following letters can also be modified with the geresh diacritic, the represented sounds are however foreign to Hebrew phonology, i.e., these symbols only represent sounds in foreign words or names when transliterated with the Hebrew alphabet, and never loanwords.

Transliteration of non-native sounds
Name Symbol IPA Arabic letter Example Comment
Dalet with a geresh ד׳ [ð] Dhāl (ذ)
Voiced th
Dhū al-Ḥijjah (ذو الحجة) ד׳ו אל-חיג׳ה * Also used for English voiced th
* Often a simple ד is written.
Tav with a geresh ת׳ [θ] Thāʼ (ﺙ)
Voiceless th
Thurston ת׳רסטון
Ḥet with a geresh ח׳ [χ] Khāʼ (خ) Sheikh (شيخ) שייח׳ * Unlike the other sounds in this table, the sound [χ] represented by ח׳ is indeed a native sound in Hebrew; the geresh is however used only when transliteration must distinguish between [χ] and [ħ], in which case ח׳ transliterates the former and ח the latter, whereas in everyday usage ח without geresh is pronounced [ħ] only dialectically but [χ] commonly.
Resh with a geresh ר׳ or ע׳ [ʁ] Ghayn (غ) Ghajar (غجر) ר׳ג׳ר Sometimes an ʻayin with a geresh (ע׳) is used to transliterate غ – inconsistently with the guidelines specified by the Academy of the Hebrew Language

A geresh is also used to denote acronyms pronounced as a string of letters, and to denote a Hebrew numeral. Geresh also is the name of one of the notes of cantillation in the reading of the Torah, but its appearance and function is different.

Identical pronunciation

In Israel's general population, many consonants have the same pronunciation. They are as follows:

Letters Transliteration Pronunciation (IPA)
Usually when in medial word position:
(separation of vowels in a hiatus)
When in initial or final word position, sometimes also in medial word position:
' or /ʔ/
(glottal stop)
Bet (without dagesh)
v /v/
Kaf (without dagesh)
kh/ch/h /χ/
t /t/
Kaf (with dagesh)
k /k/
Sin (with left dot)
s /s/
and תשׂ
ts/tz /ts/
Tsadi (with geresh)
and תשׁ
ch/tsh (chair) //

* Varyingly

Ancient Hebrew pronunciation

Some of the variations in sound mentioned above are due to a systematic feature of Ancient Hebrew. The six consonants /b ɡ d k p t/ were pronounced differently depending on their position. These letters were also called BeGeD KeFeT letters /ˌbɡɛdˈkɛfɛt/. The full details are very complex; this summary omits some points. They were pronounced as plosives /b ɡ d k p t/ at the beginning of a syllable, or when doubled. They were pronounced as fricatives /v ɣ ð x f θ/ when preceded by a vowel (commonly indicated with a macron, ḇ ḡ ḏ ḵ p̄ ṯ). The plosive and double pronunciations were indicated by the dagesh. In Modern Hebrew the sounds ḏ and ḡ have reverted to [d] and [ɡ], respectively, and ṯ has become [t], so only the remaining three consonants /b k p/ show variation. ר resh may have also been a "doubled" letter, making the list BeGeD KePoReS. (Sefer Yetzirah, 4:1)

Regional and historical variation

The following table contains the pronunciation of the Hebrew letters in reconstructed historical forms and dialects using the International Phonetic Alphabet. The apostrophe-looking symbol after some letters is not a yud but a geresh. It is used for loanwords with non-native Hebrew sounds. The dot in the middle of some of the letters, called a "dagesh kal", also modifies the sounds of the letters ב, כ and פ in modern Hebrew (in some forms of Hebrew it modifies also the sounds of the letters ג, ד and/or ת; the "dagesh chazak" – orthographically indistinguishable from the "dagesh kal" – designates gemination, which today is realized only rarely – e.g. in biblical recitations or when using Arabic loanwords).

Symbol Pronunciation
Israeli Ashkenazi Sephardi Yemenite Reconstructed
Tiberian Mishnaic Biblical
א [ʔ, -] [ - ] [ʔ, -] [ʔ, -] [ʔ, -] [ʔ, -] [ʔ]
בּ [b] [b] [b] [b] [b] [b] [b]
ב [v] [v~v̥] [b~β~v] [β] [v] [β]
גּ [ɡ] [ɡ~ɡ̊] [ɡ] [] [ɡ] [ɡ] [ɡ]
ג [ɡ~ɣ] [ɣ] [ɣ] [ɣ]
דּ [d] [d~d̥] [d̪~ð] [] [] [] []
ד [d̪~ð] [ð] [ð] [ð]
ה [h~ʔ, -] [h, -] [h, -] [h, -] [h, -] [h, -] [h]
ו [v] [v~v̥] [v] [w] [w] [w] [w]
וּ [u] [uː, iː] [uː] [əw] ? ? ?
וֹ [] [əʊ, ɔj, ɛj, ɐʊ] [o] [œ] ? ? ?
ז [z] [z~z̥] [z] [z] [z] [z] [z]
ח [χ~ħ] [x] [ħ] [ħ] [ħ] [ħ] [ħ, χ]
ט [t] [t] [t̪] [t̴̪] (1) [t̴̪] [t̪ˤ] (2) [t̪ʼ] (3)
י [j] [j] [j] [j] [j] [j] [j]
ִי [i] [i] [i] [i] ? ? ?
כּ [k] [k] [k] [k] [k] [k] [k]
כ ך [χ] [x] [x] [x] [x] [x]
ל [l] [l~ɫ] [l] [l] [l] [l] [l]
מ ם [m] [m] [m] [m] [m] [m] [m]
נ ן [n] [n] [] [] [] [] []
ס [s] [s] [s] [s] [s] [s] [s]
ע [ʔ~ʕ, - ] [ - ] [ʕ, ŋ, - ] [ʕ] [ʕ] [ʕ] [ʕ, ʁ]
פּ [p] [p] [p] [p] [p] [p] [p]
פ ף [f] [f] [f] [f] [f] [x]
צ ץ [t͡s] [t͡s] [t͡s] [s̴] (1) [s̴] [sˤ] (2) [sʼ, ɬʼ, θʼ] (3)
ק [k] [k] [k] [ɡ], [b], [q] [q] [q] [] (3)
ר [ʁ] [ɹ]~[ʀ] [r]~[ɾ] [r]~[ɾ] [ʀ] [r] [r]
שׁ [ʃ] [ʃ] [ʃ] [ʃ] [ʃ] [ʃ] [ʃ]
שׂ [s] [s] [s] [s] [s] [s] [l]
תּ [t] [t] [t] [] [] [] []
ת [s] [θ] [θ] [θ]
  1. velarized or pharyngealized
  2. pharyngealized
  3. sometimes said to be ejective but more likely glottalized.


Matres lectionis

Main article: Mater lectionis

א alef, ה he, ו vav and י yod are letters that can sometimes indicate a vowel instead of a consonant (which would be, respectively, /ʔ/, /h/, /v/ and /j/). When they do, ו and י are considered to constitute part of the vowel designation in combination with a niqqud symbol – a vowel diacritic (whether or not the diacritic is marked), whereas א and ה are considered to be mute, their role being purely indicative of the non-marked vowel.

of letter
when letter
Name of
vowel designation
א alef /ʔ/ ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô
ה he /h/ ê, ệ, ậ, â, ô
ו vav /v/ וֹ ḥolám malé ô
וּ shurúq û
י yud /j/ ִי ḥiríq malé î
ֵי tseré malé ê, ệ

Vowel points

Niqqud is the system of dots that help determine vowels and consonants. In Hebrew, all forms of niqqud are often omitted in writing, except for children's books, prayer books, poetry, foreign words, and words which would be ambiguous to pronounce. Israeli Hebrew has five vowel phonemes, /i e a o u/, but many more written symbols for them:

Name Symbol Israeli Hebrew
IPA Transliteration English
Hiriq [i] i week
Zeire [], ([e̞j] with
succeeding yod)
e, (ei with
succeeding yod)
men, main
Segol [] e men
Patach [ä] a father
Kamatz סָ [ä], (or []) a, (or o) father, more
Holam Haser [] o more
Holam Male וֹ
Shuruk [u] u moon

Note 1: The symbol "ס" represents whatever Hebrew letter is used.
Note 2: The pronunciation of zeire and sometimes segol – with or without the letter yod – is sometimes ei in Modern Hebrew. This is not correct in the normative pronunciation and not consistent in the spoken language.[10]
Note 3: The dagesh, mappiq, and shuruk have different functions, even though they look the same.
Note 4: The letter ו (vav) is used since it can only be represented by that letter.

Main article: Meteg

By adding a vertical line (called Meteg) underneath the letter and to the left of the vowel point, the vowel is made long. The meteg is only used in Biblical Hebrew, not Modern Hebrew.

Main article: Sh'va

By adding two vertical dots (called Sh'va) underneath the letter, the vowel is made very short.

Name Symbol Israeli Hebrew
IPA Transliteration English
Shva [] or apostrophe, e,
or nothing
h as pronounced in heir
Reduced Segol [] e men
Reduced Patach [ä] a father
Reduced Kamatz
[] o more
Comparison table
Vowel comparison table [11]
Vowel Length
(phonetically not manifested in Israeli Hebrew)
IPA Transliteration English
Long Short Very Short
ָ ַ ֲ [ä] a far
ֵ ֶ ֱ [] e men
וֹ ָ
[] o more
וּ ֻ n/a [u] u soon
ִי ִ [i] i ski
Note I: By adding two vertical dots (sh'va) ְ
the vowel is made very short.
Note II: The short o and long a have the same niqqud.
Note III: The short o is usually promoted to a long o
in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation
Note IV: The short u is usually promoted to a long u
in Israeli writing for the sake of disambiguation


Main article: Gershayim

The symbol ״ is called a gershayim and is a punctuation mark used in the Hebrew language to denote acronyms. It is written before the last letter in the acronym, e.g. ר״ת. Gershayim is also the name of a note of cantillation in the reading of the Torah, printed above the accented letter, e.g. א֞.

Stylistic variants

The following table displays typographic and chirographic variants of each letter. For the five letters that have a different final form used at the end of words, the final forms are displayed beneath the regular form.

The block (square, or "print" type) and cursive ("handwritten" type) are the only variants in widespread contemporary use. Rashi is also used, for historical reasons, in a handful of standard texts.

Contemporary Early modern Ancestral
Block serif Block sans-serif Cursive Rashi Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew Aramaic
Alef א א 𐤀
Bet ב ב 𐤁
Gimel ג ג 𐤂
Dalet ד ד 𐤃
He ה ה 𐤄
Vav ו ו 𐤅
Zayin ז ז 𐤆
Het ח ח 𐤇
Tet ט ט 𐤈
Yod י י 𐤉
Kaf כ כ 𐤊
Final Kaf ך ך
Lamed ל ל 𐤋
Mem מ מ 𐤌
Final Mem ם ם
Nun נ נ 𐤍
Final Nun ן ן
Samekh ס ס 𐤎
Ayin ע ע 𐤏
Pe פ פ 𐤐
Final Pe ף ף
Tsadi צ צ 𐤑 ,
Final Tsadi ץ ץ
Qof ק ק 𐤒
Resh ר ר 𐤓
Shin ש ש 𐤔
Tav ת ת 𐤕

Yiddish symbols

Symbol Explanation
װ ױ ײ These are intended for Yiddish. They are not used in Hebrew, aside from in loan words[d].
בֿ The rafe (רפה) diacritic is no longer regularly used in Hebrew. In Masoretic Texts and some other older texts, lenited consonants and sometimes matres lectionis are indicated by a small line on top of the letter. Its use has been largely discontinued in modern printed texts. It is still used to mark fricative consonants in the YIVO orthography of Yiddish.

Numeric values of letters

Main article: Hebrew numerals

Hebrew letters are used to denote numbers, nowadays used only in specific contexts, e.g. denoting dates in the Hebrew calendar, denoting grades of school in Israel, other listings (e.g. שלב א׳, שלב ב׳ – "phase a, phase b"), commonly in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in a practice known as gematria, and often in religious contexts.

The lower clock on the Jewish Town Hall building in Prague, with Hebrew numerals in counterclockwise order.
letternumeric value letternumeric value letternumeric value

The numbers 500, 600, 700, 800 and 900 are commonly represented by the juxtapositions ק״ת, ר״ת, ש״ת, ת״ת, and ק״תת respectively. Adding a geresh ("׳") to a letter multiplies its value by one thousand, for example, the year 5769 is portrayed as ה׳תשס״ט, where ה represents 5000, and תשס״ט represents 769.

Transliterations and transcriptions

The following table lists transliterations and transcriptions of Hebrew letters used in Modern Hebrew.


Note: SBL's transliteration system, recommended in its Handbook of Style,[12] differs slightly from the 2006 precise transliteration system of the Academy of the Hebrew Language; for "צ" SBL uses "ṣ" (≠ AHL "ẓ"), and for בג״ד כפ״ת with no dagesh, SBL uses the same symbols as for with dagesh (i.e. "b", "g", "d", "k", "f", "t").

Hebrew letter Standard
IPA phonemic
IPA phonetic
consonantal, in
initial word
none[A1] [ʔ]
consonantal, in
non initial word
' ʾ /ʔ/
בּ b
ב v
גּ g g
ג׳ǧ[B1][9] /d͡ʒ/
דּ d d
v w
וּ u
וֹ o [] or [ɔ̝]
ז z
ז׳ž[B2][9] /ʒ/
ח [C1] /x/ or /χ/ [χ]
ט t
y /j/
part of hirik male
(/i/ vowel)
part of tsere male
(/e/ vowel or
/ei/ diphthong)
e é /e/ or /ej/ [] or [e̞j]/
כּ, ךּ[8] k
כ, ך kh[C2] /x/ or /χ/ [χ]
ל l
מ, ם m
נ, ן n
ס s
in initial or final
word positions
none[A4] ʿ only in initial
word position
in medial
word positions
' ʿ /ʔ/
פּ[D] p
פ, ף f
צ, ץ ts /t͡s/
צ׳, ץ׳č[B3][9] /t͡ʃ/
ק k q
ר r [ʀ] or [ʁ]
[r] or [ɾ]
שׁ sh š /ʃ/
שׂ s ś
תּ t t

A1^ 2^ 3^ 4^ In transliterations of modern Israeli Hebrew, initial and final ע (in regular transliteration), silent or initial א, and silent ה are not transliterated. To the eye of readers orientating themselves on Latin (or similar) alphabets, these letters might seem to be transliterated as vowel letters; however, these are in fact transliterations of the vowel diacritics – niqqud (or are representations of the spoken vowels). E.g., in אִם ("if", [ʔim]), אֵם ("mother", [ʔe̞m]) and אֹם ("nut", [ʔo̞m]), the letter א always represents the same consonant: [ʔ] (glottal stop), whereas the vowels /i/, /e/ and /o/ respectively represent the spoken vowel, whether it is orthographically denoted by diacritics or not. Since the Academy of the Hebrew Language ascertains that א in initial position is not transliterated, the symbol for the glottal stop  ʾ  is omitted from the transliteration, and only the subsequent vowels are transliterated (whether or not their corresponding vowel diacritics appeared in the text being transliterated), resulting in "im", "em" and "om", respectively.

B1^ 2^ 3^ The diacritic geresh – "׳" – is used with some other letters as well (ד׳, ח׳, ט׳, ע׳, ר׳, ת׳), but only to transliterate from other languages to Hebrew – never to spell Hebrew words; therefore they were not included in this table (correctly translating a Hebrew text with these letters would require using the spelling in the language from which the transliteration to Hebrew was originally made). The non-standard "ו׳" and "וו" [e1] are sometimes used to represent /w/, which like /d͡ʒ/, /ʒ/ and /t͡ʃ/ appears in Hebrew slang and loanwords.

C1^ 2^ The Sound /χ/ (as "ch" in loch) is often transcribed "ch", inconsistently with the guidelines specified by the Academy of the Hebrew Language: חם /χam/ → "cham"; סכך /sχaχ/ → "schach".

D^ Although the Bible does include a single occurrence of a final pe with a dagesh (Book of Proverbs 30, 6: "אַל-תּוֹסְףְּ עַל-דְּבָרָיו: פֶּן-יוֹכִיחַ בְּךָ וְנִכְזָבְתָּ."), in modern Hebrew /p/ is always represented by pe in its regular, not final, form "פ", even when in final word position, which occurs with loanwords (e.g. שׁוֹפּ /ʃop/ "shop"), foreign names (e.g. פִילִיפּ /ˈfilip/ "Philip") and some slang (e.g. חָרַפּ /χaˈrap/ "slept deeply").

Religious use

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have played varied roles in Jewish religious literature over the centuries, primarily in mystical texts. Some sources in classical rabbinical literature seem to acknowledge the historical provenance of the currently used Hebrew alphabet and deal with them as a mundane subject (the Jerusalem Talmud, for example, records that "the Israelites took for themselves square calligraphy", and that the letters "came with the Israelites from Ashur [Assyria]");[14] others attribute mystical significance to the letters, connecting them with the process of creation or the redemption. In mystical conceptions, the alphabet is considered eternal, pre-existent to the Earth, and the letters themselves are seen as having holiness and power, sometimes to such an extent that several stories from the Talmud illustrate the idea that they cannot be destroyed.[15]

The idea of the letters' creative power finds its greatest vehicle in the Sefer Yezirah, or Book of Creation, a mystical text of uncertain origin which describes a story of creation highly divergent from that in the Book of Genesis, largely through exposition on the powers of the letters of the alphabet. The supposed creative powers of the letters are also referenced in the Talmud and Zohar.[16][17]

The four-pronged Shin

Another book, the 13th-century Kabbalistic text Sefer HaTemunah, holds that a single letter of unknown pronunciation, held by some to be the four-pronged shin on one side of the teffilin box, is missing from the current alphabet. The world's flaws, the book teaches, are related to the absence of this letter, the eventual revelation of which will repair the universe.[18] Another example of messianic significance attached to the letters is the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer that the five letters of the alphabet with final forms hold the "secret of redemption".[18]

In addition, the letters occasionally feature in aggadic portions of non-mystical rabbinic literature. In such aggada the letters are often given anthropomorphic qualities and depicted as speaking to God. Commonly their shapes are used in parables to illustrate points of ethics or theology. An example from the Babylonian Talmud (a parable intended to discourage speculation about the universe before creation):

Why does the story of creation begin with bet?... In the same manner that the letter bet is closed on all sides and only open in front, similarly you are not permitted to inquire into what is before or what was behind, but only from the actual time of Creation.

Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Hagigah, 77c

Extensive instructions about the proper methods of forming the letters are found in Mishnat Soferim, within Mishna Berura of Yisrael Meir Kagan.

Mathematical use

See aleph number and beth number and gimel function.

In set theory, , pronounced aleph-naught or aleph-zero, is used to mark the cardinal number of an infinite countable set, such as , the set of all integers. More generally, the (aleph) notation marks the ordered sequence of all distinct infinite cardinal numbers.

Less frequently used, the (beth) notation is used for the iterated power sets of . The 2nd element is the cardinality of the continuum. Very occasionally, gimel is used in cardinal notation.

Unicode and HTML

An example of a Hebrew keyboard.

The Unicode Hebrew block extends from U+0590 to U+05FF and from U+FB1D to U+FB4F. It includes letters, ligatures, combining diacritical marks (Niqqud and cantillation marks) and punctuation.[5] The Numeric Character References is included for HTML. These can be used in many markup languages, and they are often used in Wiki to create the Hebrew glyphs compatible with the majority of web browsers.

Standard Hebrew keyboards have a 101-key layout. Like the standard QWERTY layout, the Hebrew layout was derived from the order of letters on Hebrew typewriters.

See also


a^ "Alef-bet" is commonly written in Israeli Hebrew without the maqaf (מקף, "[Hebrew] hyphen"), אלפבית עברי, as opposed to with the hyphen, אלף־בית עברי.

b^ The Arabic letters generally (as six of the primary letters can have only two variants) have four forms, according to their place in the word. The same goes with the Mandaic ones, except for three of the 22 letters, which have only one form.

c^ In forms of Hebrew older than Modern Hebrew, כ״ף, בי״ת and פ״א can only be read b, k and p, respectively, at the beginning of a word, while they will have the sole value of v, kh and f in a sofit (final) position, with few exceptions.[8] In medial positions, both pronunciations are possible. In Modern Hebrew this restriction is not absolute, e.g. פִיזִיקַאי /fiziˈkaj/ and never /piziˈkaj/ (= "physicist"), סְנוֹבּ /snob/ and never /snov/ (= "snob"). A dagesh may be inserted to unambiguously denote the plosive variant: בּ = /b/, כּ = /k/, פּ =/p/; similarly (though today very rare in Hebrew and common only in Yiddish) a rafé placed above the letter unambiguously denotes the fricative variant: בֿ = /v/, כֿ = /χ/ and פֿ = /f/. In Modern Hebrew orthography, the sound [p] at the end of a word is denoted by the regular form "פ", as opposed to the final form "ף", which always denotes [f] (see table of transliterations and transcriptions, comment[D]).

d^ However, וו (two separate vavs), used in Ktiv male, is to be distinguished from the Yiddish ligature װ (also two vavs but together as one character).

e1^ e2^ e3^ e4^ e5^ The Academy of the Hebrew Language states that both [v] and [w] be indistinguishably represented in Hebrew using the letter Vav.[19] Sometimes the Vav is indeed doubled, however not to denote [w] as opposed to [v] but rather, when spelling without niqqud, to denote the phoneme /v/ at a non-initial and non-final position in the word, whereas a single Vav at a non-initial and non-final position in the word in spelling without niqqud denotes one of the phonemes /u/ or /o/. To pronounce foreign words and loanwords containing the sound [w], Hebrew readers must therefore rely on former knowledge and context.


  1. Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b–22a); Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 10a). Cf. Mishnah (Megillah 1:8): "The Books [of Scripture] differ from phylacteries and Mezuzahs only in that the Books may be written in any language, while phylacteries and Mezuzahs may be written in the Assyrian writing only." See: The Mishnah,(ed. Herbert Danby), Oxford University Press: London 1977, p. 202.
  2. Ancient Scripts.com: Old Hebrew
  3. Ancient Scripts.com: Old Hebrew
  4. A History of the Hebrew Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 1993. ISBN 0-521-55634-1.
  5. 1 2 3 Chart of Hebrew glyphs at unicode.org
  6. 1 2 Unicode names of Hebrew characters at fileformat.info.
  7. Kaplan, Aryeh. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation. pp. 8, 22.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "ךּ" is rare but exists, e.g. last word in Deuteronomy 7 1 (דברים פרק ז׳ פסוק א׳) in the word "מִמֶּךָּ" – see תנ״ך מנוקד, דברים פרק ז׳. There is a single occurrence of "ףּ", see this comment[D].
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Transliteration guidelines preceding 2006-update, p. 3 Academy of the Hebrew Language
  10. Laufer, Asher (2008). Chapters in Phonetics and Phonetic Transcription. Jerusalem: Magnes. pp. 207–211. ISBN 978-965-493-401-5.
  11. Hebrew lessons for Christians
  12. Resources for New Testament Exegesis – Transliteration Standards of The SBL Handbook of Style
  13. 1 2 3 4 Transliteration guidelines by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, November 2006
  14. Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 21b
  15. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Pesach 87b, Avodah Zarah 18a.
  16. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 55c
  17. Zohar 1:3; 2:152
  18. 1 2 The Book of Letters. Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock. 1990
  19. "Transliteration Rules" (PDF). issued by the Academy of the Hebrew Language.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hebrew alphabet.



This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.