Indesign CS2 ME Biblical Hebrew, vowel positioning

sefer's picture

I have recently bought Indesign CS2 ME (with Mac OSX) in order to set Hebrew with vowels. For quite a while I have tried to read about fonts suitable for Biblical Hebrew and decided to buy Narkisim, after having read that Zvi Narkis was responsible for the Typography in the new Hebrew University Bible. The font has an impressive number of characters, but it does not appear to interact well with Indesign. In particular does it place tsere under nun completely wrong (see example in the attachment) in a text. When the nun is written alone with tsere it looks fine. I assume that the problem is connected automatic positioning in Indesign and would appreciate some suggestions on how to solve this. My questions are:

a) is there a way to turn off the incorrect "automatic positioning" or is the problem connected to something that I do wrong?
b) is there another font which works better with Indesign (I'm not particulatly fond of the Ezra SIL).

Thanks in advance.


CS2ME.pdf35.9 KB
sefer's picture

I now managed to solve the problem myself by making changes in the diacritic positioning. It seems a bit complicated to do this manually everytime there is a nun, though :) If someone could recommend another font with good vowels, please do. Sephardi-style, if possible.


William Berkson's picture

I think you need an Open Type version of Narkisim, if you want to stay with that font. As this note explains, you need open type for accurate placing of vowels. Masterfont says they have 50 open type fonts that are programmed to place nikud (vowel points) properly in Page Maker and InDesign. I have been using their Hadasa MFO which places nikud beautifully in InDesign.

I bought mine at My Fonts, but I don't see the Masterfont open type fonts now on the My Fonts site. But you can contact Masterfont, the publisher of Narkisim, directly. From what I read somewhere I think the font that Narkis did for the bible was a special one and not Narkisim.
You will see that they have some English parts to their site, though not a lot. Just e-mail them in English and I'm sure they can help you.

Fontbit I have heard also has excellent open type fonts that place nikud correctly. You can contact them here.

If you want to set the marks for chanting Torah also, you will have to ask for that, as that is more demanding again. Typophile John Hudson's SBL Hebrew, which is based on the Sefardic style, sets all marks beautifully and is available for free download from the Society for Biblical Literature here.

david h's picture

> I have tried to read about fonts suitable for Biblical Hebrew and decided to buy Narkisim, after having read that Zvi Narkis was responsible for the Typography in the new Hebrew University Bible

Zvi Narkis designed the font Keter Aram Zova, the Aleppo Codex (and not for sale, of course)

david h's picture

> Zvi Narkis was responsible for the Typography in the new Hebrew University Bible

The typography, book design : Zvi Narkis + Nahum Ben-Zvi (N. Ben- Zvi Printing Enterprises)

sefer's picture

Thanks a lot for all the advice. I didn't really think Narkis used Narkisim for the Bible, but assumed that he knew a thing or two about nikud. It is probably correct that I need an opentype of Narkisim - it works ok with the PS to manually correct most nikud, but sometimes it affects the kerning of the consonants instead...


John Hudson's picture

b) is there another font which works better with Indesign (I’m not particulatly fond of the Ezra SIL).

You could check out my SBL Hebrew font, which is freely available here:

A new version will be available very shortly.

sefer's picture

I was initially interested in the font (it looks very nice), but dismissed it since it did not have proper sof pasuk, geresh and gershayim. I now see on the character map that it actually has these, but at least in OSX are they misplaced. Will this be corrected in the new version?


John Hudson's picture

What encoding are you using for these characters in your OSX apps? They are correctly encoded in the font according to the Unicode Hebrew encoding:


My guess is that perhaps these were encoded using the ASCII : ' and " characters in the old Mac Hebrew 8-bit codepage, and so are still misrepresented in OSX. If you can confirm what character codes are used for these Hebrew codepoints in your apps, I can check to see whether it will be possible to double-map them in the SBL Hebrew font.

Miguel Sousa's picture

I just had a look at the Hebrew keyboard layout on Mac OS X (10.4.7), and indeed those characters seemed to be mapped to:

U+003A COLON - keystroke(s): shift + ;
U+0027 APOSTROPHE - keystroke(s): W
U+0022 QUOTATION MARK - keystroke(s): shift + '

sefer's picture

I've just recently been forced to switch to Mac and I might give you the wrong information: when I look at the coding of the character map SBL is in the right places (I was incorrect about geresh and gershayim - my problem was with sof pasuq and the "diamonds" (the latter which I cannot find at the map). In the attached jpg you can see the difference between SBL and Narkisim (which now turned out to work fine when I managed to "borrow" an opentype version). According to the character map for Narkisim the sof pasuq and the diamonds are also placed at full stop, comma and colon and geresh at apostrophe and gershayim at quotation mark. Maybe this explains the difference.


david h's picture

> my problem was with sof pasuq and the “diamonds”

you can use colon as sof pasuq, quotesingle as geresh etc etc.

sefer's picture

> you can use colon as sof pasuq, quotesingle as geresh etc etc.

Indeed I can, but in my opinion it doesn't look good compared to the real thing.

Miguel Sousa's picture

> you can use colon as sof pasuq, quotesingle as geresh etc etc.

Will spell checking work as expected in that case?

William Berkson's picture


Which you of course will pay for if you use it, as Zvi Narkis and Masterfont, like other type designers and founderies, deserve to be paid for their work :)

John Hudson's work, which I referred you to above and you've discussed with him only exists because of the generousity of the Society of Biblical Literature, who wanted it free to scholars "for non-profit use" --which I assume excludes commercial publishing.

track and kern's picture

This is one of the more interesting threads I have seen in a while, so thank you first for that. Secondly, I just wanted to say that I have always thought it strange that vowels are not always used in the Hebrew language. My heritage, being jewish, means that I have had many years to witness and realize that this is one language that can be sometimes cryptic, as the vowels may or may not be present. I suppose I really just don't understand why it is that the sacred Torah lacks such pronunciation clues, were as most books and such do contain them.

I have read for many years, not recently, but, I did have a bar-mitzvah which I was required to recite a significant portion of scripture from the Torah. This was very difficult, as you must first learn to read the section with the vowels, and then remove them. Somewhat relying on memory, and even more so on my Rabbi standing next to me in case I stumbled over a word that I simply couldn't remember. Granted, I was reading this particular section to a group of about 100 or so people, so that didn't make it any easier for me.

There may have been a time when I knew the reason for the lack of the vowels in the torah, and their use in more everyday materials, but I just can't remember now. It is one thing to be able to read the language, another to be able to write it, and yet another to be able to understand and translate it. Personally, I was only fortunate enough to read it, and when studying specific sections, I would understand through the translations of my teachers. Today, I have to say that I have forgotten most of it, and really, I would be hard pressed to make even a meager attempt at reading anything with or without vowels.

track and kern's picture

Also, I came across this portfolio of a graphic designer whom works primarily with the Hebrew dialect. He is a participant in another forum that I post on, and I thought that you might be interested in just peering at his work, if only for quick moment. You can find his portfolio here. I believe there is also one example of a Hebrew typeface that he designed himself.

david h's picture

> Will spell checking work as expected in that case?

Why not? I didn't face any kind of problem. Yet :)

Note: I'm talking about U+05F3 & U+05F4 (and not U+059C & U+ 059E, Biblical Hebrew-- This geresh is placed over the first letter of the stressed syllable --e.g Ezek. 20:16 - יען; the double geresh is found only on words accented on the last syllable -- e.g Isa. 54:10 - וחסדי )

(Sefer is talking about Biblical Hebrew)

david h's picture

> I just wanted to say that I have always thought it strange that vowels are not always used in the Hebrew language.

Maybe with Modern Hebrew.

The first publication of the entire Bible in Hebrew in America (1814) was without vowels; the Bible was based on the second edition of the Athias Bible. Only around 1849 a vocalized Hebrew Bible was published in America.

What other stuff you see without vowles?

track and kern's picture

When I studied at religious school as a child, up until about 8th grade or so, vowels were always secondary to the letters. Reading from the Torah, like I said, is the main experience I remember where the vowels are not present. Also, it was always just understood, by students, that as you progressed you would need to be able to read with or without. It's been sometime since I have really sat and looked at anything, but, if you look at the portfolio that I posted above, I think I remember seeing some of his works also lacking the addition on vowels.

William Berkson's picture

Matthew, as I understand it, native speakers of Hebrew have never used vowels--neither before 200, when Hebrew was first spoken, nor in modern Israel. (Some religious texts are vowelled, but that is a holdover; also dictionaries are voweled for the same reason that English dictionaries use phonetic spelling.)

The vowels, as I understand it, were developed as system to insure that people would know how to pronounce the sacred Hebrew literature at a time when Hebrew was losing strength as a widely used language.

The vowels to me are a very artificial system, and I sometimes doubt whether anyone ever really uses them to read, as opposed to decode the pronunciation of words. *If* you know the language--and my Hebrew is poor--then reading without vowels is actually not hard.

Except for short words, "evn in Englsh you cn dspns wth vwls nd ndrstnd a lt." Since Hebrew is almost all based on three consonant roots, and most of the conjugation is in the vowels, for a native speaker the consonantal spelling doesn't really pose a problem. Also note that the consonantal system of spelling was actually the first alphabetic script.

Also currently the vav and yud are used widely as vowels in the 'full spelling' of Hebrew, so there is even less ambiguity than in classical Hebrew.

The Hebrew speakers here will correct me, hopefully, but that's my understanding.

track and kern's picture

That is exactly the impression that I have always been under. The vowel system was strictly to help those learning the language along the way, in the beginning, and wasn't really part of the language in the beginning. I really don't know much about the language itself, my heritage isn't a big part of my life now that I am old enough to decide whether or not I want to participate in it. At the time, it was obligatory, as my parents insisted that I go and learn. I was part of a conservative Jewish family for many years, and later in life, we became reformed. Sitting through hours of services just isn't for me. Overall, the language, and any language for that matter, is interesting. This just happens to be one that I am "somewhat" familiar with, even if it is only on a visual basis.

btw...I fixed the link in my post, to the portfolio. It wasn't working, i had a typo in the html.

david h's picture

> as I understand it, native speakers of Hebrew have never used vowels

Not right William.

John Hudson's picture

William: ...which I assume excludes commercial publishing.

Commercial users of the SBL fonts are asked to make a donation to the SBL Font Foundation or to join the foundation and support its ongoing work.

John Hudson's picture

Matthew: I really just don’t understand why it is that the sacred Torah lacks such pronunciation clues, were as most books and such do contain them.

Vowel signs are not included in Torah scrolls because they were not included when the text was first written down. The Tiberian vowel system is a mediaeval development (c. 800-1000 AD*), applied to the Tanakh by the Masoretes. When you read the Torah aloud at your bar-mitzvah, you were actually reading a mediaeval, Masoretic pronunciation of the text, which is likely different in a number of ways from the way in which the text was pronounced when it was first written down using only consonants and matres lectiones (consonant letters used as vowels, just to make things even more confusing). The classic examples of an evident distinction between classical and Masoretic prounciation is the word Yerushalem. The ancient consonantal text has YRSHLM but the Masoretic text inserts two vowels between the L and M, because the pronunciation had changed from the classical -LEM to the contemporary -LAYIM. Because the consonantal text is sacred and cannot be modified, it cannot be changed to -LYM, so a basic rule of Hebrew orthography, that there can only be one vowel per consonant, is broken in order to maintain the consonantal text but also reflect the later pronunciation. The conventional way to write this is for the second vowel to sit under the right sight of the final M. Needless to say, this requires some special handling in fonts:

Note also that the Tiberian pointing system used for vowels by the Masoretes is only one of a number of vowel systems devised for Hebrew, although it is the only one still in current use. Other extant systems are the Palestinian and Babylonian, and the latter was in widespread use for some time. I know someone who is working on a proposal to encode the Babylonian pointing system in Unicode.

* I use the BC AD dating system, rather than the relgiously neutral BCE CE system, because I am a Christian, and obviously believing what I believe about the person of Christ makes this an important reckoning for me. I mean no offense by this, especially not to my Jewish brothers in faith, and trust that people will mentally substitute whatever date reckoning system is important to them.

John Hudson's picture

Matthew: Sitting through hours of services just isn’t for me.

How about reading one psalm per day? That strikes me as a good foundation for any Jew or Christian, and soon you start hungering for more, even for 'hours of services'. :)

John Hudson's picture

Also currently the vav and yud are used widely as vowels in the ‘full spelling’ of Hebrew, so there is even less ambiguity than in classical Hebrew.

Vav ו and yod י are matres lectiones, along with heh ה, and they are certainly found in classical Hebrew. They precede the pointing systems for vowels by well over a millennium, and are found in the Tanakh texts. But I'm not sure how using the same letters as both a consonant and a vowel reduces ambiguity. :)

William Berkson's picture

>found in classical Hebrew

Yes, but not nearly as extensively. The traditional spelling is called 'ketiv chaser', abbreviated spelling, and the 'ketiv male' or full spelling includes the yod whenever there is a chirik alone and a vav for a kubutz or a holam alone in traditional spelling. This considerably reduces ambiguity without vowel points--though there is still a considerable amount. But for native speakers, it is rarely an obstacle, I understand.

>Not right William.

To clarify: I meant for competent readers in ordinary reading. I know that kids start with vowels, but as I understand it after a few years leave them behind for reading. Of course immigrants start the same way--with vowel points as a learning tool. Aside from this it's only sacred texts, which traditionally have vowel points, and the dictionary which are read with vowel points.

What isn't accurate about this? I'm here to learn.

david h's picture

> I know that kids start with vowels, but as I understand it after a few years leave them behind for reading.

1. High school: you have to study/leran grammar, and to know how to use it. This is part of the final exam (מבחני בגרות) - without that - no diploma, no university.

> Aside from this it’s only sacred texts,

2. Publishing: books for kids, teen, poems.
Media (tv, radio) : you can't work for the Israeli radio, or tv without a real knowledge of the grammar ( you have yo study it again, deeper + exam)

more samples? :)

pulse11's picture

> Not right William.

As a native hebrew speaker and Israeli - The NIKUD marks are not necessary at all for everyday language. It is used on elementary schools (first years) for helping kids to learn reading, it is used on biblical language and in text written for prayers (where there are even more marks that are not used in modern hebrew at all - some are for pitch, speed and even tone changes).

Sometimes NIKUD is necessary if a single word stands by itself (such as for logo or name) and it can be pronounced with two different ways and have 2 meanings. But these are very rare. NIKUD is part of the language but it is not seen on everyday: not in newspapers, not on TV and almost never. You can find NIKUD in children's books, early years school learning material and holy texts.

William Berkson's picture

David, Avichay confirms the point I was trying to make: the use of vowels is for exeptional, special uses and not normal reading such as newspapers, magazines, books, signs advertisments, etc. I left out grammar texts, which I knew about. I didn't know about the poems and teen works with nikud--why is that done?

Also as I understand it traditionally the vowel points were not used. The text of the Mishnah (finished c. 200) is originally not vowelled. So again native speakers did not ordinarily use vowel points. I don't know how far back they go. The Babylonians would have spoken Aramaic, and so likely would have needed vowel points so as not to mispronounce Hebrew words as Aramaic ones. As John says, the currently used system is relatively late as the history of Hebrew language goes.

By the way, John, I don't think it is correct to say that in classical Hebrew the yod and vav and hey used as vowels are simply for ease of reading--if that's what 'matres lectiones' means. They are there because they are part of the root of the word, and hence figure in conjugation as well as pronounciation. In other words they are there for essential grammmatical reasons. That's why in studying grammar you need traditional spelling plus vowel points.

ps. Matthew. One prime reason why most American Jews find the traditional Hebrew service crashingly boring is that they don't understand Hebrew--they only know how to pronounce it phonetically, which is not remotely the same experience. When late in life I learned enough Hebrew to actually understand the liturgy, I was astonished by the power of the language in the sacred texts. Reading the Hebrew sacred texts (including the psalms) in another language is like reading Shakespeare in Italian or something; the power of the language is just a shadow of the original.

typequake's picture

In Israel, pupils learn to read with nikud, then gradually learn to read without it, as they develop their reading vocabulary and gain the ability to predict the context.

A writer might opt for nikud of a word that can be read in two ways, each giving the sentence a different meaning.

Finally, the trend for ktiv maleh, that is, the use of the vowels alef, heh, vav, and yod, to indicate the sound, makes nikud less critical.

sefer's picture

> Which you of course will pay for if you use it, as Zvi Narkis and Masterfont, like other type designers and founderies, deserve to be paid for their work :)

I will most certainly pay for the font that will be used – a decision which is not entirely in my hands. Since Masterfont haven’t answered my mail concerning if my 65 bucks (I fortunately didn’t buy the whole family) for the Narkisim PS was a waste of money when using Indesign ME, I took the liberty to find the answer myself ;)

William Berkson's picture

>Since Masterfont haven’t answered my mail concerning if my 65 bucks

Masterfont should certainly credit your money for a PS font toward the Open Type Font, if you decide to buy it. I went back and forth on what Hebrew font to get, and MyFonts was very good about it. As I remember, Masterfont was slow to commuicate with them also, though they eventually did.

raphaelfreeman's picture

If you want just nikud, then the best solution out there are the fonts by Fontbit, If you want teamey mikra, then Fontbit has currently two fonts, Livorna and Hadassa with teamey mikra. But please note, typesetting teamey mikra in InDesign ME is a lot more work than nikud. With nikud, (at least with Fontbit’s nikud) you can expect to see the nikud to sit 100% correctly. However, with teamey mikra you have the problem of collisions. I have developed software that generates a script of thousands of search and replaces to move the teamim to the correct position. Further if you need to typeset a Bible for example, then Fontbit will (for a fee) add the teamim into any of their fonts.

Emily DeVoto's picture

This is a great thread; I'm really pleased that I found this group. I hope my questions don't go too far off track...

Does anyone know whether InDesign CS 2 ME can be purchased at an educational or non-profit discount? Also, how is the documentation that comes with the product? Should I invest in something like "InDesign for Dummies" to supplement? Finally, although I'm a reasonably savvy user of software, and have some hands-on layout experience from the days before computers, is it hard to learn to use InDesign?

My goal is to create a songbook using TIFF files created by Finale, a music-composition package; MS Word files for English transliteration; and Hebrew text created in DavkaWriter for Windows, with vowels. If I'm importing from DavkaWriter, do I even need the Middle East edition of InDesign? I have set up OSX to handle Hebrew keyboard input, but Israeli style, without vowels.


William Berkson's picture

InDesign is I think a user-friendly program, but it is very feature-rich. So to start using it is easy, but to make best use of it is an other story.

Davkawriter I believe has a legacy encoding and their fonts will not port over to InDesign ME. Dagesh's fonts will port over to InDesign (if I remember it does via MS Word). Word also does Hebrew, and Davkawriter does English. Trying to mix Davkawriter, MS Word, and Tiff files sounds to me like a nightmare, but I may be wrong.

A basic advantage of InDesign ME is that you have access to all the regular Hebrew fonts, and the InDesign's power as a layout program.

I don't know enough to tell you what is the best way to go for your project, as I don't know the capacities of Davka writer as a layout program--eg whether it can place the TIFFs easily where you want them, which InDesign certainly can.

Also if you are going to have this printed offset, you have the important question of what files the printer can handle. With InDesign ME you can reliably export everything to PDF files, and the printer will be happy.

Also you might want to consider MS Publisher which will be a lot cheaper, is a lay-out program and I believe does Hebrew. I believe it doesn't have nearly the power of InDesign, but it may work for you, depending on your needs.

My suspicion is that you are going to want to dump DavkaWriter, but again the key questions are lay-out capacity and whether the files will work for the printer.

Hopefully, others who know more about the limitations of the different programs will come on and help you out.

david h's picture

> Does anyone know whether InDesign CS 2 ME can be purchased at an educational or non-profit discount?

raphaelfreeman's picture

Regarding DavkaWriter, you can most certainly use it as your text-entry program and you can even copy and paste text with teamey mikra into InDesign (well copy and paste if you are on a PC). However, you will need a font in InDesign that supports nikud and teamey mikra. However, you will lose the kamatz katan and shva na when copying a pasting. The workaround for this is to do a search and replace in DavkaWriter for a kamatz katan and replace it with a different character that you are not using. I used this method successfully when typesetting the new Singer's Prayer Book recently published by HarperCollinsUK. The texts were all input on DavkaWriter and I typeset the siddur in Fontbit's Hadassa using InDesign CS2 ME.

gohebrew's picture

FontWorld ( offers an add-on package to Adobe InDesign ME for professional quality Biblical Publishing (its also good for poetry, prayerbooks etc.) for Windows and Macintosh.

It features also two kinds of shva-na, as well as komatz katan and hataf komatz katan, and easy to use keyboard drivers. It comes with four fonts (FrankReuhl and Hadasa, in regular and bold).

FontWorld also offers professional typesetting services (the classic Vilna typeface in various weights).

raphaelfreeman's picture

SBL is currently the only relatively decent teamey mikra font, however it's far from perfect and even though it's probably the best there is, it's certainly not good enough as it stands for good bible typesetting.

We are currently developing the Koren font for this purpose which will be available for sale once completed from Masterfont. We also will be making the entire Tanach text available digitally so this could be used with other fonts that have been programmed according to this text.

The real problem is that in order to create a good positioning you need a text and every Tanach text is slightly different. So if you solve the problem of positioning for a particular word in one text, you will find that in another text of the Tanach, that word has different diacritics.

By making the Koren Bible text available digitally, this will mean that an accurate, proofread text (both for mistakes and trop positioning) will be available.

John Hudson's picture

SBL is currently the only relatively decent teamey mikra font, however it’s far from perfect and even though it’s probably the best there is, it’s certainly not good enough as it stands for good bible typesetting.

Raphael, I'm always interested in knowing how I can improve SBL Hebrew, so if you want to write to me with specific criticisms I would be grateful. I released v1.5 of the font this summer, which adds support for Dead Sea Scrolls transliteration, but does not significantly change any of the existing spacing or mark positioning, which I know need some more attention. In version 2.0, which has been in development for some time, I have revised the mark positioning approach and am adding contextual spacing lookups to improve the relationship of marks on adjacent letters. This is based on an analysis of letter and mark combinations in the Leningrad Codex, which is the most widely studied masoretic Bible text. It sounds like we are working in very similar ways, with different texts, and I agree with your comments about the need to have a complete text for good positioning.

The primary purpose of the SBL font is for use in scholarship, rather than in Bible publishing per se, and I'm conscious of the fact that much of the academic and publishing community that is funding the work and is the principle audience for the font is non-Jewish, and that there are some differences in the evolved conventions of typesetting the Biblical texts in different communities. I can imagine future versions of the SBL font tailored to the needs of particular communities, individual publishers and even specific texts.

david h's picture


I tested the SBL with the Hebrew Bible Breuer, Snaith (1966), Adi, Sinai, Koren, Cassuto (and more...) — and I didn't see any acute problems.

gohebrew's picture

As I mentioned earlier, FontWorld ( offers serious typesetters of Biblical Hebrew the necessary software tools, from the program, typefaces, keyboard utilities, data of the Bible, and even templates for preparing homework.

The popular Frankruhl, and Hadasa, designs are currently availavle. Another version of Hadasa called Henri, named after its late type designer, is also available.

Other designs in the works are HaTzvi, Itamar, David, Koren, and others. A special version of Koren, called Eliyahu, named after its late type designer, will also be available.

Little Irv's picture

I'm looking to download font: Sefer Torah San Script.
Any idea where I might find this?

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