Origins of Hebrew. Are they Divine?

gohebrew's picture

What are the origins of Hebrew?

This has been a debate among scholars for many centuries.

Like the age of the universe, scholars can't seem to make up their minds.

When I was but a mere lad, scholars argued the universe's age was many a million years old. They scoffed at Bible-belt believers who foolishly thought that the universe was about 5,700 years old. Bible scholars rushed in from the cold, and suggested that each day of creation equaled a million years. What a joke?

But how can we deny the validity of carbon-dating?

The holy Zohar explains that carbon dating is approximately accurate after the time of Noach's Flood, but fails in dating accurately before that time, as the conditions of the earth changed dramatically with the Flood, which encompassed the earth.

Similarly, scholars have pondered the origins of Hebrew with only the historical proofs of scientific evidence, known as 'secular knowledge', but have ignored the knowledge provided to us in Talmudic and Kabbalistic information.

Not having a complete picture of both sources of information, secular knowledge is not accurate, because by ignoring religious knowledge, incorrect inferences are made.

gohebrew's picture

Dear xxxx,

The comprehensive Jewish perspective on anything encompasses both the historical proofs of scientific evidence, known as 'secular knowledge', and knowledge provided to us in Talmudic and Kabbalistic information.

Often, secular knowledge is not accurate because by ignoring religious knowledge, incorrect inferences are made, as we find with this silly notion that Hebrew originated with Aramaic.

The Talmud states that the Hebrew letter forms are of Divine origin, unlike the languages and letter sets of all the other nations of the world. Anyone who has studied Hebrew grammar sees clearly that Hebrew is a pure mathematical and extremely logical language. Its letter forms are like fascinating pieces of artwork. Each letter thoughtfully designed, and is embued with rich numerical meanings.

Let's look at the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, or aleph beis אלף בית. This letter is called, א. It is called by this name, because the first Hebrew letter represents the Premier Force of the Universe, אלופו של עולם. Why?

Let's investigate.

The 'aleph' א has three pieces two 'yuhd'-like י shapes on the upper right, and the lower left (reversed both horizontally and vertically), and the 'vov'-like ו shaped in the middle.

These shapes represent G-d Above (the yuhd-like י shape on the upper right - yuhd י equals ten, for the ten Sephirot or Divine Attributes), human being below (the yuhd-like י shape on the bottom left - yuhd י equals ten, for the ten corresponding Midot מידות, or Attributes), and in the middle, connecting the top and the bottom is the vov-like ו shaped in the middle, which equal six.

All together, the three parts of the 'aleph' א equals twenty-six, which is the holy Name of G-d י-הוה (which we do not spell out, or pronounce). So, we see that the aleph א in deed represents G-d, the Premier Force of the Universe, אלופו של עולם.

Regards,

Israel

PS I seek to post this, as it addresses a basic point about the origins of Hebrew.

=================

Hello,

I was reading an article which was basing much of it's information on Wikipedia articles, so I wanted to reach out to someone who might be more knowledgeable. I had an email correspondence with your friend xxxxx about it, as I had also recently learned of him (through the AIGA article). I'd like to know your (more religious) thoughts.

The article (Smashing Magazine: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/06/22/the-beauty-of-typography-writ...) states that the Hebrew alphabet is a descendant of the Aramaic, which is itself a descendant of the Phonecian alphabet. Since there are so many laws surrounding the writing of the Torah, in that it must be copied from another scroll, wouldn't that make the Hebrew alphabet at the latest from year ~1300 BCE? Wouldn't that predate Aramaic by ~300 years, as well as make it about/at least as old as the Phonecian alphabet?

Scott's response was that the laws surrounding the writing of a Torah scroll cropped up later in history, such that it's possible original scrolls were written with different typefaces.

Given the divine nature of Hebrew, it would be my thought that Aramaic and Phonecian are derivatives of Hebrew - but maybe the Divine Hebrew letters had different forms than what we use today?

If you could shed some light on this, I'd appreciate it!

regards,

xxxx

gohebrew's picture

Hi Israel,

Thanks for the reply! I was unaware of all the kabbalistic reasoning behind the forms of the letters as we have them. I did know that R" Akiva would "darshan on the crowns of the letters of the torah" and assumed the letters as we have them are of divine origin, which is why I was surprised by the original article.

Of course, there are always holes in science when there is inaccurate or undiscovered information, but I was surprised at the statement that Hebrew originated from Aramaic. Also, I thought it could simply be a "labeling" issue - maybe what's referred to as North Semitic (which I've not seen any inscriptions/writings of) might actually be Hebrew...

regards,

gohebrew's picture

>> I was unaware of all the kabbalistic reasoning behind the forms of the letters as we have them...

Actually, what I mentioned earlier about the aleph's א numerical association with the Divinity, by investigating the aleph's א graphic parts is but a tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The very shapes of the Hebrew letters contain much meaning. These insights are not only derived from its shapes and positions, but they are also discovered from the shapes and positions of their white or empty places.

For example, the basic difference between the chet ח and the hei ה is the small empty space on the left hand upper vertical bar, as if to allow air to be expressed. Similarly, the sound associated with the chet ח is guteral, while the sound associated with the hei ה is soft and airy.

When Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Torah scholars of all times, expounded the meanings of the crowns on the Hebrew letters in the Torah scroll, G-d Al-mighty and his faithful servant Moses listened intently too. Moses began to weep, as he was not privy to this information.

G-d consoled Moses, by explaining that even these esoteric lessons were derived from the Torah of Moses, as we say: "כל מה שתלמיד ותיק נחדש בתורה, נתחדש בתורה ממשה מסיני" "Everything derived by a great Torah scholar was in deed derived from the Torah of Moses at Sinai".

Each letter contains amazing insights that defy human reason, and the very language itself is super-rational, proving to anyone who has a brain in his or her head, that Hebrew was not a human invention, like all the other languages of the world.

William Berkson's picture

>The Talmud states that the Hebrew letter forms are of Divine origin, unlike the languages and letter sets of all the other nations of the world.

Could you give the citation, Israel?

I know it says in Avot 5:9 that writing was invented by God, but nothing about Hebrew there.

gohebrew's picture

William,

I began to research the subject already; I will provide you with both citations and pertinent selected texts in English. Most sources are in Hebrew only.

Avot is 5:6.

Many commentators say that this refers to (a) the engravings on the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, in which the letter forms were engraved through the entire stone tablets, from one side to another, and to (b) the content of those engravings, ie. the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps, we shall discuss this first.

But clearly you see from these two citings, ie. the Medrashic teaching about Moses viewing Rabbi Akiva's analysis of the meaning of the taggim, or crowns, upon certain Hebrew letters in a Torah scroll, and the discussion of Avot, based upon sources in the Holy Scripture, about the engraved Hebrew letterforms, that Aramaic was NOT the source for the Hebrew alphabet.

Both Moses and the Tablets, and Rabbi Akiva, lived prior to the invention of Aramaic.

Second, Avot declares that the Hebrew letters engraved on the Tablets were "created" on the eve of the first Sabbath, when the entire world was created.

Now, we clearly see that it is silly to link the origins of Hebrew letters to Aramaic.

gohebrew's picture

In Avot 5:5, ten entities are listed that preceded creation. The last three concern us here.

8. The writing of the Torah Scroll
9. The inscription on the Tablets
10. The very Tablets themselves

This is discussed in the Bible, Exodus 32:16; see Nachmonides' comments there.

Exodus 32:16
"The Tablets were a work of G-d; the writing (upon them) was the Writing of G-d, engraved upon (or through) the Tablets".

See Maimonides' comments on Avot 5:5, in his Commentary on the Mishnah. The Moznaim Publishers of NY and Jerusalem has an English-Hebrew edition, available from www.eichers.com.

His comments in the Introduction to his Mishnah Torah, in the very beginning, elaborate upon this.

gohebrew's picture

Apparently, William, you have "Sayings of the Fathers" by Rabbi Dr. Joseph H. Hertz zal, the former Chief Rabbi of England, published by Behrman House, which places this teaching on Avot 5:9. See his comments there on pp. 88-89.

The letters themselves existed miraculously. Even though they were engraved from one side to another, they appeared in the correct order on both sides - not humanly possible.

The Talmud states that there are two styles of Hebrew type design. One kind is reserved for the Torah scroll, and holy writing. The other kind is used for common discussions.

Even in the printing of the Talmud itself, two styles are common. The main text appears in classic square letters, like Bodoni in Hebrew. Commentaries are traditionally typeset in a script-like type design, known as Rashi letters.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we also find a similar trait. Scriptures are typeset in a classic typeface, while other texts describing laws and customs are typeset differently.

Furthermore, Frederick Goudy, the famous American type designer, writes the Mr. Romm senior traveled from Vilna, Lithuania, to Italy,, to commission students of by Giambattista Bodoni (1740–1813) [see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodoni ]to master and cut Hebrew typefaces for his illustrious printing house based upon ancient (Sephardic) drawings of Hebrew square letters.

So, we see that the classic square letters of Vilna were Sephardic in origin. This was later confirmed by the contemporary type designer, John Hudson, in discussing his work known as 'Adobe Hebrew'.

Hence, from the Dead Sea Scrolls' images, and from Frederick Goudy's account, the classic Hebrew letter forms were not at all similar to the Aramaic alphabet, or even to the Assyrian script.

Today, many Arabic letters share similar names as their Hebrew counterparts. Only a fool would suggest that the design found in block Hebrew letters compare to the design of Arabic script, which is like swift handwriting.

gohebrew's picture

To see an explicit description of the Divine origins of the Hebrew letters, see Nachmonides' comments in the beginning of the book of Exodus, parshat Ki Tissa, cited earlier.

gohebrew's picture

This appears in English by ArtScroll (www.artscroll.com).

gohebrew's picture

See "Ahrachim", Volume Letters, by Kehos (www.kehotonline.com), p. 14, B. Their Form

gohebrew's picture

Arachim, p. 14
B. Their Form

"The t'muna, picture or image, of the letters is from a 'halacha to Moses on Mt. Sinai.'"

This is a standard Talmudic phrase regarding an issue of Biblical measures, even superior to them, for Moses heard it directly from G-d Al-mighty.

"Each letter form is relative to the spiritual chemestry of a different supernal dimension, or world".

See there, and refer to its comprehensive footnotes.

gohebrew's picture

Hence, we see that the model for the Hebrew letter forms are rooted in lofty spiritual levels which existed prior to our world as we know it, ie. in Divinity itself.

gohebrew's picture

clarification

>> In the Dead Sea Scrolls, we also find a similar trait. Scriptures are typeset in a classic typeface, while other texts describing laws and customs are typeset differently.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were not typeset in modern sense by machines. Rather, the letters were hand-drawn or scribed manually.

Even though human hands scribed these works, as well as other scrolls and books, elaborately, and not as mere scribbling or handwriting. Type designs existed much before the invention of movable type and the printing press by Gutenberg, and those little known who preceded him.

William Berkson's picture

Israel, there is no single standard numbering for Avot. The way it is usually numbered in the Siddur and the way it is numbered in the Mishnah is different. I was using the Siddur numbering above.

Though that mishnah is clearly talking about the Decalogue or "Ten Commmandments" in Avot, it doesn't say that the language was Hebrew. I take "ketav" to mean "script", with no particular script necessarily meant. In fact, if I remember correctly, the Rabbis discuss in the Talmud whether the Decalogue was in an Egyptian dialect, which Moses may have spoken, as the Sages knew that Hebrew was the language of Canaan. (Sorry I don't have the citation.) Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews in Egypt, may have spoken Aramaic at home, as he came originally from Babylonia, even though he spent a long time in Canaan.

As as liberal Jew, I'm sure my standards for judging these things are going to be very different from yours, so I doubt this is worth going into further. I'm willing to accept some divine inspiration for writing, but doubt that any particular script is privileged.

John Hudson's picture

What do you mean by Hebrew writing in the context of this discussion? The typical Semitic alphabet, or the actual letter shapes? And if the shapes, then which shapes?

Michel Boyer's picture

According to http://www.mezuzah.net/scripts.html, the talmud tells that the "ktav ashuri" (the "assyrian script") is to be used for mezuzot, tefilin and sifrei torah; the same site shows a sample of "ktav ivri", "hebrew script", which was quite different, and in common usage during the period of the first temple. Interestingly enough, in this text from the dead sea scrolls, http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/31_psalm138.html, the tetragrammon is written with a variant of the "ktav ivri" (called "middle hebrew" by the author of the site) whereas the rest of the text is not.

It is also interesting to compare the "ktav ivri" of http://www.mezuzah.net/scripts.html to the phoenician alphabet, unicode range 10900-1091F, http://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U10900.pdf.

William Berkson's picture

Well, I view the stuff that Israel talked about in another thread, and is raising again here as "aggadah", stories in Jewish tradition that can be moving, entertaining, or annoying, depending, but not to be taken seriously as literal truths that are a basis for any decision. This is actually the traditional attitude toward them, but not of some mystics and Chassids, like Israel.

So for example there's the story that "truth" in Hebrew, emet (aleph, mem, tav) is solid as the letters all stand on a stable base, where as "lie" in Hebrew sheker (shin, kof, resh), stand on one leg, and so are unstable—so that the truth will stand and a lie fall down.

I view this as a nice homily—well not that great, if you want to know the truth, as some lies seem to do pretty well—but not to be taken as some literal divine message about either letter shapes or morals.

If you bring in history and get real about the history of script, as Michel does, I'm with you, but I don't think Israel is interested in that. The irony is that the Sages were sometimes interested in the history.

The interesting thing about the mention of the writing, stylus and tablets in Avot 5:9, is that it's to me an attempt of the Rabbis to reconcile the Hebrew Bible with the Greek concept of the "cosmos", a world ordered by natural law. They were disturbed by the events contrary to the order of nature—one kind of miracle in the Torah—in light of the Greek concept, and so said that everything contrary to natural law was actually created in the last moment of twilight before the world was finished, and the first Shabbat began. These miracles include the ten commandments to be discovered by Moses, which this story puts there from the beginning of time—writing, the stylus, and the tablets. At least that's my interpretation. You'll get a different story from Israel :)

gohebrew's picture

William, apparently, the Mishnah's system is most accurate, and later discrepentcies resulted from printers' errors. Do you agree?

I never heard that the Ten Commandments were in any other language besides Hebrew, except in a Cecille B. Damille movie staring the late Charleton Heston playing Moses.

A Reform rabbi advised Damille.

The Talmud says in a few places that it was in Hebrew. This is elaborated from the above book by Rabbi Yoel Kahan Shlita. "Hebrew words are loftier than Hebrew letter forms." In fact, the specific pronunciation through a Hebrew words' vowels is even higher.

Of course, I refer not to physical height or distance, as Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz/Even Yisroel Shlita explains in English in his profound book, "The Four Worlds", available from http://www.barnesandnoble.com.

There, he explains that these kabbalistic terms refer to dimensions in space, as discussed in literature of Modern Physics.

Do we have any parallel iin Reform Judaism literature, William?

If you one day find a source for Cecille B. Damille's depiction, please share it with me.

>> Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews in Egypt, may have spoken Aramaic at home, as he came originally from Babylonia, even though he spent a long time in Canaan.

This is incorrect.

At that time in Mesopotania, Aramaic did not exist yet. During the Temple and Talmudic period, it was invented.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_language, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Persian, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_languages, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avestan_language, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesopotamia.

>> As as liberal Jew, I'm sure my standards for judging these things are going to be very different from yours, so I doubt this is worth going into further. I'm willing to accept some divine inspiration for writing, but doubt that any particular script is privileged.

William, I too am a liberal Jew. I was raised in a Reform Judaism home. I believe in social equality and other liberal causes like you.

Let's not judge anything. Look at the facts. A famous Jewish principle comments that a difference of opinion can not apply to facts.

Unfortunately, blindly believing that no "particular script is privileged" is naive and ignores reality.

Like the assimilated Jews in Germany, the birthplace of the roots of Reform Judaism, these people also naively thought that German culture would never produce a mass genocide, for the Jewish culture would melt in, like butter in a pot (sic).

But their wishful thinking did not stop the Holocaust, denied now by so many.

Wake up, spell the coffee. Be a proud Jew, and embrace authentic Judaism.

gohebrew's picture

>> What do you mean by Hebrew writing in the context of this discussion? The typical Semitic alphabet, or the actual letter shapes? And if the shapes, then which shapes?

John, Hebrew writing encompasses two facets. (a) the intellectual content articulated by words and thoughts, like chanting or meditating. (b) the images associated with each Hebrew letter, and its form.

The text above explains that each Hebrew letter uniquely portrays a different "world".

Btw, hi John, it was a long haul to hell and back! Your prayers helped. :)

gohebrew's picture

>> According to...

Michel,

Clearly, one depiction is correct, for we see it in every Mezuzah, Tefillin, and Torah scroll, for the last 3,300 years about.

Ktav Ivrit is not a fixed design, as we see different designs in different typefaces, drawings, manuscripts and scrolls.

In fact, the design portrayed there is the least documented, or even never documented.

I think Cecille believed that one. :)

gohebrew's picture

>> Well, I view...

William, let's focus on type design.

1. What are the ramifications to Hebrew type design as we practice it, if they indeed have a divine origin?

2. Can we incorporate these divine lessons to improve Hebrew type design?

3. Can these rules of improvement be applied to other letter sets of different languages.

William Berkson's picture

You may well be right about Aramaic not being the language of Abraham, according to what I now read on the wikipedia article "Akkadian" it could be that the language called "Old Babylonian" or "Old Assyrian", the language of Hammurabi, if the usual dates of Abraham—around 1700 BCE are correct. It's a Semitic language, but not Hebrew (or Aramaic).

However Torah itself calls Jacob, grandchild of Abraham an Aramean, in the passage (Deut. 26:5) discussed in the Haggadah: "arami oved avi" "A wandering Aramean was my father." According to the wikipedia on the Arameans they go back to 1900 BCE, so maybe the Torah is right—I'm surprised you contradict it :)

(I know there's another reading, but still...)

According to the article on Aramaic, you are not correct that Aramaic was invented during the Temple period. It was current in Babylonia in 1200, BCE, roughly the time of Moses, and several hundred years before Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem.

I don't know that the numbering in the Mishnah is more accurate, though I haven't studied this and am not sure. The version of Avot in the Siddur I am guessing goes back to the Mahzor Vitry, and the manuscripts are of it are of approximately equal antiquity to the manuscripts of the Mishnah. Also the wording of Avot was unfortunately not kept with the same care as the Torah, and there are minor variations from manuscript to manuscript.

So I think neither are entirely reliable. There is a recent scholarly work on the text of Avot, in Hebrew, but I haven't looked at it, and my Hebrew is alas not that good in any case.

More later...

John Hudson's picture

Pretty much every literate culture in the world seems to have some kind of myth of divine or mystical origin for its writing system. I take this simply as indicative of just how important and all-changing the introduction of writing is to any society: it is one of those few key changes -- like the advent of agriculture or metallurgy -- that transform almost every aspect of a society. And hence it gets recorded in the most important stories that a society tells to itself that help make sense of its experience. The ancient Egyptians, for example, considered writing to have been invented by the Ibis-headed god Thoth. The Greeks believed that writing was invented by the semi-mythological prince of Tyre, Cadmus, and Greek mystic tradition linked the invention of the alphabet to Cadmus' sowing of the dragon's teeth that grew up to become an army, recognising the power of literacy to marshall and regulate a society.

The earliest known forms of Hebrew letters are completely indistinguishable in their typical shapes from those used to write Canaanite and other languages. Only the language of the text written makes it possible to speak of 'Hebrew' writing as something distinct: the shapes are common to all contemporary literate cultures of the region. Some of the earliest fragments of writing from ancient Canaan are apparently so small -- on broken shards of pottery -- that it isn't possible to determine the language, and hence it isn't possible to determine if this is Hebrew writing or the writing of some other language that used the same letters.

William Berkson's picture

Israel, I'm not finding any speculation on whether the script on the tablets was not Hebrew. But there is a discussion in the Jerusalem Talmud (Meg. 1:11 71c) on it being in the ancient Hebrew script, not the currently used "ketav ashuri", the Assyrian script. The rabbis of the Talmud were well aware that the current script was not the original, and they ascribed the adoption of the current, very different script, which originated in Babylonia, where they had been exiled, to Ezra.

The point is, even if you read Avot 5:9 as claiming that God invented the script on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, and it was Hebrew, it wouldn't have been our current script.

I believe, but I don't have the reference that the Rabbis were aware that Hebrew was originally the language of Canaan, as John notes, and it wouldn't have been Abraham's mother tongue.

typerror's picture

Thank you John! What is this... my alphabet is better than your alphabet?

William Berkson's picture

>my alphabet is better than your alphabet

Well, that's Israel's view. I think it's not justified even by Talmudic standards, aside from its being silly and a bit offensive.

As to the awe people have for writing, and John's other stories of divine origin. For me personally I see some divinity in human creativity, so I'm willing to go there in saying that the invention of written language, including alphabetic scripts, has some divine inspiration. But narrowing it to one particular script seems to me, well, narrow.

I'm all for giving the ancient Hebrews the credit where it's due, such as for the invention of the Sabbath (or discovering God's will concerning the Sabbath, if you want to put it the Orthodox Jewish way, as Israel would.)

But as for the invention of writing, it just won't fly. According to what I have read, the invention of alphabetic language is probably a result of simplification of a version of a version of hieroglyphics known as hieratic script. And both hieroglyphics and cuneiform were around for a thousand years before alphabetic scripts. And Chinese script evolves on a separate track.

Also personally, I find the "solution" to the problem of Biblical miracles in Avot 5:9 pretty weak. It's something like the late 19th century theory that God put created the world in six days with dinosaur bones in the ground. Clever, but not credible.

typerror's picture

I would like to think such a wonderful gift (all alphabets) are divinely inspired through the hand of man. But to assume one is greater than the other is balderdash. G-d bless the alphabet for its ability to disseminate the word. Let it be less used for agenda. Thank you William. Congrats on Caslon. Just shy of divinely inspired :-)

gohebrew's picture

typerror >>>my alphabet is better than your alphabet

William >>> Well, that's Israel's view.

Excuse me. What a big misread.

typerror, perhaps you and Bill can rename yourselves as misread1 and misread2.

Divine or human origin is NOT a qualitative judgment.

Jews have 613 instructions, but gentiles have only the seven Noachide rules. No one is better or worst. In a way, Jews have over many more chances to screw up!

The three questions presented earlier explain why origins matter.

=========

gohebrew
13.Jul.2010 8.31pm

I repeat them:

1. What are the ramifications to Hebrew type design as we practice it, if they indeed have a divine origin?

2. Can we incorporate these divine lessons to improve Hebrew type design?

3. Can these rules of improvement be applied to other letter sets of different languages?

gohebrew's picture

To clarify, everything in this and every world indeed stems from G-d.

Some things are direct results from Divine causes, and other things are indirect.

G-d left the world in an imperfect or incomplete state, known as 'tikkun olam'. All major tracks within Judaism accept the duty of 'tikkun olam'. It's just defined differently.

G-d gave directions about how to complete the job, and singled out a nation, its language, and alphabet, to guide people to the right goal.

No one is grading anyone else or belittling other nations, languages, and alphabets.

L'chayim.

typerror's picture

G-d gave directions about how to complete the job, and singled out a nation, its language, and alphabet, to guide people to the right goal.

By this very statement you are making my point!

Cheers :-)

typerror's picture

It's the bottom of the ninth inning and the score is 613 to 7. Looks like a blowout by the Jews :-) Come on Israel, fess up to it!

Every post I have seen by you is agenda driven!!!!!

William Berkson's picture

Israel, I'm sorry if I misread you, but I read you to say that the shapes of the current Hebrew alphabet (derived from Aramaic) are divine, and the shapes of no other writing system is directly from divine causes. Do I have that wrong?

Also I am doubtful that you can find any Jewish source before the middle ages that says such a thing. [The story of Rabbi Akiva interpreting the 'et' (direct object indicator) and the crowns (tagim) on letters is not a claim for the special sanctity of the script, but of the actual writing in the Torah.]

Michael, thanks!

As to any divinity in the shapes, I think this is only in so far as they relate to the human eye-brain combination, assuming we are created ultimately by God. —The way we behave, though, there is room for doubt! I would look first to our perceptual apparatus, and not mystics from any religion, for clues on type design. But if you have some ideas from the mystics, my mind is open, tell me about it.

typerror's picture

Let me meditate.

Nam yo ho ringay kiyo.

Herbert Schwartz, down on 5th an New York, just spoke to me out of nowhere, he said malarkey. :-)

Sorry Israel :-( There is no other way to respond to this than the other great gift G-d gave us, humour!

gohebrew's picture

>>> G-d gave directions about how to complete the job, and singled out a nation, its language, and alphabet, to guide people to the right goal.

By this very statement you are making my point!

>>> It's the bottom of the ninth inning and the score is 613 to 7. Looks like a blowout by the Jews :-) Come on Israel, fess up to it!

Every post I have seen by you is agenda driven!

===

Michael,

Thank you for sharing your views. But with all due respect, I differ.

If I was a shrinkk, I would advise you that you have poor self-esteem.

A person suffers from poor self-esteem when he thinks others feel they are better than him.

According to Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky, most people suffer from poor self-esteem.

Again, attributing the Divine to one thing and not to another does NOT indicate that the former is superior, or "beats", the other.

Life is a bit more complex.

Jews do not believe in homogenized "ticky-tacky" people, all the same as each other.

Life is in living color, and not in monochrome. If it were all the same and monotone, it'd be really boring.

gohebrew's picture

Is Herbert at ITC?

John Hudson's picture

Israel, let me try to answer your three questions.

1. What are the ramifications to Hebrew type design as we practice it, if they indeed have a divine origin?

That it should be practised with great care, attention to quality in even the smallest detail; that our types should reflect the Lord's glory in both their beauty and utility.

Now, I don't think one needs a theology of Hebrew writing in order to come to that conclusion about any script. A theology of creation is all you need. William writes that he sees ‘some divinity in human creativity’, and hence acknowledges that the invention of all human writing has some divine origin. I'd agree with that in terms of a general theology of creation. As a Catholic, I have a more specific theology of creation that all things are created through Christ in whom, as Saint Paul has it, ‘we live and move and have our being’, and that there is nothing without the continued will of God that it should be so. That is my theological tradition, and hence it informs my thinking about creativity, as do, for example, ideas that derive from that tradition such as the Thomistic tradition of in the philosophy of art, particularly as expressed in the writings of Jacques Maritain and my beloved David Jones.

But given even the most general theology of creation, I don't see how one can arrive at any other conclusion than that all human creativity should be guided by the criteria I suggest above: care, attention to detail, beauty and utility, etc..

And maybe your ideas about the origin of the Hebrew script and about the interpretation of its forms might lead you to conclude that only an approach to Hebrew typeface design that incorporates these ideas is valid, that approaches that ignore these ideas are not proper. At that point, polite disagreement might be the only thing left in terms of dialogue with a lot of other Hebrew type designers. For me, it is in an important sense moot, because I'm of the view that when it comes to creative acts what matters is the thing made, not the things that went through the maker's mind while he was creating it.

2. Can we incorporate these divine lessons to improve Hebrew type design?

This depends what you mean by lessons. Even if the Hebrew letters -- and again, which forms: the early, pre-exilic forms? the post-exilic square script forms? the special forms used in the sefer scrolls? -- were of direct divine origin, made by God and gifted to His chosen people, I would still see a distinction between those forms and the interpretation of their meaning within e.g. particular mystic traditions.

Now, that interpretation is obviously going to be significant to an adherent of that tradition. So perhaps the question to ask is how to incorporate these ‘divine lessons’, as you see them in a kabbalistic tradition for example, in your typeface design. I'm obviously not an adherent of that tradition -- and, as I understand it, neither are very large numbers of Jews --, so for me the question is academic. In my experience, all sorts of complex cultural ideas can be expressed in the form of typography, so I don't doubt that you can find a way to incorporate the ideas of kabbala as they relate to letter shapes in your type design.

3. Can these rules of improvement be applied to other letter sets of different languages?

From my answers to the first two questions you can probably guess that I will arrive at two answers to this third question:

a) What holds true for Hebrew type design holds true for all creative acts: they should reflect God's glory in the way that His creation does. Even if the Hebrew script were in some way ‘special’ in terms of its divine origin, would we be able to treat it any differently in type design than we treat any other script.

b) If a script is culturally associated with particular traditions of understanding, then obviously it is likely to express those traditions more easily than a foreign script would. Sometimes, a cultural idea can find idiomatic expression in a foreign script, but very often what results is a kind of pastiche that does not honour the idea, but deforms or debases it. Think, for example, about Latin display fonts that try to look ‘Asian’ by incorporating some evocative shapes that encourage designers to use them in signage for Chinese restaurants. So I'm wary about such things. On the other hand, if an individual type design inhabits more than one culture then I can imagine how he or she might, over time, find ways to express the ideas of one culture within the formal structures of another.

John Hudson's picture

PS. In your questions, you move from ‘divine origins’ to ‘divine lessons’ to ‘rules’. There are a lot of steps missing along the way, so the latter two questions presume, I think, the particular significance and approaches of specific hermeneutic traditions. That's fair enough, in that you obviously are deeply embedded in these traditions, but you should recognise that much of what you presume to be the case remains open to question for other people.

Adam Shubinsky's picture

Israel,

I have a short question for you. If the origins of the current square Hebrew alphabet are indeed divine, are we not committing an act against God by using it in such a colloquial manner? If the letters are of holy origin, and contain within them a spark of the divine, should they be employed in the marketing and sale of various products and services—anything from the latest Hollywood vampire blockbuster, to erotic gay services on the web? (I don't mean to offend, just to make a point)

I do not see how Hebrew is any holier than Urdu, or literary Arabic. Personally I believe that all languages are both holy and beautiful (with the notable exception of Klingon).

William Berkson's picture

Just so folks don't get the wrong idea from Israel's rather chauvinist views, I would like to note that in Judaism there is the principle that "the righteous of all nations will have a place in the world to come." Essentially we are all judged by the goodness of our actions, and not our beliefs. This contrasts with the views of many other religions which are much more harsh toward those who reject their views.

typerror's picture

Edit, YOU are truly unworthy of my input Israel! No self esteem issues on my part.

gohebrew's picture

Michael, why take it personal?

It was meant purely constructively. Take it as it was meant.

Who is Herbert, and why was he on 5th - by the park and museum row?

John Hudson's picture

Israel, when you write something like ‘If I was a shrink [sic], I would advise you that you have poor self-esteem’, how is such a comment to be taken other than personally? It's a personal comment. I know that your main point was to affirm that the chosen-ness of the Jewish people does not imply a qualitative difference and hence that it is a mistake to interpret the claim in such a way, but your comment about poor self-esteem simply came across as personally insulting to Michael.

Maybe you should avoid trying to use metaphors. They're getting lost in translation: even from English to English.

gohebrew's picture

John,

In most advanced societies, a doctor of the mind and heart, or in our land of the brave and...a 'shrink' is taboo, and his or her dirty practice is for sickies, and the mentally ill.

How is it perceived in Canada?

I don't think that I have poor self-esteem. Then, again, Rabbi Israel, the famed Baal Shem Tov taught that if you perceive a fault by another, then you have it too, perhaps in a very different degree.

So, it's catchy, John, no?

Your other point about my main point is on target.

Metaphors?? Where fort art thou, o Johnio?

PS I'm still curious about who Herbert is?

gohebrew's picture

>> If the origins of the current square Hebrew alphabet are indeed divine, are we not committing an act against God by using it in such a colloquial manner?

Adam, there is a great book by Zalman Posner of Nashville, called "Think Jewish". It postulates that most Jews in America do no 'think' Jew, for this is a Christian country, albeit very kind.

Divine here is perceived as above everyday life.

Judaism as taught by Chabad is into the here and now, and not in the high heavens.

Hence, using the holy Hebrew square letters is allowed and encouraged. But, "everything was created for His glory". So, these applications must be for the good.

gohebrew's picture

John,

>>> 1. What are the ramifications to Hebrew type design as we practice it, if they indeed have a divine origin?

That it should be practiced with great care, attention to quality in even the smallest detail; that our types should reflect the Lord's glory in both their beauty and utility. <<<

I agree.

gohebrew's picture

>>> my beloved David Jones.

Who is that?

gohebrew's picture

Israel's question
>>> 2. Can we incorporate these divine lessons to improve Hebrew type design?

John: This depends what you mean by lessons.

I mean by lessons the information and knowledge that was gathered when a designer discovered and learned more about the Divine origins of Hebrew letters.

gohebrew's picture

>>> If the letters are of holy origin, and contain within them a spark of the divine, should they be employed in the marketing and sale of various products and services—anything from the latest Hollywood vampire blockbuster, to erotic gay services on the web? (I don't mean to offend, just to make a point)

Adam, holiness is everywhere, even in the gay bars.

I firmly believe that one should condemn the practice, but not the one who practices.

gohebrew's picture

>>> I do not see how Hebrew is any holier than Urdu, or literary Arabic. Personally I believe that all languages are both holy and beautiful (with the notable exception of Klingon).

Adam, all languages are both holy and beautiful, though the forms are shallow.

Yet, most are human-made, but Hebrew is not. The actual language is supra-logical, and its letter forms are like works of art in their depth and meaning.

Don't you see any difference?

typerror's picture

Now you have attacked John??? I do not even know him but he has proven, in previous posts, to be eloquent, fair, intelligent and thoughtful.

The fact that you represent yourself with an Alef is repugnant to me! An affront to the alphabet!

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