indication of sheva na/nach qamats rahav/qatan

Typograph's picture

I have seen different aproaches for sheva na and qamats qatan indictions.
1. A mark above (a circle, MAGEN DAVID or a Rafe) the letter
2. A bolder (somtimes squer) Sheva than the useal.

As a type designer a don't like the aproach of using uncommon symbols.
and more so misusing a symbol that indicates RAFE for indicating Sheva Na

As a designer i don't like the bolder or squer sheva that makes the text look not good.

in this discotion I would like to hear your opinions about this matter with tour reasoning.

Or in simple words
What in your opinion is the best way of indicating Sheva na, Qamats Qatan & dagesh Hazaq.

gohebrew's picture

> I have seen different aproaches for sheva na and qamats qatan indictions.
1. A mark above (a circle, MAGEN DAVID or a Rafe) the letter
2. A bolder (somtimes squer) Sheva than the useal.

Kehos (Chabd) uses an asterisk.

Kehos USA follows Rabbi Zalman Henna, while Kehos Israel follows the Minchat Shai.

According to Rabbi Shmuel Rabin of Torah, the view of Rabbi Zalman Henna produces more shva-nas than the view of the Minchat Shai.

Those that mark the shva-na with a bolder shva, as you did in the your sample, follow which shita view?

Typograph's picture

what i did is because this aproach is becoming popular in here israel.
I was thinging maybe to hav the sheva na regular and a circle (a hollow circil) for nach.

gohebrew's picture

but if it's nach, why couldn't it not have any symbol?

the first shva at the beginning of a word also has nothing.
this is a contradition.

William Berkson's picture

I think the hollow circle is going to be hard to harmonize with the other nikkud.

For the kamatz katan, that is sometimes done with a line with a dot under it (like a patach with a hirik below). You could use the "T" form for the regular kamatz and the line with a dot below for the kamatz katan. This would keep the same design elements, so it would not stick out so much. I think some siddurim already do this, but I think they make the kamatz katan symbol also bigger, which I wouldn't do. The kamatz katan is relatively rare, and I don't think the difference has to be so prominent.

How about for the shva na, having a dot above and a short horizontal line below, indicating some pronunciation? I haven't tried this, but it might work, and would be more harmonious with the current design elements in the nikkud.

Another possibility is a dot above and a short vertical line below, or two short vertical lines, one over the other. There is a danger of mixing it up with the dreaded meteg, though :) Also you might have a space problem. I think the horizontal line below is a more promising direction.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

For the kamatz katan, that is sometimes done with a line with a dot under it...

William, this a nice graphic idea, but it is conceptually wrong, since the "pattach-hirik" combination you speak of is actually the original Tiberian way of writing a kamatz. The combined shape (a line with with "droplet", or a "T") we know as kamatz today seems to be a later evolution (by the early printers perhaps).

As I said before, there is really no allowance under the Tiberian nikkud for these differentiations and, although I know some people want to see these differences represented graphically, it is an unfortunate development form the purely typographic point of view. Making up for the lack of grammar knowledge by screwing with this venerable and very laconic system is just sad.

I also think that including a kamatz koton in Unicode was a mistake.

raphaelfreeman's picture

Why is it a mistake? If a text has been edited to include the kamatz katan and you want change the font of that text...

I also don't think the kamatz katan is that rare. I mean the word "Kol" (All) and "Tzohorayim" (afternoon), "Hokhma" (wisdom) are fairly common words....

gohebrew's picture

> I think the hollow circle is going to be hard to harmonize with the other nikkud.

I think that Eli means above the letter.

Eli, what do you mean?

gohebrew's picture

I don't think, Boruch, the encoding in Unicode was mistake.

I advocate that it should be done also for the shva-na, and the shva-nach, just like the vav is encoded twice.

The shva should remain, when not differentiated.

Similarly, there should be an encoding also made for dagesh kal and dagesh chazak, with a special symbol for either, in addition to an ordinary dagesh.

Similarly, there should be an encoding also made for the vowels which are kal and chazak, with a special symbol for either, in addition to an ordinary vowel.

If this occurs, and its supported by font makers, with 5 years Jewish teachers and students will learn these rules.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Raphael, I am not sure whom you are addressing with the "mistake" question.

But let me pose the following hypothetical question: How would you people feel if someone proposed (nay, implemented out of whole cloth) a change into the Latin alphabet structure by adding two versions for, say a vowel "a" (one for short vowel, one for long vowel)? The reasoning would be to help immigrants learn how to pronounce English better...

I bet all of you would agree this would be insane. Well, the same applies to these new typographic aberrations with variant qomatzim, shevaim, and daggeshim! I know some people WANT them, and I understand the commercial realities, but I think it would be FAR better to promote learning of grammar over this wanton destruction of such a beautiful system.

raphaelfreeman's picture

Baruch: Well that's not 100% true. There are phonetic founts for this purpose in the English language. When typesetting the new Encyclopedia Judaica we used all sorts of these letters in many of the articles. In fact, there is even an english unicode letter called a shwa which is an upside down e. I have tried on several occasions to use this as a transliteration option for a Hebrew with no success unfortunately.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

gohebrew, we are talking at cross-purposes here. I have made my view clear – I am sure that this is a typographic horror and an ill-conceived notion. I wish it would just go away.

Naturally, if you think it is a good idea, you will also want these characters to be part of the Unicode.

Baruch Gorkin's picture


1. If this was for such a narrow usage as you describe, I would be quiet. Alas, this is spreading into mainstream publications of Chumashim and other texts with nikkud and taamim.

2. Even for a narrow usage, it would require a major typographic effort to create something that really works. As things stands now, some guy in some publishing house (I think it called "Simanim", not really sure) came up with this "brilliant" idea of using fat square dots for sheva na and daggesh chazak, and an extended line on the komazt katan, and now this ugliness is being seriously discussed on a typographic forum!

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Raphael, let me illustrate the KIND of approach that would be typographically OK in those kind of narrow applications you describe:

William Berkson's picture

Baruch, I think your implementation of the kamatz katan as I mentioned—perhaps others have already done it—doesn't look half bad. Your sheva na looks too weird, as does your dagesh kal. My concept, which is different than the philosophy now, is that the difference between the sheva na and nach should be slight, you can mistake one for the other, and have to look closely to differentiate. You could just discretely make the sheva na with square dots, but NOT big and ugly. By the way, you could also use the patach-hirik look as the normal kamatz and the "T" one for the kamatz katan...

The point is, that in a siddur, if a person wants to learn the pronunciation, they are going to have many times going over the same text, and these "instructional" variations don't have to shout at the reader, so long as they are noticeable when he or she looks closely.

Raphael, that's my point about the kamatz katan also. It's true that kol and chochma are very common words, but there really aren't that many which are common, so flagging them very discretely will be a way for people to learn them, without messing up the look of the nikkud, as Baruch says.

Baruch, the problem with your argument is that you can also say to people like me, who struggle without nikkud, or those who are totally unable to sound out words without them: go learn your Hebrew! Text with nikkud look pretty ugly in any case, if you ask me, compared to straight text with Hebrew letters.

An injunction to learn Hebrew would be good advice, but would not address what is likely to remain a problem in the diaspora for a long time.

gohebrew's picture

This would be confusing to the ordinary Jew.

Why not keep everything as it was for centuries? Time tested.

Then, the person educated in Hebrew grammar can see simple graphic symbols positioned above the letter, similar to the asterisk floating above the Hebrew letter, and the standard shva below the letter, in the books of Kehot. Again, Time tested.

So, too, with a dagesh kal.

So, too, with the kamatza katan and the kamatz gadol.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

William & gohebrew:

You might have missed my point, I did not even for a second suggest that such a system should actually be implemented in a regular-purpose text with taamim and nikkud. I was simply answering Raphael's point about a hypothetical specialized phonetic text. My illustration was intended to show the KIND of approach that would be needed EVEN for such a purpose – that a NEW system with clear differentiation between the marks would have to be invented. For the general audience (and certainly for people that are having trouble with the language) there is really no need for any of these grammatical nuances to be graphically represented.

gohebrew: "Why not keep everything as it was for centuries?"
My point exactly – leave the damn thing alone :) All the "time-tested" stuff you site is pure nonsense – these are all very recent inventions. (The Kehoth siddur type approach is not really the subject of my derision, since it doesn't feature the stupid new komatz koton and dagesh hozok).

"Text with nikkud look pretty ugly in any case, if you ask me, compared to straight text with Hebrew letters."

I guess if you feel this way, you would not be troubled if this system was further eroded by featuring two kinds of dots of slightly different shape (a typographic horror). I, needless to say, strongly disagree. I truly believe the Tiberian system of nikkud to be absolutely stunningly beautiful, and I hate seeing it messed with.

Typograph's picture

Personaly I agree with you, but this issue is becoming more and more popular, wich creats the need for a solution.

William Berkson's picture

Well, I guess "ugly" is a little too strong. Let me revise that to "cluttered." I feel the same way about what languages full of accents, like Polish, do to the Roman alphabet. I just find it less than ideal aesthetically as a solution. Of course, you can make it as good as possible with good design, but it still isn't as clean and graceful as the letters themselves.

Your "forget the whole thing" about adding distinctions has an appeal. Yet honestly I don't find those distinctions as for example executed in the Koren Siddur look worse than the regular ones, and in fact are helpful.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Eli, I understand the dilemma – people want it. But, correct me of I am wrong, isn't this only becoming popular in the haredi sector – among people with the least aesthetic training of all? And if so, isn't it incumbent upon the those making typefaces aimed at this audience to EDUCATE them and not to simply descend to their current ignorant level?

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Will, please spend some time contemplating the pure geometric beauty and clarity of the nikkud and taamim in the Aleppo Codex and then tell me you still want to mess with it. :)

gohebrew's picture

>> And if so, isn't it incumbent upon the those making typefaces aimed at this audience to EDUCATE them ...

Here, here, I agree.

gohebrew's picture

Come on, Baruch, what would Gafni say?

The Allepo nikkud does look so hot to trot. Was it even drawn by guy who scribed the text.

It's very simplistic, and might I say kinda poor.

I bet the guy who added it wasn't even a scribe.

We don't pray to Allepo. It can be improved.

Typograph's picture

People dont want to use it for education reasons.
there are 2 main reasons.
1. when producing a fonetic reaslation in a siddur or machzor.
2. after shmuel riarchi came out with his SIMANIM Tanach, people want to do the same for comercial reasons.

not for educating students.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Isreal, I would ask you to please keep personal comments off this forum. I have never had any connection to any Gafni and couldn't possibly care less what he has to say about anything, especially this topic.

I am not going to debate the beauty or lack thereof of the Alepo Codex – you can go ahead and work on improving it, but the discussion of this level holds zero interest to me. Sorry.

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Eli, right – it was the "Simanim" that was the original culprit! From my experience, the people who try to short-cut real grammar learning by using the "Simanim" tikkun still sound uneducated. What a shame it is...

gohebrew's picture

Excuse me, I think you misunderstand what I mean by "educational purposes" from your citing these three examples. This happens commonly by people whose mother-tongue is not English, or 'American'.

By "educational purposes", I refer to the classes in Christian or Cathlic Bible schools, Hebrew school, and intelligent Israeli schools that teach Hebrew Grammar.

All Bible and nikkud-based Mishnah, Talmud etc. is digital, and costs little or nothing, as it is public domain.

A teacher presents the same text, in the same font side by side. One side doesn't have the shva-na marked. One side does. He or she explains why that is. He shows examples. The student understands. Instead of being ignorant about shva-na, as most people are, in a few generations most people will now about a shva-na like a comma or period.

gohebrew's picture

Baruch, that an 'inside' joke. Do you still joke?

gohebrew's picture

I recall that you said at a farbreghen over Benadictine that there was only a way into Lubavitch, but no way out. Did you find a way out?

Baruch Gorkin's picture

Israel, you are getting on my nerves – I did not come here to discuss my religious beliefs and practices. If you are interested, you can email me.

gohebrew's picture


ezrakatz's picture

I am a Jew from the diaspora, and most of my Hebrew knowledge is from religious school and the siddur. I would not normally comment on Hebrew typography, but because I have a need for phonetic marks, my perspective might be useful.

The qamats qatan is a very useful mark for those who do not speak Hebrew fluently. A special mark for the sh'va na is not so important because the rules for pronouncing it are very predictable (elementary students learn these rules in their first year of Hebrew school).

I have seen styles 1 and 2 used together in a text, one indicating the qamats gadol the other indicating the qamats qatan. I have also seen a curved version for the qamats qatan like style 4. Style 3 will definitely confuse non-Israelis and students.

gohebrew's picture


Baruch haba. Welcome.

This graphic is interesting.

1 and 2 are confusing in my view. 1 should be extended much lower to be clearly distinguished from 2.

How do you that you and your classmates from long ago do not need a kamatz katan symbol?

ezrakatz's picture

I remember seeing in a prayerbook two different styles of qamats, one that was straight and one that had a rounded bottom. My guess is that the publisher borrowed a qamats from another typeface to make the distinction.

Because there is no standard symbol for the qamats qatan, it is often ignored by someone who relies only on the nikudot for pronunciation.

raphaelfreeman's picture

in reality you won't be able to distinguish these at the kind of point sizes that siddurim are printed.

Typograph's picture

as a type designer i am agains making up weird new shapes.
letters and Nikud must maintain an authentic look and not somthing people have to guess and learn from sdrach.

what do you guys say about this kind of indication.
it maintains the original look and is clear and does not involve enlarging the shapes to unproportional weight that looks weird.

gohebrew's picture

I agree with Eli.

But I plan on making new symbols for Hebrew grammar based fonts with
different kinds of kamatz (existing)
different kinds of dagesh, mapiq etc. (not existing)

I was thinking just to add a circle around dagesh and others?

What do you think?

Typograph's picture

gohebrew, I don't know.
i am waiting for rephael freeman to say his opinion.
I realy don't like the SIMANIM method of distinguishing these nikudim, i think they are ugly from a dasign point of view and incorrect from a typographical point of view.

mimiking him, means taking his system and making it into a standared.
I realize that as the first one to add this functionality to an open type font, it might lead to a standared, and that i don't want to do.

some might disagree about doing it at all at any level, others disagree on doing it on an OT level, but if we are allready doing it, we should come to an agreement of the best way of indicating these grammer distictions

raphaelfreeman's picture

I think that the use of the enlarged kamatz for the kamatz katan (and chataf kamatz katan) and the use of an enlarged shva isn't very pretty but has become so common place that it's become acceptable.

The dagesh chazak is harder. A larger dot won't work with most fonts. And distinguishing between a square and a circle (regardless of ugliness) won't work at small point sizes.

I'm inclined to leave the dagesh chazak.

Regarding mileil, again the use of the meteg is of course wrong, but everyone does it and people understand it. That seems to be the most typographically acceptable way of indicating it.

Typograph's picture

there should be in hebrew unicode
a meteg
kav mafsik
and a symbol for Mileil & Miera

today they use all this with a meteg wich leads to confution

gohebrew's picture

Eli, what is Mileil & Miera?

William Berkson's picture

Israel, see Wikipedia:


It's whether the last (milra) or penultimate syllable is emphasized. My impression is that Ashkenazi, as spoken by Hassidim, under the influence of Yiddish gets this regularly wrong, by "official" grammatical standards. Ashkenazi shifts the emphasis to the the first syllable. SHAbas instead of shaBAT So much for "sacred" pronunciation.

Also note the table of traditional national variations in Hebrew pronunciation in the first link.

gohebrew's picture


Thank you for the links, and for the explanations.

>> Ashkenazi, as spoken by Hassidim, ...

This is true by most Chassidic groups.

Chabad-Lubavitch is mainly made up of Baalei Tshuva, people who became chassidic Jews from non-chassidic backgrounds. Those Chabad-Lubavitch chassidic Jews in Israel do not speak Hebrew, or even pray/study, like other chassidic or heredi non-chassidic Jews, in an Ashkenazic dialect. These Sephardic dialect speaking Jews number more than half of the Chabad-Lubavitch chassidic Jews in Israel.

As the rate of Baalei Tshuva increase rapidly more in Israel than in the Diaspora, it is likely that there will be more Chabad-Lubavitch chassidic Jews speaking with a Sephardic dialect, and not speaking Yiddish.

In America, most Chabad-Lubavitch chassidic Jews are Askenazic. I for example come from a Reform Judaism family, and changed my way of speaking, praying, and learning, to that of an Askenazic dialect, because I am an Askenazic Jew.

William Berkson's picture

Thanks, Israel, for the info on Chabad in Israel. I didn't know that. An interesting review of two books (one unsympathetic, one sympathetic) on the late Rebbe Schneerson in the Jewish Review of books...

gohebrew's picture


I can't click your links. Did you intend to place any?

gohebrew's picture

I think you are referring to "the Chabad Paradox", featured here at

Where is the second book?

gohebrew's picture

I see. This review covers two books.

Scott-Martin Kosofsky's picture

I face the issue of the kamatz katan both as a typographer and as a type designer. I agree with Baruch in that the patach with a dot underneath is, indeed, the way the kamatz was written in the Aleppo and Leningrad codices, thereby putting it off-limits for sue as a kamatz katan. I have seen it done, but I believe it’s plain wrong. We’re not free to do what we wish, we have to explore precedents; otherwise, we simply add confusion. But I disagree with Baruch’s remark about the inclusion in the Unicode of kamatz katan (and hataf kamatz katan) being a mistake, for the reasons stated by Raphael. Both appear with sufficient regularity in siddur texts alone to justify their presence in fonts.

I think we came up with a perfectly tradition-based, workable kamatz katan in the Milon font. It is a kamatz with an extended center bar, sufficient to be recognized immediately for what it is, without resorting to a bold character or other typographically obnoxious solutions. When the book was in progress, I shared it with Raphael, who thought the difference wouldn’t be noticeable, but we now have the evidence of over 150,000 satisfied users, including a large number of rabbis and other learned types. Feel free to judge for yourself:

In the book linked above, we did not include the sh’va na, nor did we differentiate dagesh kal from dagesh hazak. We did use the patach g’nuvah, which is simply a typesetting issue, though I question its sense when used with ayin—what does it mean? I realize, as most of you do, that one can descend into a perilous realm of hair splitting, adding symbols that are outside the Tiberian sources, but are, rather, the product of latter-day khokhma. (“Rabbi Hutzpis on one foot? Big deal, I can recite the entire Torah on just three toes!”) The question in litugical Hebrew is which paytanim used which nikkudot—if any, and how early they were applied. Without some sense of historical application, one might come to the conclusion that everything should be typeset in the International Phonetic Alphabet. There’s great virtue in simplicity—you either know, or you don’t know—and if you don’t know, you can learn.

However, I recognize that for some, especially Jews who are from Persia or some Arabic-speaking lands, nikkud such as the dagesh hazak is clearly vocalized, whereas among Ashkenazic Jews no discernible sound is made. Therefore, it may be a worthwhile thing to differentiate, at least in material intended for certain communities. But again, we should look for typographical (or even calligraphic) precedents that appeared more than just once. We shouldn’t try to reinvent the wheel, as Ezra has done. I’m told that there’s a special place in gehinnom for people who do that kind of thing! (Sorry, I’m not at liberty to divulge my source.)

Bill, the Yiddish linguistics scholar Dovid Katz has proposed that the Asheknazic pronunciation of Hebrew may have been influenced by late Aramaic style more than by Yiddish—and that Yiddish pronunciation, itself, as well as some of its syntax, were heavily influenced by Aramaic. There’s no reason to think that the melding of Sephardic and Mizrahi phonemes one finds in Modern Hebrew have any greater claim on authenticity than do the phonemes of Ashkenaz. Why is Spanish or, say Persian, closer to “proper” Hebrew than Middle High German? Linguistic influence is not measured in miles or kilometers. It was simply the case that, at a certain time in the 20th century, the desire to leave behind anything European was overwhelming. Yet, somehow, Judeo-Spanish was seen as “cleaner” than Judeo-German. Don’t believe the popular press. It puzzles me as to how American Jews got sucked into this agenda, though I do understand how and why it was sold. As for me, I continue to pronounce Hebrew as my father did, and his father before him, even if it means turned heads every time I say “yisgadal v’yiskadash, sh’meih raboh.” And I am not a Hasid.

William Berkson's picture

Scott-Martin, I did not mean to imply that Israeli pronunciation is somehow more pure or holy. I was just tweaking Israel's obsession of getting all the pronunciation "right" when there is no clear single standard for "right"—and, as I read, there was a ruling that the Torah scroll should not have nikud as nikud are not mi-Sinai.

I am imagining that Hebrew would sound better with the daled with out dagesh as "th" in "the", tav without dagesh as "th" in "thin" and gimmel without dagesh as "g" in "George," and ayin as "ng". But this is not a well-informed opinion!

gohebrew's picture


>> I was just tweaking Israel's obsession of getting all the pronunciation "right" when there is no clear single standard for "right"— ...

Actually, these Hebrew grammar issues are independent of pronunciation obsessions. An Ashkenazi Jew says toe-may-toe, while a Sephardic Jew says toe-mah-toe. It's still that yummy red vegetable.

david h's picture

> Similarly, there should be an encoding also made for dagesh kal and dagesh chazak...


You did forget the third dagesh (Bible): dagesh mavhin, used to distinguish or divide.

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