Hebrew texts were originally written using palaeo-Hebrew characters that, like Greek script, were derived from the Phoenician alphabet.
The following list shows the differences in the form of selected letters:
|Palaeo-Hebrew character|| Corresponding character in
the modern so-called ‘square script’
By the second century AD, Jewish dignitaries began to consider palaeo-Hebrew script inappropriate for religious texts. From this point in time, Hebrew square script, based on Aramaic script, began to be used.
The illustration shows a (modern) Hebrew square script (the text is, of course, written from right to left) The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 consonants. There is no differentiation between uppercase and lowercase letters. Like Arabic, Hebrew is written and read from right to left. Readers are expected to vocalise texts themselves. However, four consonants can also be used to represent vowel sounds. In addition, there are five letters that have different forms when used at the ends of words. These are shown in the column ‘End form’ in the following table.
|Letter name||End form||Name||Numeric value|
Hebrew script is further characterised by a set of diacritical marks to indicate vocalisation. These take the form of points and small lines. The diacritical and vocalisation system also includes cantillation marks to indicate how religious texts consisting of consonants only are to be chanted in the synagogue.
Image: Diacritical marks showing the vocalisation of a text fragment of Psalm 18
It is thus necessary to use the appropriate diacritical marks to set Hebrew biblical texts correctly. However, these are not required to set modern secular texts. If you are planning to set a Hebrew text, we would recommend that you first check your character map to determine what letters are available to ensure that the corresponding font is appropriate for your intended purpose (e.g. to set a biblical text using the diacritical signs required). In any case of uncertainty, it is advisable to use a modern font version in OpenType format that will provide you with the full set of diacritical marks (such as Helvetica Hebrew).
Image: Section of the Helvetica Hebrew character map showing the diacritical signs