Tag Archives: Hebrew

טֹפֶס יוּחֲסִין

Hebrew Genealogy Forms

As I mentioned in my post Hebrew family and genealogy terms, I have wanted to translate my English genealogy forms into Hebrew for some time. I’m happy to announce the first version of my Hebrew genealogy forms are now available.

There are currently three forms in Hebrew:

טֹפֶס יוּחֲסִין
טֹפֶס יוּחֲסִין
טֹפֶס אַחַאי
טֹפֶס אַחַאי
טֹפֶס מִשְׁפָּחָה
טֹפֶס מִשְׁפָּחָה

These forms are designed to work together. You could start, for example, by filling out an Ancestor Form (טֹפֶס יוּחֲסִין), and then filling out similar forms for each of the grandparents, using them as source persons at the bottom of the forms. You could also add a sibling form (טֹפֶס אַחַאי) for each of the parents, and then for each sibling on those forms you could add a family form (טֹפֶס מִשְׁפָּחָה) showing their spouse and children.

The forms are PDF format and can be printed out and filled out by hand. At a later date I will be updating them to allow them to be filled out on the computer. The reason they do not currently support editing on the computer (like the existing English forms) is that the software I am using to make the forms editable has a problem using the Hebrew font I used in the form. The company that makes the software is aware of the problem and is looking into it. Hopefully they will resolve the issue soon, and I will be able to update the forms at that time.

I welcome comments and constructive criticism in the comments below. There has been some debate with people I showed these forms to as to exactly what words and phrases to use in each case. I’m sure not everyone will agree with what I have chosen, and I’m willing to revise some of the terms in the future if I’m convinced they need to be changed. Once thing that is clear from putting these together, and in putting together my earlier Hebrew family and genealogy terms list, is that not all genealogy terms that exist in English have been set in Hebrew, and it is my hope that by starting the conversation on these terms, and using them in forms like this, we can come to a consensus on what terms to use in Hebrew. So if you might find Hebrew genealogy forms useful, then check out the Hebrew Forms page, and download them.

Hebrew-English Family Terms Chart

Hebrew family and genealogy terms

Happy Yom Haazmaut (Israeli Independence Day) from Jerusalem. In honor of the holiday I’m publishing a list (and accompanying chart) of Hebrew and English family and genealogy terms. For the impatient, the list of terms is at the bottom of this post. Keep in mind one thing when looking at the list – it’s a first draft and I expect it to change based on input from others and the comments made below. The list is not a dictate, it’s a discussion.

Hebrew-English Family Terms Chart 0.2

The following is the background on why I’ve put this together, what the issues were, and where I found the information.

Recently I’ve been thinking about creating Hebrew versions of my B&F Forms System. As I’ve mentioned before, my collection of genealogy forms are designed to work together, connecting in ways that are fairly unique. I don’t know how many people have used my forms, as there’s no way to track their usage when they’re shared. I do know, however, that my forms have been downloaded over 40,000 times from this web site, and have been used by schools and other organizations, so I can only assume the number of people who have used them is higher.

B&F Ancestor Form
B&F Ancestor Form
I’ve long wanted to translate the forms into Hebrew, but for many reasons, many of them technical such as no longer having the software I used to create the original forms, I’ve never been able to do it. Recently I’ve been looking into the idea of finally translating the forms, so I’ve been doing research to insure all the terms I use are correct. In my research I found no extensive glossary of family and genealogy terms in Hebrew, although there were many partial lists. That led me to start putting together my own, which I am presenting below. I’d like people to think of this as a beta version, however, as I’m not 100% certain on all the terms, as I’ll explain in detail. I also know that there are more terms to add in the future. This is the beginning of what I imagine will be a long discussion.

When I speak to people who learned English as a second language, invariably they describe it as a difficult language to learn. Primarily the problem people have with English is that there are so many exceptions to the rules, that it almost seems like there are no rules. Hebrew has a different problem, although it certainly has its own problem with exceptions. Hebrew, of course, has been in use for thousands of years. As a spoken language, however, it has a large gap in its history. Even two thousand years ago, many Jews spoke Aramaic or Greek in daily life, and reserved Hebrew for religious rites and scholarship. That’s not so different from the nearly thousand years that Yiddish was the primary spoken language of Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, or Ladino was used by Sephardic Jews after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. However you look at it, until the foundation of the state of Israel, it had been well over two thousand years since Hebrew had been widely spoken by people as their native language.

Academy of the Hebrew Language
Academy of the Hebrew Language
One of the most amazing achievements of the Zionist movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which some would describe as miraculous, was the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language. This is the only time in history that a language with no native speakers at the time was turned into a national language with millions of speakers. That process was started by individuals, most famously Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and continued by committee, and eventually by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which was established in 1953 and tasked by the Israeli government to direct the development of the language.

With all of that, modern Hebrew remains a language in flux. Modern Hebrew starts with biblical Hebrew, but shows influences going back to Aramaic and Greek, on to Yiddish and Ladino, and more recent influences such as English and Arabic. While there is an Academy, that doesn’t mean people speak strictly by its rules. Certainly that is not the case. One good example is the use of the words Saba (סַבָּא) and Savta (סָבְתָא) for grandfather and grandmother. These words are universally used, but strictly speaking, not the proper Hebrew terms (they are in fact Aramaic, not Hebrew). The correct terms are actually Sav (סָב) and Sava (סָבָה), but I’ve never heard anyone use those terms. Additionally the correct term for grandmother (Sava) sounds a lot like the actually used term for grandfather (Saba). Remember that in Hebrew B and V are the same letter (the letter bet ב, B with a dot in the middle and V without). Another example is that the offical term for great-grandfather is Av Shileish (אָב שִׁלֵּשׁ), while the universally used term is Saba Raba (סַבָּא רַבָּא). Moreover, while the correct female version of this would be Savta Rabta (סָבְתָא רַבְּתָא), it seems many people say Savta Raba (סָבְתָא רַבָּא).

Another problem with figuring out the correct terms to use is the fact that Hebrew is a gendered language. There are no generic terms such as ‘cousin’ or ‘grandparent’. At best, one would use the male version of the word when lacking gender specificity, but that can lead to some confusion. In another example of official words versus actual usage, the official word for cousin is Dodan (דּוֹדָן) in the masculine, and Dodanit (דּוֹדָנִית) in the feminine. Many people, however, people use the terms Ben Dode (בֶּן דּוֹד) and Bat Dode (בַּת דּוֹד) instead. Literally those terms mean Son of Uncle and Daughter of Uncle. You could also say בֶּן דוֹדָה (Son of Aunt) or בַּת דוֹדָה (Daughter of Aunt), and some people do this, but some people also fall back on just using דּוֹד generically. In any of those four cases, however, the term literally refers to one’s first cousin (the child of your aunt or uncle). As such there essentially is no term for first cousin in Hebrew. You could say בֶּן דּוֹד רִאשׁוֹן if you wanted to be specific, but it’s not very common. In my experience Israelis describe the relationships they are trying to convey, and don’t necessarily use the ‘correct’ terms.

One example which took me some time to figure out was what to call a great-uncle or great-aunt. When I asked my neighbor, she said she would describe them as the brother or sister of her grandparent. When I told her I had come across the terms Dod Raba (דּוֹד רַבָּא) and Doda Rabta (דּוֹדָה רַבְּתָא) she had clearly never heard of them. If someone were to use these terms in speaking, I suspect that the female would end up being Doda Raba, similar to how Savta Ravta is normally used as Savta Raba. Interestingly the Academy shows these terms (not דּוֹדָה רַבָּא which is said, but not grammatically correct), but also Dod Gadol (דּוֹד גָּדוֹל) and Doda Gadola (דּוֹדָה גְּדוֹלָה), which may come from the English terms great-uncle and great-aunt (although Raba also means great).

Another interesting example is that Hebrew, unlike English, has specific words for great-grandson and great-granddaughter. While the terms for grandson and granddaughter are Neched (נֶכֶד) and Nechda (נֶכְדָּה) respectively, the terms for great-grandson and great-granddaughter are Nin (נִין) and Nina (נִינָה). How would you say great-great-grandson? Officially the term is Khimaish (חִמֵּשׁ), which comes from the Hebrew word for five, but in practice I think the real usage is Ben Nin (בֶּן נִין), which means ‘son of great-grandson’. Also, like the word for cousin, which means ‘son of uncle’, if you wanted to say great-great-granddaughter, you would say Bat Nin (בַּת נִין) which means ‘daughter of great-grandson’ even if the girl in question was the daughter of one’s great-granddaughter (although you could say בַּת נִינָה if you wanted to).

Choosing the terms to use, therefore, is a bit complicated. One thinks of the lexicographical debates in the past over descriptive versus prescriptive definitions. I tend towards the descriptive approach, as if something isn’t being used in real life, it’s not that useful. When there are terms that are not widely used as all, I tried to stick to the official terms, unless they seemed out of the pattern of other similar terms. I welcome discussion of these terms in the comments below. I imagine some people will disagree with the choices I have made.

To research these terms I looked at various dictionaries (including Morfix and Milog), but also online forums where these terms were discussed, articles that discussed the terms, as well as talking with native Hebrew speakers to understand what terms they used in the real world. Some of the sources include the Academy of the Hebrew Language’s Term Database and articles there as well (עברית לכל המשפחה, איך ייקראו בן הנין ואחי הסב?, חם וחמות, חותן וחותנת, פרשת וירא – נִין), several articles across different sites (1, 2, 3, 4), and the Tapuz Forum (some example threads include: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). That last Tapuz link was amusingly a discussion of families in Harry Potter.

Wikigenia Cousin Chart
Wikigenia Cousin Chart
After piecing together most of my list, I found a cousin chart which confirms most of what I had determined for cousins, laying it out very nicely. One problem with the system used in the chart (going from בֶּן נִין to נֶכֶד נִין to נִין נִין to בֶּן נִין נִין) is that it becomes hard to calculate the further you go. I agree that’s the general consensus on what people would do, but I wish there was a simpler way to do it. It seems there is no set method of laying out these relationships. Another problem is the term for ‘removed’ which I’ll discuss below.

Reverso Context
Reverso Context
One site that was useful in finding real world usage of these terms is Reverso Context, which for the term great-great-grandson, includes the following real-world examples: נֶכֶד הריבע, נֶכֶד שֶׁל נֶכֶד, and נֶכֶד רַבָּא רַבָּא. In English, those would be grandson of grandson, grandson the fourth, and great-great-grandson. Interestingly, none of the examples include בֶּן נִין from the chart mentioned above. Keep in mind when looking at Reverso Context that not all the translations are accurate. They are for the most part taken from an interesting source – a public database of movie sub-titles. Those sub-title files are likely not professionally translated but done by film enthusisats looking to share translations of movies into their own language. Transcriptions are done by everyday people and not professionals, however, that can actually be beneficial when trying to analyze regular usage in a non-academic setting.

Another example from Reverso Context is for the term great-great-grandfather, which is kind of the reverse of the above. Here we have the expected סָבָּא רַבָּא רַבָּא, but also סָבָּא שֶׁל הַסָבָּא ,סָבָּא רַבָּא נֶהְדָר, and סָבָּא ריבעה.

One more example where this gives some insight is how to explain cousins of different generations. In English we say first cousin twice removed, or third cousin once removed, etc. In the chart mentioned earlier, they use the term ‘מוּזָח’ which means moved, so בֶּן דּוֹד שְׁלִישִׁי מוּזָח פָּעַם אַחַת is third cousin moved one time. In Reverso Context, a common usage is הוּסַר, which means to remove. This could simply be because there is no established terminology here, and these examples are people who are simply translating the English term. Other terms used include מֶדּוֹר which means from generation (i.e. בֶּן דּוֹד מֶדּוֹר שְׁלִישִׁי for first cousin from the third generation) and מַדְרֵגָה which means level (ie. בֶּן הַדּוֹד הַרִאשׁוֹן מַדְרֵגָה שְׁנִיָּיה for first cousin level two). This is confusing since some people say בֶּן דּוֹד מַדְרֵגָה שְׁנִיָּיה to mean second cousin. For that reason I would avoid using מַדְרֵגָה in this case. At this point it seems that whoever is using a word for this concept is making it up as they go. When discussing this issue with a friend, they suggested a better word might be מוזז, which can mean removed or shifted, and now I have about five candidates. There is no ‘correct’ term, at least in the sense of being approved by the Academy of the Hebrew Language. One way to get such terms approved is probably to get them put to use in the real world. For the time being I’m going with מוזז, and I welcome discussion in the comments below on what you think of this term, and what you use to describe cousins of different generations. If you have real-world examples, particularly published in books or news media, that would be helpful.

Lastly, the goal for this list, and the accompanying chart at the top of the page, is to help family researchers who speak English to figure out what terms to use in Hebrew, and also for Hebrew speakers to figure out what terms to use in English. I’m hoping this will help everyone communicate better, and with a bit more precision, when conversing with family or archives in English speaking countries and in Israel. For those terms that are not well known, perhaps this list will help them receive some use, and for those those concepts that did not have established terms, hopefully this list will help spur on the approval of such terms.

Below is the full list of terms. This is a first draft, so if you see an error, please post it in the comments below. I will correct the list and update it (and the chart at the top) over time. I’ve strived to find the middle ground between what is really used in Hebrew, and what is ‘correct’ according to the academy. Usually the academy recognizes other uses and lists them, even if they’re not preferred, so I’m only switching their order of preference.

For the transliterations, note that I use kh to represent the letter khet (ח), which represents a sound that is not used in English. While you can very roughly approximate the pronunciation of words that begin with kh by dropping the k (i.e. haam instead of khaam), that doesn’t work when the letter is at the end of the word (i.e. ah instead of akh).

In the table below columns are sortable, and you can search a term as well in the search box at the top. If you think there are terms that should be added (and I’m sure there are) please post your idea to the comments below.

בֵּן מִשְׁפָּחָהben mishpakhafamily member
אִילַן יֻחֲסִיןilan yukhasinfamily tree
אָב קַדְמוֹןav kadmonancestor
בֶּן זוּגben zoogpartner (male)
בַּת זוּגbaht zoogpartner (female)
סַבָּא רַבָּאsaba rabagreat-grandmother
סָבְתָא רַבְּתָאsavta rabagreat-grandmother
סַבָּא רַבָּא רַבָּאsaba raba rabagreat-great-grandfather
סָבְתָא רַבְּתָא רַבְּתָאsavta rabta rabtagreat-great-grandmother
דּוֹד רַבָּאdode rabagreat-uncle
דוֹדָה רַבְּתָאdoda rabtagreat-aunt
בֶּן נִיןben ningreat-great-grandson
בַּת נִיןbat ningreat-great-granddaughter
בֶּן דוֹדben dodemale cousin, cousin
בַּת דוֹדָהbaat dodafemale cousin
בֶּן דּוֹד שֵׁנִיben dode shenisecond cousin
בַּת דּוֹדָה שְׁנִיָּהbat doda shniasecond cousin (female)
בֶּן דּוֹד שְׁלִישִׁיben dode shlishithird cousin
בַּת דּוֹדָה שְׁלִישִׁיתbat doda shlishitthird cousin (female)
בֶּן דּוֹד מוּזָז פָּעַם אַחַתben dode muzaz pa'am akhatfirst cousin once removed
בֶּן דּוֹד שְׁלִישִׁי מוּזָז פַּעֲמַיִםben dode shlishi muzaz pa'amayimthird cousin twice removed
בֶּן דּוֹד רְבִיעִי מוּזָז שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִיםben dode rivee'ee muzaz shalosh pa'amimfourth cousin three times removed
בֶּן דּוֹד רָחוֹקben dode rakhokedistant cousin
חָםkhaamfather-in-law (can refer to the father either spouse, but when using חוֹתֵן for the father of the wife, חָם is used as father of the husband)
חָמוֹתkhaamotmother-in-law (can refer to the mother either spouse, but when using חוֹתֶנֶת for the mother of the wife, חָמוֹת is used as mother of the husband)
חוֹתֵןkhotainfather-in-law (only used as the father of the wife)
חוֹתֶנֶתkhotenetmother-in-law (only used as the mother of the wife)
מְחֻתָּנִיםmakhutanimrelated by marriage
גִּיסָןgeesanbrother of brother/sister-in-law
גִּיסָנִיתgeesanitsister of brother/sister-in-law
אָב חוֹרֵגav khoregstepfather
אֵם חוֹרֶגֶתaim khoregetstepmother
בֶּן חוֹרֵגben khoregstep-son, step-child
בַּת חוֹרֶגֶתbaat khoregetstep-daughter
אָח חוֹרֵגakh khoregstep-brother
אָחוֹת חוֹרֶגֶתakhot khoregetstep-sister
אָח לְמֶחֱצָהakh limekhetzahalf-brother
אָחוֹת לְמֶחֱצָהakhot limekhetzahalf-sister
שֵׁם פְּרַטִיshem pratigiven name
שֵׁם מִשׁפָּחָהshem mishpachasurname
שֵׁם קָדוֹשׁ/שֵׁם עִבְרִיshem kodesh/shem ivrireligious name (literally holy name/hebrew name)
כִּנּוּיkinnuisecular name/nickname
שֵׁם הַנְּעוּרִיםshem haniurimmaiden name
תְּעוּדַת לֵידַהteudat laedabirth certificate
תַּאֲרִיךְ לֵידַהta'areech laedadate of birth
אֶרֶץ לֵידַה eretz laedacountry of birth
מָקוֹם לֵידַהmakom laedaplace of birth
תַּאֲרִיךְ לֵידַה עִבְרִיta'areech laeda ivriHebrew date of birth
תַּאֲרִיךְ לֵידַה לוֹעֲזִיta'areech laeda loaziforeign (Gregorian) date of birth
יוֹם הוּלֶדֶתyom huledetbirthday
בְּרִית מִילָהbrit milahcircumcision
קִדוּשִׁיןkedushinmarriage ceremony
כְּתֻבָּהketubahJewish marriage contract
תְּעוּדַת נִשּׂוּאִיםteudat nisuinmarriage certificate
תַּאֲרִיךְ נִשׂוּאִיןta'areech nisuinwedding date
גֵּטgetJewish divorce certificate
תְּעוּדַת גֵּרוּשִׁיןteudat gaerushindivorce certificate
תַּאֲרִיךְ פְּטִירָהta'areech petiradate of death
מָקוֹם פְּטִירָהmakom petiraplace of death
תְּעוּדַת פְּטִירָהteudat petirahdeath certificate
בֵּית עָלְמִין, בֵּית קְבָרוֹתbeit almin, beit kvarotcemetery
רִשָּׁיוֹן קְבוּרָהrishayon kivurahburial license
חֶבְרָה קַדִּישָׁאkhevra kadishaburial society
תַּכְרִיךְtakhreekhburial shroud
מוֹדַעַת אֵבֶלmoda'at avelobituary
שֶׁלְאַחַר הַמָוֶתshel'akhar hamavetposthumous
יְרוּשָּׁהyerushainheritance, legacy
אִשׁוּר צַוָאָהishur tsava'aprobate
עוֹלֶהolehimmigrant to Israel
יוֹרֵדyoredemigrant from Israel
רְשִׁימָת נוֹסְעִיםrishimat nosimpassenger list
מִצַד הַאָבmitsad ha'avpaternal/patrilineal
מִצַד הַאֵםmitsad ha'aimmaternal/matrilineal
מָקוֹר רִאשׁוֹנִיmakor rishoniprimary source
מָקוֹר מִשְׁנִיmakor mishenisecondary source
עִיר לֵידַהeer laedabirth city
רְשׁוּמוֹת חִיּוּנִיrishumot khiunivital records
שֵׁמוֹן גֵּאוֹגְרָפִיshaemon geografigazeteer

Using Nikud (Vowels) in Hebrew on a Mac

I’ve written a couple of articles in the past about using Hebrew on your computer, specifically Finding Hebrew Fonts and the more niche Trick to use Hebrew and Yiddish in Adobe InDesign. Although using Hebrew on one’s computer is fairly simple, one thing that is not so simple is adding Hebrew nikud (vowels) to your text. In Hebrew, unlike in English, vowels are written as a series of marks, generally below the other letters. An example from my article on fonts:


In the above text, the blue marks are nikud. In general nikud are not needed for advanced readers of Hebrew, and if you were to buy a Hebrew-Language newspaper or a book in a bookstore, none of them would have nikud, except for when the meaning of the word could not be determined otherwise.

Recently, I had reason to add nikud to a document, and I decided to finally figure out how to add them. Keep in mind, I use a Mac, so these are Mac-specific instructions. For general information on nikud, and codes that can be used on Windows, see the Wikipedia article Niqqud.

On the Mac, there are two keyboard layouts you can use for Hebrew.

First, there is the standard Hebrew layout that is what is used in Israel on all computers.

Second, there is something called Hebrew QWERTY, which maps the Hebrew letters to the closest sounding letters in English, so for example Reish (ר) is mapped to the R and Nun (נ) is mapped to the N. There are some useful shortcuts, like end-letters (in Hebrew some letters change form at the end of a word) simply being Shift and the standard key. For someone who works mostly in English and only occasionally needs Hebrew, Hebrew QWERTY is much quicker to learn.

Adding nikud to text can be done with either layout, although there are some differences. In both cases most nikud are added by using a special key combination, usually using Option (Alt) and a second key. In the standard Hebrew layout, most of the nikud map to Option and a number. For example, adding a kubbutz (which looks like three diagonally arranged dots – as in אֻ) is done by typing a letter and then the key combination Option-8. Just like Hebrew QWERTY tries to map the sounds of letters, it also tries to map the sounds of the nikud, so for the example above of the kubbutz, the key combination is Option-U (the kubbutz sounds like a U).

Hebrew QWERTY can use most of the key combinations from the standard Hebrew layout as well, although not all. All the Option-Number combination (i.e. 0-9) can be used on both layouts.

In order to make it easy to learn, I’ve created a chart that lets you figure out which key combination to use for each nikud. You can download it as a PDF and print it out for easy reference. The first ten combinations are shown using the letter Aleph (א) as an example, with the nikud added. When I write Opt-Sh I mean Option-Shift together with the key shown after it. The next two use a vav (ו) as the example, and the last two are specific to the sin/shin (ש). Most of these nikud can be used on many different letters. I have only added the most common nikud, although there are some more rare ones. For those, I suggest taking a look at the Wikipedia article Niqqud.

The chart is below. You can also download a PDF version if you want.

Trick to use Hebrew and Yiddish in Adobe InDesign

This is the second article in a series on publishing text in Hebrew and Yiddish for genealogy books. The first article looked at Finding Hebrew Fonts. This article looks at using those fonts to publish Hebrew, Yiddish or any Right-to-Left (RTL) language using Adobe InDesign, without having to buy the more expensive Adobe InDesign ME (which has extensive support for RTL languages).

The standard software for professional publishing these days is Adobe InDesign. When publishing genealogy books there are genealogy programs that can output formatted reports and books (such as the  book output options of Heredis and GEDitCOM II mentioned on Tuesday), but if you want a fully customized book that can be published professionally (or through an online publisher/printer like lulu.com) either you or someone else who is helping you will likely need to use InDesign. InDesign itself is not cheap (about $650), but if you want to use RTL languages like Hebrew, Yiddish, or Arabic, it costs hundreds of dollars more for the ME (Middle East) version.

Why would you want to use RTL languages in a genealogy book? Some examples include transcribing Jewish gravestones which in many cases are at least partially (and frequently wholly) in Hebrew, and transcribing handwritten Yiddish letters. You could just put in a translation of the texts, but adding the original text, especially when the orginal may be hard to read, is a nice touch.

Since most people are not going to buy InDesign just to put together one book, they probably will be using a copy at work, or have a friend who has a copy help them out. If that’s the case, however, chances are the copy of InDesign they are using will not be the ME version with support for RTL.

There are actually three InDesign add-ons you can buy that will enable RTL features in standard InDesign, idRTL from Zartech for $50 (CS4 and later), World Tools from In-Tools for $99 (CS4 and later), and ScribeDOOR from WinSoft International for $151 (for CS5, CS5.5 and CS6). The cheapest solution is still $49. Again, maybe too expensive, especially if it’s not for a copy of InDesign you own. So what if you could use RTL langauges in InDesign without an expensive plug-in? Well it turns out you can, with a little trick I’m going to show you.

Keep in mind this trick won’t add all the RTL features that the ME version of InDesign offers, but it will let you insert RTL text that will lay out properly. For short texts like gravestone transcriptions, or simple texts like letters, this is more than enough. If you want to format complicated things like forms and complex layouts, chances are you’ll need to spend the extra money and get one of the other solutions.

Technically this has been possible since InDesign CS4, but I believe it may have required some scripting to make it work. I’m using CS6 and there is nothing you need to get it working other than following the steps below.

Open InDesign, and go to the Paragraph settings. You want to select the Adobe World-Ready Paragraph Composer:

Step 1: Select the Adobe World-Ready Paragraph Composer

This is what defines the type of text-box you create when using the Type Tool in InDesign.

Next, select the Type Tool:

Step 2: Select the Type Tool, and create a text box

and with the Type Tool selected, create a text box on the page.

Now, make sure the cursor is flashing in the text box and then, while holding down the Command key on a Mac, or the Control key on Windows, right-click into the text box (right-click on a Mac is either holding down the Control key while clicking, or on a newer trackpad using two fingers to click). That will bring up a menu:

Step 3: Command/Control Click and select ‘Fill with Placeholder Text’ from menu

When you see the menu, select ‘Fill with Placeholder Text’. If you were not holding down the extra key (Command on the Mac, or Control on Windows) then it will just insert placeholder text in English characters. If you were holding down the extra key, you will instead see a window pop up:

Step 4: Select Hebrew from the pop-up menu

In this small window, you need to select Hebrew (or Arabic) in order to get RTL text inserted. When you click OK, you’ll see the placeholder text inserted:

Hebrew Placeholder Text in the text box

Besides having random Hebrew text, you’ll also notice the text box is now in RTL mode and you can edit Hebrew text properly.

Now you just delete the Hebrew text and your cursor will be on the right side of the text box, ready to enter any RTL text, whether Hebrew, Yiddish or Arabic.

Empty Text Box in RTL mode ready for text entry

You can change your font, size, whatever – and it will now all work in this text box. Use any number of Hebrew fonts, like those I mentioned in my recent article Finding Hebrew Fonts.

If you use this tip, let me know. If you’re interested in hearing more about publishing genealogy books, let me know in the comments.

Finding Hebrew Fonts

Even though I live in Israel, my computer operating system runs using English, and almost all the work I do is in English. That said, I occasionally have the need to do some work in Hebrew, which presents some problems. One problem is that I don’t have a lot of Hebrew fonts on my computer, and usually whatever project I’m working on requires something slightly different (requiring me to find an appropriate font).

For genealogists, one use for Hebrew, even for those who do not speak Hebrew, is to transcribe the exact text on Jewish gravestones, which are frequently partially (and sometimes completely) in Hebrew. When publishing books on your family history, having the right fonts to publish those transcriptions can be very important. Another use is transcribing family letters written in Yiddish (Yiddish uses the Hebrew alphabet). By the way, if you do want to transcribe Yiddish, an interesting tool online is called the Yiddish Typewriter and it lets you enter Yiddish in various forms, and it then outputs it into many more forms (including YIVO transcription, IPA transcription, PDF, Image (GIF, etc.) – it looks quite useful.

In this post I’m going to share some places you can find Hebrew fonts. Most of the sites I’m going to point out have free fonts, although I’ll also include a few commercial sites. Keep in mind I’m not going to explain how to use these fonts on your computer, that’s a whole different topic.

So first, I should point out that there are different ways to divide Hebrew fonts, and I’ll take a look at a few.

First, Hebrew fonts can be divided into three categories:

1) Fonts that support Nikudot (vowels) and Taamim (cantillation marks – also called Trop in Yiddish)
2) Fonts that support Nikudot (vowels) but do not support Taamim
3) Fonts that support neither Nikudot nor Taamim

A few things about these categories:

Category 1 is essentially only needed when one is reproducing a biblical passage, and not always. Taamim (cantillation marks) are used to show the reader of a passage how to pronounce that passage when reading it aloud in synagogue. There are other interpretations of the Taamim, but they are beyond the scope of this post.

Category 2 includes Hebrew vowels, which unlike in English, are not letters, but diacritical marks. In modern Israeli Hebrew, these vowels are usually not used. You won’t, for example, see them in most books or newspapers. Newspapers published for people new to Hebrew (such as immigrants to Israel) use vowels, as it makes it easier to read the Hebrew (one doesn’t need to figure out the word based on context). This is a niche market. Vowels are also frequently used in the publication of Hebrew prayer books. That said, if you plan on printing something in Hebrew that is going to be read by someone not fully fluent in Hebrew, including vowels is a good idea.

Category 3 is the largest category of fonts. Most modern Hebrew fonts will fall into this category, not only because Israelis don’t use vowels, but because implementing vowels as diacritical marks is a pain in the neck for font designers.

Here’s an example of Hebrew text with both Nikudot and Taamim:

Nikudot (Vowels) in Blue, Taamim (Cantillation Marks) in Red

This is a passage from Exodus Chapter 7 – roughly translated as “and the river will swarm with frogs, which will go up and come into your houses”. The font is called Taamey Frank CLM, part of the free Culmus font collection I mention below. The text with Nikudot and Taamim came from the Mechon Mamre web site.

As you can imagine, designing fonts that take into consideration the proper placement of all of those marks is complicated. Considering that Hebrew has the history it does, there are still many uses for fonts with Nikudot (vowels) and Taamim (cantillation marks). Recently, a new English edition of the Talmud has been started called the Koren Talmud Bavli, which is the first Talmud that I’m aware of that includes the full text of the Talmud with Nikudot in the standard Vilna page layout.

Like in English, there are also serif and san-serif fonts – and like English, sans-serif fonts are generally perceived as more modern. There are also monospaced fonts.

There are also handwriting fonts, and fonts in alternate Hebrew alphabet forms like Rashi Script (which was not used by Rashi, nor is it really script).

You might find handwriting fonts that include Nikudot, but I doubt you’d ever see one with Taamim since it’s a printing mark, and not generally handwritten.

Warning on using old Hebrew fonts

One more point worth making is that fonts in Hebrew were previously available in many formats that didn’t work well together. Windows had one kind, Macintosh had another, and each went through different versions that didn’t work even on the same platform. There are different ways of displaying Hebrew on the Internet as well, called visual and logical Hebrew. Visual Hebrew is the older format, still used on many Israeli sites. Logical Hebrew is the now standard format, which should be used by everyone. Old fonts were also encoded in different character encodings (like ISO-8859-1, ISO-8859-8, ISO-8859-8-i, or Windows-1255) instead of the more modern Unicode encoding formats (like UTF-8). I bring all of this up to point out that if you are scouring the net looking for Hebrew fonts, be careful not to install old fonts which might not use the latest standards. Look for fonts that mention Unicode, UTF-8 or UTF-16. If you have old Hebrew fonts on your computer – consider replacing them if they use one of these older formats – because even if they work on your computer you probably won’t be able to share whatever you create with anyone else.

Okay, that all said, where do you get Hebrew fonts?

If you have no Hebrew fonts and want to get a variety of fonts quickly, there are two sites which have collected free Hebrew fonts and bundled them together for download.

The first is the Open Siddur Project, which has a Font Pack which includes 8 fonts with Nikudot and Taamim, 14 fonts with Nikudot, and 46 other Hebrew fonts (without Nikudot or Taamim). Note that all of these fonts are free and in Unicode format so you know they will work on modern computers and are interchangeable with other people. There is a PDF available that shows samples of all the fonts in the font pack. A few examples from the PDF:

A selection of fonts from the Open Siddur Project’s Font Pack

The second is from The Bold Edge | Jewish Design Central, which has a Free Hebrew Font Collection. I’m not sure how many fonts are in this collect or what kinds there are, but it includes 50 different font files (although some may be in the same font family). I’ve requested they put together a PDF showing which fonts are included, so hopefully they will add that eventually.

Next, there is the Culmus Project whose goal it is to provide free Hebrew fonts for use with Linux and Unix systems. Even so, these fonts should work on Windows and Mac as well. There are 14 font families includes currently (full list – lists Latin counterpart fonts when they exist). In addition to some standard fonts that are serif, sans-serif and monospaced, they also have display fonts (Fancy) and fonts that include all the Nikudot and Taamim (Taamey). The Taamey fonts are downloadable individually, but for the rest, you need to download a file from their download page (at the top you should see a link right next to the text “Looking for the latest version?” and that’s the file you need.

One interesting font is called Alef. It’s a new font designed from the ground up to be used for both Hebrew and English, and on the web. I don’t see any reason it can’t be used in print as well. It’s a free font licensed under the SIL Open Font License (see below). It was designed by a group of Israeli designers including Mushon Zer-Aviv, Michal Sahar and HaTayas (Danny Meirav) who together make up the HaGilda font foundry, and Nir Yenni. One of it’s intentions is to replace Arial as the default choice for Hebrew web sites.

Scholarly Fonts

Another source of fonts worth nothing are those developed by different organizations for use by biblical scholars.The first is Ezra SIL which was developed by SIL International, a non-profit organization that carries out linguistics training and research globally, and is based on the font used in the BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia)  The font is Unicode and contains Nikudot and Taamim. There are actually two versions of the font, Ezra SIL and Ezra SIL SR, the difference being in the style of Taamim. The regular Ezra SIL follows the format of the BHS, while Ezra SIL SR follows a more traditional (in Jewish usage) rounded style of Taamim.

Ezra SIL fonts also support OpenType, and take advantage of some OpenType features like ligatures (aleph-lamed ligature) and positioning to position the Nikudot and Taamim better. To use OpenType features, you need a program that supports them (such as Word 2010 and later on Windows, Mellel on Mac, or Adobe InDesign). There is something else special about the Ezra SIL fonts – they are open source. They use a license called the SIL Open Font License. You can freely modify them and re-distribute your changes (however, you can’t use the world Ezra or SIL in the new font). This has led to other Hebrew fonts based on Ezra SIL.

An example of new fonts that derive from Ezra SIL are the Shlomo Fonts. These fonts are modified from Ezra SIL SR, and change some of the letters to make them easier to read. Some letters in Hebrew are very similar (ד/ר and נ/ג for example). Shlomo Fonts try to modify these similar letters so they are more easily distinguishable at first glance. An example of the difference:

Note the difference between the second letter from right (ג) in each font

Another font designed for academics is Cardo, designed by David J. Perry. It also uses the SIL Open Font License, although it is not, as far as I can tell, derived from Ezra SIL (although possibly the Hebrew part is). The font also includes Greek and Latin characters. This font is still being refined, and new versions do occasionally come out (the last released version was in 2011). Cardo is also an OpenType font. Cardo actually comes with a 57-page PDF user manual, which is useful to read if you want to get the most out of the font. The manual is included in the font file download.

Another academic Hebrew font is SBL Hebrew. SBL Hebrew is also Unicode and supports OpenType features. It also has a PDF user manual, which is 23 pages long. It seems that to some extant SBL Hebrew is positioned as a newer more advanced version of Ezra SIL. Indeed, it seems Ezra SIL and SBL Hebrew share at least one creator in common, John Hudson. Unlike Ezra SIL and Cardo, SBL Hebrew is not licensed under an Open Font License, but is freely usable for non-commercial purposes. For commercial use, it can be licensed from Tiro Typeworks.

Commercial Fonts

Some commercial font foundries that sell Hebrew fonts include Ascender and Adobe (Adobe’s Myriad Hebrew is particularly interesting because it is a large set of Hebrew fonts that match up with the much-used Myriad Pro font in English). There are several Israeli foundries like Masterfont (see them also on MyFonts.com or fonts.com in English interfaces), and FontBit (I can’t find them on an English site). There is also a site called Webmaster.org.il (in Hebrew) that collects fonts from many smaller type designers around Israel and links to them.

There are several Jewish software companies (I mean Jewish in that their software is Jewish-oriented) that offer Hebrew fonts. Davka offers a set of 116 Unicode Hebrew fonts called Hebrew Font Portfolio. Unfortunately, none of them support Nikudot. Davka also offers a set of 30 fonts that do include Nikudot and Taamim called Hebrew Font Gallery Deluxe. I’m not clear if these are Unicode or not. Kabbalah Software offers K-Fonts Collections with various types of Hebrew fonts like Body Text,  Calligraphy, Design, Headline, Invitation, etc. They are all Unicode, however for some reason they are listed as working on Windows only. Definitely do not buy their ‘Classic Mac’ fonts which are not unicode and will not work properly on modern systems. The site looks a little out-of-date, so I’m not sure if this is an active company.


One last thing, there is a class of fonts which are not Hebrew at all, but for lack of a better term I’ll call Hebrew-ish. They are English fonts that use Hebrew letters that are repositioned, flipped, warped, whatever to make them into English letters. In other words, you can type in English and get English words that look vaguely Hebrew. This is a gimmick popular for graphics for Jewish events, etc. I’m not recommending this, I just thought it was interesting that there is a whole class of fonts like this. There are many fonts like this (probably more than a dozen easy to find). Below you can see four of them – Jerusalem, Peace, Shalom, and Ben Zion:

“Hebrew-ish” Fonts

I hope this post was useful. If you have other good Hebrew font resources, please share them in the comments. I hope to follow this up soon with an explanation of how to get Hebrew working on your computer, including a neat trick for using Hebrew with Adobe InDesign without having to shell out the extra money for the Middle East edition.