The Letters of the Hebrew Alphabet
Hebrew Letters and their Scripts
The letters of the Hebrew alphabet, otiot, are all consonants. Over the centuries tradition has developed particular ways of decorating the letters and a "Spirituality of the Letters" so that each becomes something more that simply pen strokes but rather signs of something more. The Hebrew word for letters is otiot [אותיות] a word that in itself actually means "signs"—each and every letter and inflection in the biblical text becomes a launching pad for discussion and revelation.
No introduction to even the basics of Hebrew would be complete without reference to some of the spirituality that has developed around the letters of the aleph-bet.
The Talmud (Berechot 104b) speaks of the letters of Torah script and indeed the aleph-bet itself and the shape of the letters can be sources for developing numerous lessons. The tale is told of the young students who came to the study hall and said things "the likes of which were were not stated even in the days of Yehoshua bin Nun." The first two letters, aleph bet, they said, stand for alaph binah, that is, LEARN INSIGHT. The second two letters, gimmel and dalet, stand for gemol dalim, AID THE NEEDY.
As you study each letter you will be introduced in turn to some of the spiritual gems attached to each letter.
The Hebrew letters are presented in five forms.
1. classic PRINT form used in books and the Torah, then,
2. ST''M (sometimes written STAM) a decorative print with small "crowns" and points on each letter, followed by,
3. BLOCK (hand written PRINT)
4. RASHI script (used in the Talmud to differentiate the writings of Rashi and others from the Mishnah and the Gemara.)
CURSIVE script—cursive hand writing: the arrows indicate the pen strokes to complete each letter.
PRINT is the common form of Hebrew used in printed texts.
ST''M is a special form of Hebrew letter writing that is used in Torah scrolls, Tefillin and Mezuzot*. The formation of the letters is subject to strict rules and the writing is done by special Sofer Stam. A special feature of STA''M is the "crowns"—small serifs called taggin— attached above some of the letters.
* The name ST''M is an acronym for Sefer Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzot.
BLOCK printing is used by Biblical scholars and others
for reproducing the PRINT form in handwritten documents.
RASHI script is used for commentary by Rashi and others in the Talmud, Tanakh and other commented texts in order to distinguish the commentary from the actual text. Rashi, himself, did not use the script which is derived from 15th Century semi-cursive handwriting and used by by typographers.
CURSIVE script, now used universally in Israel for all handwriting, developed from Ashkenazi cursive. Hebrew cursive scripts have their origins in ancient times.
The Ba'al Shem Tov (R. Yisrael ben Eliezer d. 1760) used cursive script.
This is his signature...
Your introduction to the individual letters of the Hebrew Alphabet begins
HERE with the letter Aleph.
When you are familiar with the letters of the alphabet return here
and follow the link below to Hebrew Vowels.