Some guidelines and recommendations for the design of a Hebrew book typeface

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Some guidelines and recommendations for the design of a Hebrew book typeface

Adi Stern September 2003

In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in typeface design Department of typography & graphic communication University of Reading

Table of contents 3


4 5

The Hebrew script – general description Nomenclature scheme

7 8 15 19

Historical overview


The contemporary Hebrew type design scene in Israel and elsewhere


The design of Hebrew book faces – some observations and recommendations

28 35

General characteristics Individual letters


After word



Manuscripts (3rd century bc–15th century ad) Printing types (1475–1900) Hebrew type design in the 20th century

Some guidelines and recommendations for the design of a Hebrew book typeface

1. Although Ada Yardeni is a designer, her book The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, focuses on the history and palaeography of the script. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script. [Heb.] Jerusalem: Carta, 1991 2. Very few wrote and are writing today on the subject. The renowned designer Henri Friedlaender as well as the type historian, publisher and patron of Hebrew typeography, Moshe Spitzer, were active mostly between the 1950s and the 1970s. Leila Avrin published a few articles in the 1980s and 1990s, and nowadays, it is mostly Dr. Ittai Tamari, of the University of Applied Sciences Cologne, and Stephen Lubell of Tel Aviv.

There is no unique way of designing a Hebrew book face, just as there is no mandatory style to be used. The following is a set of thoughts and recommendations intended to reveal some of the logic behind the Hebrew type design, and to point out some problematic issues, design complexities and their possible consequences. It is not meant to dictate certain solutions but rather facilitate accessibility, generate thinking and stimulate discussion. This essay is aimed at type designers and theoreticians. Other than contributing to the design process of new Hebrew book faces, it wishes to enable better type evaluation and more informed usage. The discipline of Hebrew type design suffers from an immense deprivation of research and literature. Currently, to the best of the author’s knowledge, there is not a single book dedicated to the topic. Books describing the historical development of the script exist, but most of them cover very briefly Hebrew type, and focus on manuscripts. Definitely, none of the books is written from a designer’s point of view or aimed at professional designers.1 A few devoted scholars published a handful of essays in international publications, periodicals and exhibition catalogues.2 The essay is composed of five chapters. Chapter 1 is a general description of the script. Chapter 2 is an historical overview, focusing on book faces. This initial chapter – which is a non-exhaustive survey – is meant to provide an introduction and a context for the latter chapters. In chapter 3, the current Hebrew type design scene is portrayed. The main part of the essay, the 4th chapter, combines analysis and design recommendations. First it suggests a general all-script level discussion, and then it provides a full letter-by-letter detailed study. Lastly, chapter 5 concludes with a summary and some thoughts of possible development tracks. It should be mentioned that due to the need for textual limitation, the essay does not discuss sans-serif text types, italics and any other secondary weights.


1. The Hebrew script – general description

3. Small caps: traditionally Hebrew had only one single version. Secondary weights or alternative versions (e.g. a sans-serif companion for a basic serif typeface) were first seen in the mid 20th century. Italics did not exist at all in traditional Hebrew. There are some historical references for slanted manuscript hands or types but they were not used for emphasizing purposes, as in the Latin script. The only genuine Hebrew italic, which was developed as secondary version for an upright, was the david cursive typeface, which unfortunately, never became popular.

Modern Hebrew consists of twenty-two letters, five of which have alternate final forms [fig.1]. The script is read from right to left and has no upper case letters, nor any other typographic ‘tools’ such as traditional italics (slanted uprights are used nowadays) or small caps.3 Five descenders and one ascender exist in Hebrew, but compared to the Latin script, they do not occur that often. Hebrew is usually thought of as a horizontal stress script although early inscriptions, as well as many contemporary sans-serif typefaces show a vertical stress or none at all. Modern Hebrew uses Arabic numerals in spite of their opposite reading direction. It also makes use of some of the Latin script punctuation marks, as well as some general symbols. Surprisingly, the punctuation marks are not flipped on their vertical axis, as might have been expected. There is only one proprietary specific Hebrew punctuation mark (the Hebrew hyphen) and no specific symbols, except for the Israeli currency sign, the New Israeli Shekel [fig.2].

Mem Lamed



F. Kaf





F. Zade




Zayin Vav

F. Peh


Figure 1. The Hebrew alphabet. Final letters are in grey.

Figure 2. A typical Hebrew character set. Note the Hebrew high hyphen and the Israeli currency sign.



A Ayin





Samech F. Nun Nun F. Mem

Figure 3. Vocalized Hebrew.

Figure 4. Biblical setting with cantillation marks.

As Hebrew is an all-consonantal language, and therefore has no vowels, a system of some sixteen vocalization marks was established in the 9th century (the Tiberian system) in order to disambiguate alternative meanings. Nevertheless, contemporary Hebrew is hardly ever vocalized, as experienced readers can decipher meanings guided by context and grammatical rules. Vocalized text can be found in children books, poetry, biblical publications, and when a non-Hebrew term or name occurs in text. The vocalization marks are basically made of dashes and dots appearing above, below and through the characters [fig.3]. Setting Biblical text requires a few more punctuation marks as well as some thirty more marks called cantillation marks. Those are used as musical notation for the chanting of the bible [fig.4].

Figure 5. Hebrew alphabet – skeletal ‘root’ forms.

1.1 Nomenclature scheme

4. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.143

Hebrew typefaces are usually described using borrowed Latin type design terminology. In using the Latin terms one can refer to some elements of the Hebrew letter, but mostly, as the letter formation and structure is entirely dissimilar, the Latin terms are inappropriate. They are – in regard to the Hebrew script – vague, imprecise and ambiguous. It is clear that a unique nomenclature is needed. It is worth mentioning here, that unfortunately, even in Hebrew the terminology is not well defined and type is often depicted using the Latin terms. Therefore, the following list is not a translation of terms commonly used in Hebrew, but rather the author’s suggestion, partially based on a list found in Ada Yardeni’s The book of the Hebrew script.4 It is by no means a comprehensive list but rather a preliminary attempt aimed at facilitating orientation and enabling better accuracy in writing this essay.


Figure 6. Nomenclature scheme

Mem-height, Roof

Mem-height – The equivalent of the Latin x-height. Measured on the final Mem. Roof – a Mem-height horizontal stroke. True roofs (i.e. roofs that are an essential part of the letter) can be found on the Bet, Dalet, He, Zayin, Het, Kaf, Lamed, Samech, Peh, Qof, Resh, Tav, final Kaf, final Mem and final Peh. Short roof-like terminals might be found on all other letters depending on the design. In this essay, they will be also referred to as roofs. Roofs may be flat or sloped from above left to below right. Base – a baseline horizontal stroke. Present in the root forms of the Bet, Kaf, Mem, final Mem, Nun, Peh, Zade and Tav. The Tet, Samech and Ayin might have a base in some styles. The base can be flat or sloped from below left to above right. Leg – a down-stroke that does not connect to a base. Found in the Alef, Gimmel, Dalet, He, Vav, Zayin, Het, Lamed, Mem, Qof, Resh, Tav, final Kaf, final Nun, final Peh, and final Zade. Arm – a vertical stroke that does not connect to a ‘true’ roof. Found in the Alef, Tet, Ayin, Zade, final Zade and Shin. ‘Serif ’ (Sting, In-stroke) – The beginning of the calligraphic stroke that makes the roofs (or roof terminals). Depending on the style it might be found on all the letters. Resides on the Mem-height except for the Lamed where it is on the ascender. Out-stroke – A calligraphic outstroke might be found, depending on the style in the Alef, Peh, final Peh and Tav. Thigh – A vertical stem that connects a roof and a base. Found in the Bet, Tet, Kaf, Mem, final Mem, Nun, Samech, Peh and Tav Tail – A short protruding stroke. Found in the Bet (on the baseline) and in the Dalet (on Mem-height) Horn – The short diagonal arm of the Mem




‘Serif ’ (Sting, In-stroke)






2. Historical overview This chapter contains a non-exhaustive survey meant to provide general information on the development of the Hebrew letter from the very beginning till today. It focuses on Hebrew book faces, and will not discuss the history of other kinds of typefaces. The term ‘book faces’, in this essay, is used for typefaces meant for continuous reading, mainly used in newspapers and books. The distinction, common in Latin typography, between book faces and newspaper faces does not exist, to date, in Hebrew – probably due to the way the Hebrew type developed and to its small market size. The term ‘Hebrew book face’ will refer to modulated, contrasted typefaces, that have the traditional roof in-stroke ‘serif’, or at least some reminiscence of it. This survey covers most original Hebrew book faces published until the digital revolution. The state of the Hebrew type design in the digital era is described – in general outline – in the next chapter.


2.1 Manuscripts (3rd century bc–15th century ad)

5. Leila Avrin and Noah Ophir, Calligraphy. Jerusalem: Tav Publishing, 1993, p.92 6. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.152

The Hebrew script’s origins are in the ancient Semitic alphabet of about 1700 bc. By the 8th century bc the Aramaic, a branch of the Semitic script, modified the original letterforms. This Aramaic script became to be the ‘square Hebrew script’, the script found in the so-called ‘hidden scrolls’ in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea.5 The scrolls, created between the 3rd century bc and the 1st century ad, show a clear scribal tradition and an obvious attempt to create an even and solid texture [fig.7–8]. The script is cursive, relatively narrow, and the Letters are aligned to a ruled imaginary ‘Mem-height’ line. The letters do not reach the same height and therefore the baseline is disordered and restless. Nevertheless, as many of the contemporary basic features of the Hebrew script (such as the prominent roof in-strokes) are already present in the scrolls, the text can be relatively easily deciphered and read by any presentday Hebrew reader. Another feature to be noted is that the scrolls’ letters show very little or no stress and are practically monolinear.6

Figure 7. The ‘War’ scroll from Qumran, Judean desert, Israel, 1st century bc (Yardeni, 1991)


Figure 8. The ‘Thanksgivings’ scroll from Qumran, Judean desert, Israel, 1st century ad (Yardeni, 1991)

7. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’. In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, p.27

Very little evidence of the Hebrew script survived from between the 3rd and the 9th centuries – some inscriptions, some mosaic lettering and very few manuscripts [fig.9–10]. Looking at the few extant stone inscriptions it is very clear that the Hebrew did not develop a well-formed lapidary style. The inscriptions, as well as the Byzantine mosaic letters dated from the 6th century, seem to be all imitations of the manuscript lettering.7 Significant features of those letters are monolinear stroke, wide proportions and equal letter height.

Figure 9. A burial inscription from Beit She’arim, 3rd or 4th century (Yardeni, 1991)

Figure 10. The ‘Rehov’ synagogue inscription, A Byzantine mosaic from about the 6th century (Yardeni, 1991)

The 9th century sees the dawn of a new era. This is the beginning of the so-called Oriental script, widely acknowledged as the most splendid Hebrew book hand. The script developed in the areas of Palestine, Egypt


8. Geniza – literally ‘archives’ in Hebrew. Refers to the large number of invaluable manuscripts dated from the 9th to the 19th century found in the 19th century in an attic of the Even Ezra synagogue of old Cairo. 9. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.30 10. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.192

11. Further reading on the Oriental style can be found in: Solomon A. Birnbaum, The Hebrew scripts. Part one. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1971, pp.164–176

and Babylon, and it is well documented and researched due to the 9th and 10th centuries’ manuscripts found at the ‘Geniza’8 in Cairo. Those manuscripts introduced letterforms that were well controlled by the hand of scribal artists. The letterforms were refined, homogenous, regularized and showed a much more balanced and quiet baseline [fig.11-13]. The regularization of the bases was most probably fostered by the acceptance, at that time, of the Tiberian vocalization marks system. Some of those marks occur beneath the letters. To enable the placement and vertical alignment of the marks, the bases had to get equalized.9 Also, an horizontal stress emerged. It is important to emphasize, that the horizontal stress in the Hebrew script was not clearly present until that time.10 The dense, embroidery-like texture of the style originated in the fairly narrow letterforms and the extremely thin word space. In addition, the letters were slanted forward (leftwards) and the bases sloped downwards.11

Figure 11. The ‘Leningrad’ manuscript, Oriental lettering style, 916 (Spitzer, 1990)


Figure 12. The ‘Keter Aram Zova’ manuscript, Oriental lettering style, 10th century (Yardeni, 1991)

Figure 13. Letter construction, Oriental style (Yardeni, 1991)

The Middle Ages bring on stage two main Hebrew influential styles: the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic. Both evolving from the Oriental script, they developed in different parts of Europe. In each of the styles three hands evolved: A formal ‘square’ letter, used as an official book hand, a cursive flowing hand, used mainly for correspondence and everyday use, and a rabbinical script (‘Rashi’) used for religious commentaries [fig.14].

Figure 14a. (above) Ashkenazic cursive hand, Crimona 1470, Figure 14b. (below) Sephardic semi-cursive rabbinical hand, Vilalone, 1480 (Yardeni, 1991)


12. Ashkenaz is old Hebrew for Germany. 13. The information about the Ashkenazic style hereby is paraphrased from: Rivka Gonen, The History of the Hebrew Script. [Heb.] Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture and the Israel Museum, 1970

The Hebrew printing types and especially what we consider today as text faces, were exclusively influenced by the ‘square’ hand, and therefore this essay will not discuss the other two versions, which surely deserve a thorough investigation in their own right. The Hebrew Ashkenazic style developed in Germany12 and NorthEastern France from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The Jewish scribes in those areas used the quill as their writing tool, and were significantly influenced by the then dominating Gothic style. The Gothic Latin style was characterized by an extreme contrast between thicks and thins, having the vertical stems heavy and the horizontal strokes light. The Hebrew ‘Gothic’ letter – the Ashkenazic – adopted the same principle, but inverted. It had its horizontals heavy and its verticals light [fig.15–17].13

Figure 15. (left) Hebrew manuscript, Ashkenazic style, 1238 (Birnbaum, 1971) Figure 16. (above) Hebrew manuscript, Ashkenazic style, 14th century ((friedlaender, 1990)


Figure 17. Letter construction, Ashkenazic style (Yardeni, 1991)

14. Further reading on the Ashkenazic style can be found in: Solomon A. Birnbaum, The Hebrew scripts. pp.299–303

The style was highly ornate and the verticals were often decorated with elongated rhomboids or, in some other cases, prominent circles. The quill holding angle was usually perpendicular to the baseline. As the style developed, the contrast intensified to an extreme that hindered legibility. The very thick horizontals and the proliferation of ornaments made letter recognition very difficult. Other features of the Ashkenazic style are wide letterforms (sometimes in the proportions of an horizontal rectangle, and a slight slant leftwards).14


Figure 18. (left) Hebrew manuscript, Sephardic style, 1222 (Birnbaum, 1971) Figure 19. (above) Hebrew manuscript, Sephardic style, 13th century (Spitzer, 1990)

15. Sephardic means ‘Spanish’ in Hebrew. 16. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.212 17. Stephen Lubell, ‘Hebrew typography – from the sacred to the mundane’. Typo/graphic Journal (Journal of the Society of Typographic Designers), 41, 1990, p.18

The other major mediaeval style was the Sephardic.15 It was developed and used in the Iberian Peninsula for three hundred years until the expulsion of Spanish Jewry at the end of the 15th century. This manuscript style was less frilled than its Ashkenazic counterpart, narrower and was reduced to the letters’ essential parts [fig.18–20].16 The use of the pointed reed, popular among the scribes of the region, created lower contrast letterforms. Betraying its origins, the Sephardic style showed also some reminiscence of Arabic calligraphy with its typical flowing rounded curves.17


Further reading on the Sephardic style can be found in: Solomon A. Birnbaum, The Hebrew scripts. pp.259–263

Figure 20. Letter construction, Sephardic style (Yardeni, 1991)

The Hebrew script kept on developing in additional regions and communities (i.e. Italy, Yemen, Persia, the Balkan), but it was the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic styles that became dominant, influential and later, those two styles became the roots for the incunabula types. The hegemony of these two styles occurred most likely due to the major cultural and financial position of their originating countries. It is hard to tell whether those two style were indeed the best source for creating Hebrew types, but mid 20th century developments, and particularly the david and hatzvi typefaces, designed by Ismar David and Moshe Spitzer with Tzvi Hausmann respectively, showed that other earlier models are just as viable (the david typeface is discussed below).


2.2 Printing types (1475–1900)

18. Ittai Joseph Tamari, New Hebrew Letter Type, an exhibition catalogue. Tel Aviv: The University Gallery, Tel Aviv University, 1985, pp.56 19. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.38 20. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, p.70 21. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.93

As was mentioned earlier, each of the styles had three different hands (a formal, a cursive and a Rabbinic). The formal ‘square’ hand was strongly related to the writing of religious texts and therefore bound to various strict rules and conventions. Only the professional scribes could properly write it. The script was regarded holy and with time, it stagnated. Variations in letterforms only occurred due to the scribe’s personal style and writing speed. This, unfortunately, did not change with the advent of print. The Hebrew incunabula types were cut by Christian letter cutters who simply copied the stagnated manuscript hand, often from a less-thanmediocre model.18 The deficiencies of the hand written script were not repaired but rather duplicated in mass production. The Hebrew letter did not go through any of the refinement and elaboration the Latin letter did in the process of turning into type. The return to earlier classical forms (Roman and Carolingian in the Latin case) did not occur either. The Jews did not have a rich inscriptional or scribal heritage to look at, and the stagnation in the formal handwriting did not help either. The Hebrew type was merely a dull copy of the manuscript hand.19 Henri Friedlaender, the renowned designer and educator wrote: “The step from manuscript letter to type would require the same kind of transformation that had been achieved by the first generation of punch cutters, who had created the first classic Roman typefaces out of the letterforms of the humanistic script”.20 The first dated Hebrew book was printed in the Italian Regio di Calabria in 1475. Some books were probably printed earlier but they did not carry a colophon and therefore could not be dated accurately. The first Hebrew printers that worked in Italy were mostly immigrants from Germany and France. Hence the first Hebrew types were based on the Ashkenazic style [fig.21]. Nevertheless, those first attempts were not very successful, and eventually a square letterform based on the Sephardic style, yet having a heavy Ashkenazic horizontal stress, became normative [fig.22, overleaf].21

Figure 21a. The printing type of Abraham Conat, Ashkenazic style, Mantua, 1476 (Spitzer, 1990)

Figure 21b. The printing type of Meshullam Kusi, Ashkenazic style, Pieve di Sacco, 1475. (Birnbaum, 1971)


Figure 22a. (above) Printing type by The Soncino Press, Naples, Sephardic style, 1492 (Spitzer, 1990) Figure 22b. (right) Printing type by Daniel Bomberg, Sephardic style, Venice, 1522 (Frank, 1911)

22. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.40

The 16th century was a flourishing era for the Hebrew type. In the first half of the century two major forces became noteworthy: the Soncino family, which printed in Italy as well as in Thessaloniki, Constantinople and Egypt, and the Venetian Daniel Bomberg. The Sephardic-influenced types created at the Soncino press and later followed by Bomberg determined the forms of Hebrew type for a long period of time.22


23. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.40

Although some aesthetically magnificent Ashkenazic types were cut and printed, first in Prague and later in Germany and Poland, this style slowly degenerated and eventually disappeared.23 This might have happened due to the decline of the Gothic Latin style all over Europe, and the script’s problematic legibility. By mid-century most of the Hebrew types were in the Sephardic style. The centre of Hebrew printing had shifted from Italy to France and Switzerland, the Prague centre ceased working and the printing of Hebrew was mostly done by Christians. An outstanding punchcutter of the time was Guillaume Le Bé. Le Bé was working in France and Venice, and was clearly interested in Hebrew type. He collected type samples and cut 19 Hebrew square and cursive types [fig.23–24].24 His work was used mostly by Christian printers including the famous Christoffel Plantin of Antwerp.

Figure 24. ‘Texte di Talmuth’ typeface cut by Guillaume Le Bé, 1566 (Yardeni 1991)

Figure 23. Letters cut by Guillaume Le Bé, 1559 (Yardeni, 1991)

24. Two of Le Bé’s albums survived and are kept in the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.95

Le Bé’s types influenced and served as a basis for the types of another important punchcutter, the Dutchman Christoffel van Dijck. Van Dijck worked for the printer Joseph Atias of Amsterdam in the 1650s. His types and similar types of others of that time, entitled ‘Amsterdam Letters’, had a great impact on Jewish taste and Hebrew printing.25 Amsterdam became the new centre for Hebrew printing and Van Dijck letters became the canonical form. The type had higher contrast, less modulation and it was less rounded [fig.25].

25. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.41

Figure 25. Letters cut by Van Dijck taken from a specimen dated 1841 (Spitzer, 1990)


26. Stephen Lubell, ‘Hebrew typography – from the sacred to the mundane’, p.19 27. In the Latin script, the Didot-Bodoni style made the serifs extremely thin but left the essential vertical stems significant. In Hebrew this radical contrast resulted in the loss of critical information. The important information found in some of the vertical stems disappeared. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.68

Other ‘Amsterdam Letters’ types were cut during the 17th century by the famous Johann Michael Fleischmann and Miklos Kis.26 Later in the 18th and 19th century Hebrew types were inferior derivatives of the ‘Amsterdam Letters’. Hebrew type gradually deteriorated and it reached its lowest point when the high contrast trend, present in the Ashkenazic mediaeval style, evolved in the 19th century into the Didot-Bodoni fashion [fig.26]. This Latin type style completely ruined the Hebrew letter. The radical contrast, as well as the rigidity of the type in this style, damaged both legibility and aesthetics. The terribly fine verticals could not hold the heavy horizontal roofs and the extreme dominance of the horizontals made letter recognition virtually impossible.27 One of the few reasonable ‘Meruba’28 types was created at the Haag Drogulin foundry of Leipzig [fig.27]. It had a slightly lower contrast and a lighter overall colour.

28. The popular 19th century type style, described above, was called ‘Meruba’ – literally square in Hebrew.

Figure 26. Meruba typeface, Berthold type foundry, Berlin (Friedlaender, 1990) Note how bad is letter differentiation. Compare the Dalet and Resh, the He and Het.

Figure 27. ‘Hebrew’ typeface, Haag Drogulin type foundry, Leipzig (Friedlaender, 1990)

2.3 Hebrew type design in the 20th century

It was not until the first decade of the 20th century that the Hebrew script began its new and adventurous voyage. At this stage the script surely needed a reform, a renaissance. Not a reform in the sense used when referring for example to the Turkish ‘script reform’, but a true typographic, formal reform. There were a few reasons for the increasing


need for new and more ‘secular’ Hebrew types: The rise of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century; the revival of the Hebrew language, slowly becoming a ‘living’ language again; and the Jewish society becoming less and less religious. All those resulted in the printing of many more secular, everyday texts, and this, in turn, made evident the need for earthly, secular types.

29. Rafael Frank, ‘Über Hebräische Typen und Schriftarten’. In Archiv für Bochgewrbe, vol.48, no.11, 1911 pp.20–27 30. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.68 31. Henri Friedlaender and Gideon Stern, ‘Franzisca Baruch’ [Heb.] In The Israel Bibliophiles newsletter 4, 1984, pp.1–5

Around 1910 a new Hebrew typeface liberated the Hebrew script from the shortcomings of the ‘Meruba’. The frank-rühl type, created by the Jewish cantor Rafael Frank and the type founder Rühl, was released in Leipzig by the C.F Rühl type foundry [fig.28]. As Frank wrote,29 the type was inspired by the Sephardic types made in the early 16th century by the Venetian Daniel Bomberg. In addition to this Sephardic influence, one can notice the horizontal stress derived from the Ashkenazic style. In spite its Art Nouveau character (which was in fact out-dated by the time it was released), the frank-rühl had good proportions, better letter differentiation, and above all, reduced contrast.30 The frank-rühl is the most popular Hebrew text type to date.

32. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.68

Figure 28. Frank-Rühl (Friedlaender, 1990)

The stam typeface was created in the mid 1920s by Franzisca Baruch and released by the Berthold type foundry of Berlin. It was based on the Ashkenazic type found in the famous Prague Haggadah of 1527 [fig.29, overleaf].31 Friedlaender described it as a perfect, beautiful mediaeval type, though unsuitable for contemporary use due to its over decoration and low legibility.32


Figure 29. Stam (Friedlaender, 1990)

33. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.43

Another Ashkenazic type of the 1920s was soncino [fig.30] designed by Marcus Behmer for the Soncino publication society of Berlin.33

34. The schocken folder (series 547, 550, 551) found at the Monotype archives, Salfords, Surrey 35. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.43 36. Stephen Lubell, ‘The Hebrew typeface design of Zvi Narkis’. In Gutenberg Jahrbuch, Stephan Füssel, editor. Mainz: GutenbergGesellschaft, 2003, p.218

Figure 30. Soncino (Friedlaender, 1990)

In 1947 the schocken typeface [fig.31] was released by the British Monotype Corporation.34 It was commissioned and meant for the sole use of the publisher Salman Schocken. Designed by Franzisca Baruch, the schocken typeface is inspired by the Sephardic types of Soncino and Bomberg. According to the type historian and publisher Moshe Spitzer, Baruch never had the chance to correct the drafts coming from Monotype35 and therefore schocken came out as a fine typeface, though not very legible. Although it shows very clear letter differentiation,36 schocken is considered to be too ornate and too heavy for text setting.

Figure 31. Schocken (Friedlaender, 1990)


37. ‘Hebrew Mayer’ (Monotype series 448, 492) found at the Monotype archives, Salfords, Surrey

Another typeface designed by Baruch was the Ashkenazic revival MeirBaruch [fig.32], cut at Monotype and cast by Enschedé of Haarlem.37 This too, was first a proprietary typeface, but even after it was made commercially available,38 it was never very widespread.

38. Jerusalem Type Foundry Typefaces Specimen. Jerusalem, 1959 39. Zvi Narkis, ‘Narkis, Narkissim, etc.’, In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, p.103 40. A letter from Ismar David to Israel Soifer, October 3rd, 1972. This letter and the draft quoted in the next page (note 43) were not seen by the author but rather sent to him transcribed by Helen Brandshaft, David’s partner in ‘abcd Architectural and Graphic Studio’.

Figure 32. Meir-Baruch (Friedlaender, 1990)

In 1948 the state of Israel was founded. It was during the 1950s that state institutions were established and the country saw a rapid growth in population, industry and business. The printing industry produced more Hebrew newspapers, books and ephemera. New type was needed for the media – for books, newspapers, modern advertisement, but most of all as an expression of the renaissance and the reconnection of the people to its origins. Tzvi Narkis wrote that he saw the release of four new Hebrew typefaces, koren, david, hadassah and hatzvi, during just a few years (1954–1958) as one of the most important events of the Hebrew typography.39 david was designed by Ismar David and released in 1954 by the Intertype Corporation of New York.40 It was conceived as a family of nine versions: standard, cursive and sans-serif, each in three weights [fig.33].

Figure 33. David. Original ink drawing from 1953 or possibly earlier.


41. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.75 42. Misha Beletsky, ‘Zvi Narkiss and Hebrew type design’. In Language Culture Type, John D. Berry, editor. Graphis, 2002, p.98 43. A draft made for a talk David gave at the Typophiles luncheon in New York on March 3, 1973 44. Ittai Joseph Tamari, ‘Decipherability, Legibility and Readability of Modern Hebrew Typefaces’. In Raster Imaging and Digital Typography II II, Robert A. Morris and Jacques André, editors. Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.134 45. Leila Avrin, ‘Eliyahu Koren’ [Heb.] The Israel Bibliophiles newsletter 6, 1986, p.5 46. Koren, Eliyahu ‘The Letter as a basic element in the design of sacred books’. In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, p.87

Although eventually only the standard and the cursive versions were executed, the david type family was still the first comprehensive Hebrew type family to be published. It should be noted though, that Henri Friedlaender was at the same time working on a three-version type family for his hadassah. In his case, it was the cursive that was never published.41 Misha Beletsky says david is a “truly ‘calligraphic’ Hebrew type. Its structure was not based on an existing style, but rather on the designer’s understanding of the proper construction for the Hebrew letter … The result was a handsome contemporary type …”.42 Indeed, david is not based on any of the two traditional styles but rather inspired by earlier styles. As David wrote: “When I decided to venture into type design of Hebrew characters, it was clear to me that these designs would have to be much closer to classic Oriental Hebrew than the type faces that had developed in Europe … What I set out to do was bring basic forms closer to true old Semitic forms, to define their proportions in a way that would create a more even texture…”.43 Another feature seen in david is a very low contrast. Ittai Tamari says david is not, by western norms, a Hebrew sansserif, for it shows compounded roundings of uneven line width and tiny sprouts as reminders of the quill stroke.44 The flaring of the terminals as a compensation for the lack of some of the traditional serifs is probably seen here for the first time. Elihau Koren designed the koren typeface during the 1940s and Debrny and Peignot of Paris published it in 1957 [fig.34].45 The koren typeface was intended for biblical setting, and Koren stated that in its design he was inspired by Incunabula types and the most ancient manuscripts.46 koren cannot be related instantly to any particular mediaeval or other typeface but its roots are obviously well planted in the Hebrew letter heritage.

Figure 34. Koren (Koren, 1990)


47. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.67 48. ibid, p.74 49. Ittai Joseph Tamari, ‘Decipherability, Legibility and Readability of Modern Hebrew Typefaces’, p.132, p.134 50. Stephen Lubell, ‘The Hebrew typeface design of Zvi Narkis’, p.224

The design of hadassah lasted 26 years from 1932 until it was published in 1958.47 It was designed by Henri Friedlaender and released by the Amsterdam type foundry [fig.35]. The inspiration for the design of hadassah lied, according to Friedlaender, in two sources: an Ashkenazic manuscript from about 1800 and a semi cursive type from the Drugolin type foundry which was based on 15th century Italian manuscripts.48 Ittai Tamari says hadassah’s modern look is neither Ashkenazic nor Sephardic,49 but in the author’s view it is more of a combination of the two. In earlier drafts of the type one can easily notice the Ashkenazic influence [fig.36], but looking at the final design reveals indeed influences of both styles. It is this mixture of the two styles that makes hadassah look unique and different from any other precedent.

51. Zvi Narkis, ‘Narkis, Narkissim, etc.’, p.103–104

Figure 35. Hadassah (Friedlaender, 1990)

Figure 36. Hadassah, preliminary work heavily influenced by Ashkenazic style (Friedlaender, 1990)

narkis linotype was designed by Tzvi Narkis and published by Linotype in 1967 [fig.37, overleaf]. It was a very flowing calligraphic typeface not related directly to any historical model, but showing reminiscence of the Sephardic style and some traces of the Rashi semi-cursive style.50 Narkis wrote: “I thought basing my book face on the manuscript hand and not to follow any printing type … compared to the manuscripts, the printing types I knew – old and new – seemed to me static, the letters not related one to the other, rhythm-less … I was looking at three kinds of manuscripts: the Sephardic, the Ashkenazic and the Rashi semi-cursive … eventually I found the Sephardic to be the most appropriate base for the design of a flowing, legible letter”.51 narkis linotype was reworked and renamed narkis classic in 1995 for the use on Macintosh and PC systems.


Figure 37a. Narkis-Linotype (Beletsky, 2002)

Figure 37b. Narkis-Linotype, preliminary freehand brush sketch (Tamari, 1985)

52. Stephen Lubell, ‘The Hebrew typeface design of Zvi Narkis’, p.225 53. Misha Beletsky, ‘Zvi Narkiss and Hebrew type design’, p.100

In the early 1980s the narkissim typeface was published.52 Also a creation of Tzvi Narkis, narkissim was again a book face with no obvious model of inspiration [fig.38]. Although the calligrapher’s hand is very present in the design of narkissim, it is less contrasted and less modulated than narkis linotype. As Beletsky wrote comparing the two: “ … narkissim, seem to have less personality, and therefore to be more universal. It was better suited for magazines and newspaper composition”.53 Other major differences between the two are the incorporation of the round Ashkenazic forms for the bottom parts of the Tet, Samech and Shin, and the fact that narkissim is narrower and as a result more economical in space.

Figure 38. Narkissim MF

3. The contemporary Hebrew type design scene in Israel and elsewhere A few years later than its Latin counterpart, the Hebrew typography world changed dramatically. It was with the introduction of digital type design in the 1990s. More designers were experimenting with type design and digital type foundries were established. Initially a few dozens of fonts, but by the mid nineties, hundreds of fonts were on sale (or better said,


available for pirating). At the beginning, most of the fonts were digitized versions of photocomposition or hot-metal types, but slowly, original work was starting to emerge. When young designers, just coming out of design schools, started producing fonts, the scene became a funfair. The many quirky, funny looking types that were made then seem now, retrospectively, immature and amateur, but they had an important role in changing the way type was done and perceived. Although the digital making of typefaces created great changes everywhere, in Israel, due to the previous paucity, it was a true revolution. It is important to note that until then, the Hebrew typographer had barely 20 or 30 typefaces to work with (including all categories: text, display and cursive faces). Unfortunately, as often is the case, quantity did not bring quality.

54. The typefaces of Tzvi Narkis are an exception. All are perfectly digitized, probably with the full permission of the designer.

As for serifed book faces, until the very last years all were digitized versions of earlier types. In recent years one can find some attempts of creating new original types for text setting [fig.39]. The digital versions of earlier types however, were most renamed, and are often very unfaithful to the original designs. Letterforms are deformed (in trying to ‘improve’?), the typefaces are badly spaced, and kerning is not in sight. Some probably were based on derivative photocomposition versions. This obviously, is a bold generalization, but in the author’s view this description reflects the current situation [fig.40, overleaf].54

Figure 39. Fontext (Fontbit), Gourmet (Fontbit), Havatzelet (Masterfont), Nathan by Sylvie Chokroun


Figure 40a. (left to right) David (Intertype), David (Molcho, 1981), David Gutman Although the image on the left is distorted (due to printing ink squash and enlarged scanning), it is still very clear that the contemporary typeface on the right has very little in common with it.

Figure 40b. (left) Hadassah (Amsterdam type foundry), (right) Hodes Gutman Note, the angle and nature of the short leg of the original Peh (left pair), as well as the joints on both the Zayin and Het. The contemporary typeface introduces a calligraphic feel which is entirely alien to the original design.

Nowadays, there are two big Israeli type foundries (Masterfont and Fontbit, each having released hundreds of typefaces) and a handful of one-man foundries (up to ten typefaces released). In the Masterfont catalogue (c. 2002), for example, there are no original designs in the book face category. Fontbit shows some six original book faces in its recent catalogue. Outside Israel, a few book faces were made, some for biblical societies [fig.41], some by, or for the big computer companies. The computer companies do not provide any original designs with their operating systems, which although regrettable, might be understood regarding the Hebrew small market size.

Figure 41. Le Bé Hebrew, designed by Matthew Carter for the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible.

As was mentioned above, very few new book faces exist, and in fact, none of them is in prevalent use. It will not be an exaggeration to state that practically all serifed book typefaces in common use today were designed prior to the digital era. Another significant feature of the Hebrew book face’s market is the absolute domination of the frank-rühl typeface. A hundred percent of the major daily newspapers and some ninety percent of the books printed in Israel are set in frank-rühl. The remainder of the books will be usually using david, narkis classic, narkissim or hadassah.


4. The design of Hebrew book faces – some observations and recommendations

55. Misha Beletsky, ‘Zvi Narkiss and Hebrew type design’, p.91 56. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.70 57. Ada Yardeni, The Book of the Hebrew Script Script, p.128

As described in the previous chapter, the Hebrew did not develop a lapidary style. Inscriptional lettering was probably not prevalent and the few surviving inscriptions mostly show poorly cut letterforms influenced by manuscripts. The process of letter cutting usually encourages simplification of forms, reduction to the bare minimum and establishment of consistent proportions. Good stone carving would also involve welldefined terminals. None of these occurred with the Hebrew script. With the advent of print, the script had its second chance to formalize. Nonetheless, the incunabula types were lifeless copies of the manuscript hand, and hence the Hebrew typography is still today calligraphy-based and has no clear ideal model. As Misha Beletsky says “… The typeface designer is therefore also to some degree the inventor of the alphabet: he decides which of the alternative forms of the letter to use …”55 4.1 General characteristics

This part of the essay describes the general characteristics of the script and discusses the design issues that encompass the whole alphabet. 4.1.1 Calligraphic influence

Most of the Hebrew book faces show reminiscence of broad nib pen calligraphy. In most of them, it is dominant. As Henri Friedlaender wrote: “Hebrew letterforms in general are determined by broad-nibbed writing tools – the pen, the quill, or the reed – but not to any extent by the graver or the chisel”.56 Natural strokes for the Hebrew hand are from left to right and from top to bottom except diagonals towards below left that can be made in both directions [fig.42]57 (e.g. the left leg of the Gimmel, or the bottom part of the Tet).

Figure 42. Basic stroke direction (Friedlaender, 1969),


Traditionally, scribes held their writing tool so that the tool’s edge formed an angle of about 70–90º with the Mem-height [fig.43].58 This, roughly, is still the angle of stress found in Hebrew book faces. It is easily visible in the cut of the roofs’ in-stroke, the so-called ‘serif’. Normally, all those roof ‘serifs’ – situated on the left part of the roof – will look similar [fig.44]. In typeface styles where some of the roofs are sloped, the in-stroke on the sloped roofs will be a little different, but a clear linkage will still be apparent [fig.45]. Similar details will also be usually found on short roofs (e.g. Vav, Gimmel, Nun).

Figure 44. Similar roof in-strokes serifs (Frank–Rühl)

Figure 43. Traditional pen angle (Yardeni, 1991), Figure 45. Sloped roofs (David)

58. Ismar David, The Hebrew letter – calligraphic variations. Northvale, New Jersey and London: Jason Aronson Inc., 1990, p.2 59. Ibid

Another calligraphic detail typical in Hebrew is the legs’ terminals. The Hebrew (or at least its book faces) is always ‘standing on its toes’. The terminals can be flared or tapered, as long as they have a sloped cut, undershooting the baseline [fig.46-47]. There is no preferred terminal angle, but in the more calligraphic faces it will usually be identical with the angle of the roof ‘serif’. All legs’ terminals of a face will be more or less identical. This kind of termination emphasizes undoubtedly the Hebrew as being hung from the Mem-height. Ismar David, the artist, calligrapher and type designer compared the Hebrew letters to laundry hung from a clothesline….59

Figure 46. Tapered legs (David) Figure 47. Flared legs (Hadassah)


4.1.2 Stress 60. In Hebrew calligraphy, the height of the letters, according to their styles, will vary from three and a half to five times the width of the nib employed in their rendering. Ismar David, The Hebrew letter – calligraphic variations, p.2

Inherited from the calligraphic hand, and more precisely derived from the angle of the writing tool, traditionally, the stress of a Hebrew book face is horizontal.60 Yet, non-revival types of the 20th century, such as david and narkissim, show very little contrast [fig.48]. A contemporary book face therefore, can have its stress at any angle from 45 to 70º. It is recommended though, not to exceed the contrast shown in the frankrühl typeface as this will result in the illegibility typical of the Ashkenazic style and the 19th century types. It should be noted however, that some early Hebrew manuscripts, as well as most contemporary sans-serif types show a minor vertical stress [fig.49]. Both can be interesting inspirations for the development of a contemporary book face.

Figure 48. Low contrast typefaces (Narkissim, David)

Figure 49. Vertical stress sans-serif typefaces (Meargen, Narkis Block)

4.1.3 Consistency

In order to aid consistency the Hebrew letters may be divided into groups according to similar details (e.g. few letters in a certain typeface might have a similar roof slope). The groups may or may not relate to historical styles. The following diagram [fig.50] suggests the possible grouping of letters. It should be emphasised though, that different groupings occur in different typefaces. Four letters could have similar details in a certain typeface while in another typeface only two of them bear the same details. Another important principle is that similar details, do not mean identical details. The varied asymmetric nature of the Hebrew letters frequently results in angles of joints that are slightly different from letter to letter and therefore – although similar – the details cannot take the same exact form.


Figure 50. Certain groups of details may occur in some of the faces and not in others. The typefaces in the diagram were chosen to present quintessential samples. The considerations regarding the design of similar details, with the benefits of homogeneity on one hand, and the need for letter differentiation on the other, are discussed in the next chapter,

4.1.4 Readability

61. Ittai Joseph Tamari, ‘Decipherability, Legibility and Readability of Modern Hebrew Typefaces’, p.135 62. Joseph Shimron and David Navon. ‘The distribution of visual information in the vertical dimension of Roman and Hebrew letters’. Visible Language, 14, 1980, p.7

Probably due to its limited typographic development, modern Hebrew has a considerable number of similar and confusing letterforms. Furthermore, the minor variation in the basic structure of letterforms (compared to the Latin script for instance), as well as the lack of upper case letters and reduced presence of extenders, creates monotonous word shapes that are hard to identify. In addition, due to the lack of vowels, the reading process is contextual and involves a lot of guessing. Ittai Tamari, one of the few scholars researching the Hebrew typography in academia, described the reading process: “One could speak of an incessant contemplative reading, trying to fill in the gaps of possible meanings, and at the same time busily searching for the slightest differences in letter appearance and looking meanwhile for assistance at the word’s connection”.61 Thus, more than other scripts, Hebrew deserves special attention in regard to letter discrimination and improved word shapes. In regard to readability and the design of a Hebrew typeface (and in particular the treatment of similar letters) it should be mentioned that research has shown that in Hebrew (as opposed to Latin), the lower part of the text is more informative than the upper part.62


4.1.5 Proportional width

Figure 51. Differences between basics proportional widths (David and Frank-Rühl).

63. Ismar David, The Hebrew letter – calligraphic variations, p.9

Exact proportional widths are difficult to set. The relative width of the Hebrew letters varies from type to type quite significantly. Compare the width of the Dalet to the final Mem in the frank-rühl and david typefaces. In the frank-rühl they are approximately of the same width while in david the final Mem is at least a quarter wider [fig.51]. Nevertheless, it is still possible to divide the Hebrew alphabet into three basic widths. The letters that have one vertical stroke (leg or thigh) and a short roof, letters that have one vertical stroke and a normal roof, and letters that have two vertical strokes (and the Shin that has three)[fig.52].63 This can serve as a starting point, but variations are acceptable.

Figure 52. The Hebrew alphabet divided into three basics widths.

4.1.6 Spacing

The basic notion of Hebrew spacing and kerning is no different from the Latin one. It is about achieving the optimal space between letters and creating a smooth and even page texture. Good spacing and kerning improve readability, as well aesthetics. It should be noted though, that as a rule of thumb, Hebrew fitting is probably always tighter than the common Latin counterpart. This might originate, again, in the Hebrew calligraphic and cursive roots, as in cursive writing the letters tend to connect. Some (but not all) problematic letter pairs are shown in [fig.53 overleaf].


Figure 53. Some problematic kerning pairs. Note the combination on the first line: if too close, the Resh and Nun can be easily mistaken for a Tav.

4.1.7 Numerals, vocalization and cantillation marks

It was well into the mid-20th century when designers acknowledged the need for a designated numerals’ set for Hebrew. As the numerals used with Hebrew are basically the same Arabic numerals used with Latin, until the 1950s Hebrew typefaces were accompanied by numerals coming from the Latin type cases. Nowadays, it is clear that numerals need to adapt to the design of the typeface. Yet, it is hard to formulate general recommendations. Mostly, it is about using letterforms details (terminals, curves) and making the numerals somewhat more horizontally stressed than they normally are in the Latin context [fig.54]. As for the vocalization and cantillation marks, although very simple marks, the designer should match their design to that of the face and not be tempted to use the common generic design. Obviously, the design of those numerals and marks deserves a lengthy analysis that will not fit in the scope of this essay.

Figure 54. Numerals design in the David typeface. Note the the use of ‘serifs’ and similar curves on the numerals.


Figure 55. Traditional customary penned stroke sequences (Friedlaender, 1969).


4.2 Individual letters

This part of the essay is a letter-by-letter analysis. It studies the major features of every letter and discusses possible design strategies, mainly in regard to differentiation issues. Alef The Alef, often the symbol of the Hebrew language, and in any case the most recognized Hebrew letter, is also one of the most difficult to design. The major design issue with the Alef is its stability. It is extremely difficult to make it ‘stand still’ and avoid the feeling that the letter leans to either side. The major stroke of the Alef is a diagonal drawn traditionally from upper left to lower right. This stroke should be similar in width to the heaviest stroke of the typeface and it always overshoots the Mem-height and undershoots the baseline. The diagonal can be a straight bar, a curved stroke in a very shallow s-curve, or have one shallow long convex curve [fig.56].

Figure 56. Alef

From the main diagonal sprout two shorter diagonals, an arm and a leg (see nomenclature scheme). Those diagonals are usually of a very light weight, while their terminals – upper and lower – are of a heavier weight again. The upper terminal is typically a short roof, but it might also be just a flaring end of the arm. Whenever a roof is used, different kinds of joints can be used. The arm can join the roof in its middle, it can curve into the roof or, it can connect to the left corner of the roof as in the Ashkenazic style [fig.57].





Figure 57. Alef

The leg terminal too, can take many forms. One of them is a kind of an out-stroke made in a back-and-forth overlapping movement. This connects the Alef very much to the following letter and contributes to the typeface’s dynamism. Other common accepted possibilities are shown in [fig.58].





Figure 58. Alef – Leg construction. Note the back-and-forth calligraphic movement in Schocken (a).

The one principle that unifies all these different solutions is the presence of a heavy visual weight on the lower left side that balances the weight on the upper right-hand part of the letter. The diagonal should be held in tension between the arm and the leg. A leg that lacks the heavier part on the baseline, creates a counter that is too big and makes the letter less stable [fig.59].





Figure 59. Alef – Legs with insufficient weight on the baseline make the Alef unstable – see Ada (a) and Narkis Linotype (d). Narkissim (b) and Narkis Classic (c), which were designed later in time, have their leg curving inwards and thus closing the counter and improving the letter’s balance.

The Alef’s leg is usually longer than the arm. Although the precise place of the two joints with the main diagonal is hard to define, the leg should always meet the diagonal on its centre point or anywhere above, while the arm should spring from the centre point of the diagonal or anywhere below. The relationship between the counters’ size is another feature that largely affects the letter’s balance. The counters should be similar in visual size though the lower one can be slightly larger. An Alef which has its upper counter larger creates white ‘spots’ and renders the typeface’s uneven [fig.60].



Figure 60. Alef Counters’ relative size. Fontext (b) has its upper counter slightly too big.


Another design issue regarding the Alef is its general weight, or ‘blackness’. With its three diagonal strokes and terminals it is very difficult to keep the letter’s weight light enough. Obviously, keeping the leg and arm thin helps, while removing the roof on the arm, as done in david for example [fig.57c], is another good direction. An alternative solution can be slightly increasing the Alef’s width and thus enlarging the counters and lightening its general colour (Compare the wide Alef on [fig.57a] and [fig.57c] with the narrow on [fig.57b] and [fig.57d]). Any solution implemented on the Alef has to affect its related letters. The terminal of the arm will be frequently similar to the terminals of the arms of the Zade and final Zade, as well as the central arm of the Shin [fig.61c]. In some cases, likeness can be also found between the Alef’s arm’s terminal and the right arm’s terminal of the Ayin and Shin [fig.61b]. Another similarity can be sometimes found between the Alef’s leg and the short down-stroke leg of the Peh [fig.61a].




Figure 61. Alef

Bet The most important part of the Bet is its tail, the base’s extension that protrudes behind the letter. In some typefaces the tail, which is crucial to differentiate the Bet from the Kaf, is far too short. In small sizes and poor printing conditions, the Bet and the Kaf can be easily confused. The length of the tail, should be noticeable, even in small size, and should be judged mostly against the design of the Kaf. The less the lower right side of the Kaf is rounded (i.e. curved inwards), the longer should the tail be [fig.62].




Figure 62. Bet Note the too short tail on the Meruba (a) and Koren (b).


Another feature commonly seen in the design of the Bet is the sloped base. This is absolutely acceptable, provided that all the other traditionally (Oriental/Sephardic) sloped-base letters do the same (usually the Kaf, Mem, Nun, Peh, Zade, and the out-stroke of the Tav [fig.63].

Figure 63. Bet

The sloped base also relates to the pointed lower apex of the Tet, Samech and Shin, typical of the Oriental and Sephardic styles). Note that when sloped, the tip of the base should undershoot. The Bet’s roof and base can be aligned to the left, or the roof can be slightly shorter. Making it shorter is a well-known practice, derived from the Sephardic tradition [fig.64].

Figure 64. Bet

Gimmel The Gimmel’s most essential part is the joint of the two strokes. As the Gimmel’s basic form – especially in small size – is similar to the Nun, the designer should focus on differentiating them. Two interacting design issues should be taken into consideration: the angles of the two legs and the height of the joint. Except for the differentiation from the Nun, the lower counter should be kept large in order to avoid a dark spot beneath the joint. For both problems, it is recommended to follow the model set by the david typeface (which in turn was inspired by early manuscripts) with the sloped right long leg and the high joint [fig.65c].




Figure 65. Gimmel

The Sephardic model [fig.65a], showing a nearly vertical right leg and almost horizontal left leg, is to be avoided, as it makes the Gimmel more similar to the Nun. It should be noted though, that sloping the right leg too much creates a major kerning problem on the right-hand side of the Gimmel [fig.65b]. Both Gimmel’s legs can undershoot the baseline.


The upper part of the Gimmel, the short – sometimes sloped – roof, should probably be similar to the corresponding part of the Nun and final Nun, and can be similar to the Zaiyn’s roof, the left arm terminal of the Tet, Ayin, Zade, final Zade and Shin [fig.66].

Figure 66. Gimmel

Dalet The Dalet is relatively easy to design. The only concern in its design is the length of the tail, which in most cases, should be at least as long as the Bet’s tail. As with the Bet and Kaf, the Dalet should be clearly distinguished from the Resh. Although a long tail might create some kerning problems, it is still preferable [fig.67].



Figure 67. Dalet Note a better letter differentiation on the Narkis Classic (a).

Most contemporary Dalets have their leg joining the roof in a simple ‘T’ joint. An upwards-pointing tail, as well as a tail which shows a backand-forth calligraphic movement reminiscence, are both acceptable [fig.68]. A cross joint, as in schocken [fig.68a], although helpful in differentiating the Dalet from the Resh, is probably not a very good solution. It adds another ‘serif’ on the roof and hence adds more unnecessary visual noise.





Figure 68. Dalet

He The He is made of two components. The gap between them, or in other words, the length of the left leg, is critical for the letter recognition. It is mainly this gap that distinguishes the He from the Het. Therefore the gap


should be prominent, usually at least as wide as the roof’s stroke. This is a clear case where early models – manuscripts as well as mediaeval types – cannot help. In the vast majority of them the He’s gap does not exist or it is extremely small [fig.69]. The left leg should align (optically) to the left end of the roof and be approximately of the same width as the right leg.





Figure 69. He The Oriental model (a) has no gap at all. David’s gap (b), is probably the minimal gap a typeface should have. Note that in Havatzelet (d) for example, the short left leg is probably slightly too far to the left. When this happens, the He starts to look like a Resh with a seperated leg.

The upper right corner of the He can take many forms [fig.70] and it can be similar to the Dalet, Het, Resh or Tav’s upper right corners. It should not though, be similar to all. As the Het is the most closely related letter to the He, it is recommended to try and avoid the resemblance of their corners, again for sake of differentiation [fig.71]. Also, if done similar to the Dalet, the He’s tail must be shorter. As the He’s counter should look as wide as the Het one, it is better to have it somewhat narrower.

Figure 70. He



Figure 71. He Right upper corner in comparison with the Het. Note the good differentiation in David (a).

Vav The Vav is a simple letter that does not pose any specific design problems. It can be either a short-roof Resh or have a sloped roof. The roof in any of the versions should be short enough to maintain the letter’s balance, and to differentiate it clearly from the Resh [fig.72].


Figure 72. Vav

Zayin The Zayin is a narrow letter that can be easily mistaken for the Vav. A few things can be done in order to avoid confusion. When using a horizontal roof, the leg should meet the short roof on its centre or, better on a point where one third of the roof is on the left and two are on the right [fig.73c]. This can guarantee a notably different silhouette in small size. When




Figure 73. Zayin

designing a sloped roof typeface, the joint of the Zayin would be usually on the centre of the roof [fig.73a]. Another alternative is to modify the leg. Most Zayins have their legs either curved (in an s-shape) [fig.73c] or sloped [fig.73a]. As the Zayin is a relatively low frequency letter, both alternatives can be a feature performed only once in the typeface. Het The upper left corner of the Het – the joint of the roof and leg – can be built in a few ways [fig.74]. It can correspond with the Samech, Tav or final Mem [fig.75]. The upper right corner can relate to the Dalet, He, final Kaf, Resh or Tav. As the Tav and the He are closest in form to the Het, it might be a good strategy to choose different solutions for each [fig.76].

a Figure 74. Het

Figure 75. Het







Figure 76. Het In Schocken (a) every corner is different. David (b) shows a better strategy with some of the corners similar while other differ significantly.

The counter of the Het should probably be as wide as the Tav’s counter. Some typefaces show a somewhat symmetrical counter form [fig.74a]. Referring to ancient manuscripts (mainly the Oriental hand), this might be an interesting deviation. It should be noted though, that in general, symmetry is alien to the Hebrew script. Therefore, the counter should not be entirely symmetrical and letter itself must not be symmetrical at all. Tet Traditionally, the lower part of the Tet can have one out of three alternate forms: a base – as in the frank–rühl typeface, a rounded bottom – as in the Ashkenazic style, or a pointed apex – as in the Oriental style [fig.77].




Figure 77. Tet Pointed as in the Oriental style, Narkis Classic (a), round as in the Ashkenazic style (b), or flat, according to a more Sephardic tradition, like in the Frank-Rühl (b).

In most historical references the bottom part of the Tet, Samech and Shin is identical. The contemporary designer is confronted here with the conflict of differentiation versus consistency. As those three letters are fairly similar, and particularly the Tet and the Samech, the designer will need to chose here between improved differentiation and better uniformity. Since the Tet is basically an open Samech, it is most critical to differentiate those two. One way of discriminating between them can be designing a different bottom [fig.78].



Figure 78. Tet Note the different bottom parts used in Hadassah (a) in order to differentiate the Tet from the Samech.


The other way can be modifying the upper part of the Tet. The gap, the white ‘tunnel’ that connects to the counter should be significant, and the curved terminal at the right corner should be long and substantial. It should be noted that a Tet with the right terminal curving too deep begins to look like a Shin. Both elements, the gap and the terminal, are vital for legibility in small size. Although some type designers, such as Ismar David and Tzvi Narkis, preferred homogeneity over differentiation in the design of the bottom of the Tet, it is in the author’s view that designing the Tet differently from the Samech enhances legibility and is a good and justified practice. Whenever the bottom is pointed or rounded, it undershoots the baseline. The left arm’s terminal will be typically similar to the one on the left arm of the Ayin and Shin, and in some cases will look like the short roofs of the Gimmel, Zayin or Nun, or the terminal on either arm of the Zade. [fig.66]. Yod The Yod is a strange looking short character hung from the Mem-height. It creates inevitably spacing and kerning troubles and affects considerably the typeface’s texture. The Yod’s roof can be horizontal (according to the Ashkenazic tradition) or sloped in a ‘hook’ shape (according to the Sephardic tradition) [fig.79]. As the Yod’s skeletal form is basically an amputated Vav (or final Nun for that matter), it would be advisable to make them look differently.




Figure 79. Yod All three forms are possible, but the ‘hook’ form as in David (b), makes the Yod more distinct.

A logical strategy could have been making the Yod as short as possible. Unfortunately, this results in two additional problems. A Yod too short disappears in small size, and the shorter it gets, the larger the tricky counter beneath it becomes. Therefore, a not-too-short ‘hook’ shape for the Yod is probably preferable. Kaf The Kaf basic form is roughly symmetrical, though the base is frequently slightly longer than the roof. As discussed earlier, the main design problem


regarding the Kaf is its resemblance to the Bet. This can be solved through making the upper, the lower, or both of the Kaf’s ‘corners’, rounder [fig.80]. In some cases, the rounding of the corners suggests also a curved thigh. The Kaf’s base can slope if the other traditionally sloped letters also do so (see Bet).

Figure 80. Kaf

Lamed The Lamed is the only Hebrew letter that has an ascender. As the Lamed ‘stands’ on one leg it is quite difficult to balance it. Similarly to the Alef, it is the delicate visual balance of all elements that stabilize the letter. The ascender’s length can vary [fig.81], but in designing a contemporary text face, made for newspaper or book setting, its length should be somewhere between a third and two thirds of the Mem-height, respectively. A shorter ascender will look ‘squashed’ – and will recall 19th century type – a longer one will be too decorative and will enforce unnecessary leading.





Figure 81. Lamed The perfect ascender’s length is probably that of the Frank-Rühl (d). The David (b) is somewhat too short and the Hadassah (c), although well balanced, is probably a little too long. The ‘Meruba’ (a) is old fashioned.

The ascender’s terminal can also take a few forms, yet if a short roof is chosen as a terminal it should be noted that it must be smaller and lighter than any Mem-height roof [fig.81d]. As it is the only element projecting upwards into the interlinear space, and considering the fact that all the Hebrew descenders are tapered strokes, it must not be too prominent. The ascender should basically be vertical, though it might lean slightly on either side for the sake of equilibrium. The Lamed’s leg can be made of one, two or three segments, as long as it is consistent with the leg of the Qof [fig.82]. Its baseline terminal should be heavy enough to balance the long ascender and should roughly be aligned with the roof’s optical horizontal centre. The leg should, to a


certain extent, enclose the counter. Typefaces that have the leg ending too early on the right, have inevitably a counter too large [fig.82a]. The leg can undershoot the baseline.




Figure 82. Lamed Note that the Koren (a) leg is made of two segments, the David (b) of one and the Frank-Rühl

Mem The Mem is made of 3 or 4 segments and has a complicated structure. Some issues need to be mentioned regarding the Mem: The top part can be rounded (Ashkenazic) or have a more triangular shape (Sephardic). The gap on the baseline should be wide enough so that it will not vanish in small sizes, but not too wide-open, as it will instantly recall the Het [fig.83].





Figure 83. Mem Note the too small gap in Schocken (a), and the Oriental style influenced horn of David (b).

The upper left hand side horn can be a short roof with a strong horizontal orientation (Ashkenazic), a short diagonal stroke roughly perpendicular to the left leg (Sephardic), or an individual long curved stroke, stretched from Mem-height to baseline (based on the Oriental style) [fig.83d]. Only for this joint, can the Oriental style Mem serve as a model. Otherwise, with its short left leg – although a very beautiful form – it cannot be a successful model for a modern typeface’s Mem. It is unstable, and can be easily confused with the Peh due to its leftwardsfacing aperture. The horn as well as the top of the Mem usually overshoots the Mem-height, the leg usually will undershoot the baseline. The Mem’s base can be sloped, in accordance with the other sloped-base letters (see Bet). Again, as in other few letters, the Mem is hard to balance and often seem leaning to either side. One should control the slope of the right thigh, the curve of the top, the nature and angle of the horn and the slope of the leg in order to stabilize the letter.


Nun The Nun is another simple letter. It can have a short horizontal or sloped roof. The length of the roof and base should be either equal, or the roof can be shorter. Although much narrower than the Kaf, it is recommended to have a roughly 90º lower corner in order to enhance differentiation (provided that the Kaf has a round lower corner) [fig.84]. The Nun’s base can be sloped, in accordance with the other appropriate letters (see Bet). The roof, is usually similar to the corresponding part of the Gimmel, and can be similar to the left arm terminal of the Tet, Ayin and Shin [fig.66].

Figure 84. Nun

Samech The main concern in the design of the Samech is its resemblance with two letters: the Tet and the final Mem. The Samech bottom part can be done rounded, according to the Ashkenazic legacy, or pointed according to the Sephardic one. Both forms are acceptable but the round one is preferable in order to differentiate it from both the Tet (assuming it is pointed) and the final Mem [fig.78]. Again, as in previous cases, there is a conflict between better legibility and more uniformity. Good solutions for differentiating it from the final Mem could be either having the left lower corner of the Samech rounded, or alternatively, sloping the left thigh inwards [fig.85]. The bottom part of the Samech usually undershoots.



Figure 85. Samech Note how the sloped thigh and round corner in Narkis Classic (a) improves letter recognition.

The joint of the leg and the roof will most frequently be similar to the corresponding joint of the Tav and final Mem, sometimes of the Het [fig.86]. The Samech’s roof should probably remain horizontal. Although a sloped roof might contribute to the differentiation from the final Mem, it creates a strange distracting white space on the Mem-height. In calligraphic, modulated typefaces, the left thigh of the letter will usually be wider than its right one.


Figure 86. Samech

Ayin The Ayin is essentially made of two diagonal strokes that vary in their angles. The long right stroke can be a single curve or it might have a soft corner breaking it into two segments [fig.87]. The arms of the Ayin can carry horizontal short roofs, sloped terminals or nothing at all, depending on the typeface style. The joint of the two strokes should be slightly above the baseline or on it. A long descending leg can be possibly beautiful but it might pose leading limitations, and more importantly, if used in a vocalized text, it will collide with the vocalization marks. An alternate flatbased form is a common practice for use with vocalized texts. Otherwise, a midway length leg is the preferable solution, descending to about a base stroke width underneath the baseline.






Figure 87. Ayin The length of the Frank-R端hl descender (c) is probably the right one. Note also the nature of the right arm: built of two segments as in Hadassah (e), or from one as in David (b).

Like with all the letters that posses an upwards-facing aperture (Alef, Ayin, Zade, Shin, final Zade, and to a lesser extent the Tet), the designer is confronted here with a great dilemma. On one hand, opening up the apertures will create a lighter typeface that will have more legible typeforms and more distinct word shapes. On the other hand, opening the apertures might result in a very busy, distracting Mem-height. The best practice, as often is the case, is probably to find a middle ground, somewhere between david [fig.88a] and frank-r端hl [fig.88b].

a Figure 88. Ayin



Whatever style are the arms’ terminals, the left arm terminal should be similar to the corresponding part of the Tet and Shin and in some cases might be similar to Zayin or the arms’ terminals of the Zade and final Zade. Peh The main challenge in designing the Peh is how to keep it light enough. On one hand, the horizontal middle stroke that curves into the counter is the most significant part of the Peh. On the other hand, it blocks the counter and creates a very dark character. Another problem is that when vocalized, a dot might be positioned in this counter. A too long middle stroke usually results in a collision with the dot. A possible strategy in order to keep the counter open without losing the character’s identity is to use the sloped roof present in the Sephardic and Oriental styles [fig.89]. The sloped roof overshoots the Mem-height and hence creates a bigger counter (This is probably possible only when the sloped roof appears on other characters, typically the Vav, Zayin, Yod, Nun and final Nun).

Figure 89. Peh

Two interesting details regarding the Peh are the joint between the roof and the short leg, and this leg’s terminal. The joint can take a few forms, of which the most popular are the leg and roof starting at the same point, or the leg branching from the roof just after (i.e. below) the in-stroke ‘serif’. A less satisfying alternative is a truly vertical leg, following the Ashkenazic style. This version creates a very static Peh [fig.90].





Figure 90. Peh Note the static Askenazic-influenced leg on Hadassah (a) compared to David (c)

The leg’s terminal can be just a tapering as in David [fig.90c] or, as in the Oriental and Sephardic styles, have an out-stroke, as in Schocken [fig.90d]. The out-stroke, (that can sometimes take the form of the out-


stroke seen on the leg of the Alef), although suggesting the movement and continuation of the writing hand, is most likely obsolete today and can therefore be skipped. The Peh’s base can be sloped, in accordance with the other appropriate letters (see Bet). Zade Similarly to the Alef, the Zade is a complex character. Its basic form is made of three diagonals. The main diagonal is most frequently lighter than the Alef’s, while its angle is close to the Alef’s or somewhat steeper. As in the Alef the diagonal can take a few forms: it can be straight, curved or made out of two segments [fig.91]. Although the straight stroke is acceptable (derived from the Ashkenazic tradition), it compels one of two undesirable options: either the letter is very wide (moderate slope), or the right arm exceeds the base to its right (steeper slope) [fig.91a].




Figure 91. Zade Note the protruding right arm of Hadassah (a) and the dark spot at the bottom of Frank-Rühl (c)

The right arm’s terminal of the Zade will typically correspond to its Alef’s counterpart, and can take the same alternates. The left terminal will look like the Gimmel’s and Nun’s. The leftwards-facing counter should be always more significant than the upper one. The joint of the diagonal and the base is to be treated with care. As it is a meeting point of two heavy strokes in a sharp angle it creates a dark spot. This can be avoided with a slight tapering of the diagonal, base or both. The Zade’s base can be sloped, in accordance with the other appropriate letters (see Bet). Qof The Qof is the only letter with a descender that is not a final letter [fig.92]. Similarly to the He, it is made of two components. The descender (as all the other descenders) should be as long as the Lamed’s ascender or slightly shorter. The descender should align to the left of the roof, or be slightly moved under it. A descender pushed a little outwards, as in some typefaces, is awkward and destabilizes the letter [fig.92a].





Figure 92. Qof

The two gaps in the Qof, between the descender and the roof, and between the descender and the leg are important. Although historically a Qof with no upper gap can be found in the Oriental style, it is probably not suitable for a modern text face. The joining of the two strokes creates an undesirable kind of a long Het [fig.92c]. The Qof leg is scarcely ever different from the Lamed’s leg, though the Qof’s counter is usually larger. Resh The Resh is a simple character built of two strokes, a vertical and a horizontal. The only noteworthy issue with it is the nature of the corner, which can be a 90º corner or a more rounded one. The decision here should be taken in regard to the right upper corners of the Dalet, He and Het, considering here, again, the preference of differentiation over consistency, or vice versa [fig.93].

Figure 93. Resh

Shin The Shin is the widest letter of the script, and most probably the hardest to design. It is the only letter that has three arms, and therefore inevitably dark. The designer’s challenge is to make it as light as possible and not too wide. The right counter should always be larger than the left one. The middle arm can take a few forms: It can be a straight stroke and meet the lower part of the Shin on its lower left inner corner; it can be curved leftwards and join the left arm (as in some Oriental style manuscripts), or it can be curved leftwards without connecting to the left arm (i.e. floating). The disconnected middle arm, seen probably for the first time in Hebrew in hatzvi typeface (1956), can be very helpful in opening up and lightening the counter, especially in bolder weights [fig.94]. Whatever the solution is, the arms width, and particularly the middle one would usually be thinner than the basic arm/leg/thigh stroke width. The elevated joint






Figure 94. Shin Note the disconnected arm on Hatzvi (a) and Narkis Classic (d)

on the left arm also avoids the dark spot created when the three strokes converge in the corner. It should be noted however, that this detail relates quintessentially to contemporary typefaces while the straight arm is much more widespread. As discussed before the basic form of the Shin is close to the Tet and Samech and its bottom part can be either flat or pointed. The arms’ terminals can be sloped or have roofs. The right arm terminal will be most frequently similar to the right terminal of the Ayin while the left terminal will be similar to the left arms of the Ayin or Tet. Tav The Tav, the last letter of the alphabet, is customarily very much based on the Resh. It is practically the Resh and an added thigh and a short base [fig.95]. In order to differentiate it from the Het, to which it is similar, the baseline out-stroke should be prominent, and the left thigh should slope inwards. The sloping make the character’s shape different from the Het and enables a longer out-stroke without protruding too much to the left [fig.95d]. The upper left joint can take few forms, depending on the typeface’s style and in regard to the other letters that have such a joint: the Het, the Samech and the final Mem [fig.86].






Figure 95. Tav Note the slope of the right thigh of David (d)

Final Kaf The final Kaf is usually a long-legged Dalet or Resh, with a shorter roof [fig.96]. The descender’s length should be as long as the Lamed’s ascender or slightly shorter. An interesting variation can be noticed in narkis classic where the leg of the final Kaf curves slightly inwards, reminiscing a hand-written final Kaf [fig.96a].




Figure 96. Final Kaf

Final Mem A square-form character, the final Mem should be mainly kept away from the Samech. The squarer the final Mem is (i.e. its angles are roughly right angles), the more different it is from the Samech [fig.97]. The joint on the upper left corner can be made similar to the joint of the Het, Samech or Tav [fig.86]. As the final Mem is a closed form, its counter should be a little wider than the Het’s counter. Nevertheless, a counter too wide is to be avoided, as it will create white ‘holes’ in a text page texture.



Figure 97. Final Mem

Final Nun The final Nun can be a long Vav, but it can also be somewhat more distinct. Although not necessary – as the difference in length is sufficient for differentiating it from the Vav – a change here is possible. The common change is often a curving inward of the leg, a soft corner that breaks the leg into two, or a joint, which resembles the joint of the Zayin [fig.98].




Figure 98. Final Nun

Final Peh The left upper part and the short leg of the final Peh are typically very similar to that of the Peh. However, the leg is normally somewhat longer and so the counter is larger [fig.99]. The right corner is often similar to the


Peh, though it might use more of a right angle where the regular Peh has a round corner.




Figure 99. Final Peh Note the larger counter on the final Peh of Hadassah (a).

Final Zade Designers are usually looking for an appropriate place where they can leave their mark. In text typeface design – an extremely conservative discipline – the appropriate place is the low frequency letters. Being a little more inventive there will not obstruct the reading flow. In Hebrew, the final Zade is this character. Even though it is built of just two strokes, it can be a very graceful character. Basically, the upper part of the final Zade is influenced by the corresponding part of the Zade, and the descender is a vertical or sloped leg. Other than that, the letter can take many creative forms depending on the typeface’s style [fig.100].

Figure 100. Final Zade

Punctuation The punctuation marks used in Modern Hebrew are all Latin script marks. Surprisingly, they are not inverted, and their basic skeletal shapes are identical to their Latin counterparts. The use of punctuation marks in Hebrew probably evolved only when secular printing began. As biblical and religious writing have their own system of marks, and considering the fact that until the 19th century most of the printing was of religious nature, there was probably no need for a secular punctuation set. The use of punctuation in Hebrew writing and printing, its forms as well as its history deserves a thorough investigation that cannot be done within the limited scope of this essay. The Latin marks used by Hebrew are: period, comma, colon and semi colon, question and exclamation marks, parentheses, brackets, braces, single and double (upper) quotes and dashes [fig.101].


Figure 101. Punctuation marks, Hadassah

Three additional symbols are usually found in the Hebrew set: the asterisk, the dollar sign and the Israeli currency sign, the New Shekel. One mark that is unique to Hebrew is the connecting dash, the equivalent of the Latin hyphen, which is a short Mem-height dash, typed with no spaces [fig.102]. The design of the punctuation marks is usually very calligraphyinfluenced (as is the Hebrew typography in general) and is obviously related to the typeface’s style. One apparent deviation from the Latin common shapes is the shape of the period, which is based on a rhomboid rather than on a circle.

Figure 102. Hebrew hyphen


5. After word

64. Moshe Spitzer, ‘The Development of the Square Letter’, p.39 65. Henri Friedlaender, ‘The making of hadassah Hebrew’, p.70 66. Ittai Joseph Tamari, ‘Digitization of Hebrew fonts, or: some evolutional evaluations’. In Raster imaging and digital typography: proceedings of the international conference, Ecole polytechnique fédérale Lausanne. Jacques André and Roger Hersch, editors. Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp.190–191

The history of the Hebrew type Design, with its achievements and shortcomings, as described in the essay is quite distinct from the history of the Latin type Design. No model or reference is available. In Latin typography many book faces are based on a single historical model or at the very least, they are closely related to a specific style. In Hebrew, early printing types cannot take this role of a model. Moshe Spitzer said: “One cannot find, in the Hebrew incunabula types, the same remarkable perfection that merits a revival, as often is found in the first Latin types”.64 Later designed types are not any more appropriate. So if types are not a suitable model, one would probably look even farther, and investigate manuscripts. And indeed, many of the 20th century designers returned to ancient Hebrew manuscripts. But even the most magnificent manuscripts can only offer general inspiration. None of the three mediaeval styles, the Oriental, the Sephardic or the Ashkenazic provides a prototype that can serve as a comprehensive model for a modern book face. Earlier manuscripts and inscriptions are an interesting source and offer alternative letterforms but clearly, they too, cannot be models for a readable contemporary book face. Hand written scripts have to be transformed into type. They need to crystallize and change, in order to become a viable typeface. Henri Friedlaender said: “… pen dictated forms should be considered authoritative only as long as they can be seen as basic and permanent features of the Hebrew alphabet. … beginnings and endings of strokes would not necessarily have to correspond to pen forms”.65 The only typeface, which achieved wide acceptance and usage, is the frank-rühl. Its immense success must be a mixture of many factors: sociological, technical, human, and the lack of alternatives. The most important reason was, according to Ittai Tamari, that its appearance coincided with the rise of the Zionist movement. This and the revival of the Hebrew language created a need for a new, secular book face.66 However, there is maybe an additional reason: The frank-rühl is a fairly non-calligraphic typeface. Compared to other popular (and important in their own right) book faces such as david and narkis classic, it is more formal and shows very little sign of the calligraphic hand. It is possible that its success is due to its more typographic style.


Contemporary designers, while searching for models, should refer, to a large extent, to the frank-r端hl. Not only it is so popular, and therefore most legible, it is possibly also a better typographic model. The frank-r端hl might be the torch to follow on the way to further formalizing the Hebrew script. The script that was not formalized as letters carved in stone, nor as letters cut in metal, might be possibly formalized on a computer screen. This essay reviewed the history and the current design scene. A discussion of the general characteristics as well as an analysis of each of the Hebrew letters was carried out. The author hopes that the ideas and recommendations put forward in this essay will be of interest and help for designers, theoreticians and whoever cares for the Hebrew letter.


Works cited Note: Some of the books and articles used in this essay are in Hebrew, and are marked [Heb.]. Their titles and bibliographic data were translated by the author. Transliteration of Hebrew names

Avrin, Leila ‘The Art of the Hebrew Book in the Twentieth Century’. In A Sign and a Witness: 2000 years of the Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts, Leonard Singer Gold, editor. New York Public Library and Oxford University Press, 1988, pp.125–139 Avrin, Leila ‘Eliyahu Koren’ [Heb.] The Israel Bibliophiles newsletter 6, 1986, pp.1–5 Avrin, Leila Scribes, Script and Books. Chicago, London: American Library Association and The British Library, 1991, pp.126–127 Beletsky, Misha ‘Zvi Narkiss and Hebrew type design’. In Language Culture Type, John D. Berry, editor. Graphis, 2002, pp.91–105 Berthold, H. Katalog hebräischer und Jüdischer Schriften, (Catalogue of Hebrew and Jewish Types). Berlin: H. Berthold Schriftgiessereien und Messinglinien–Fabriken ag, 1924 Colodny, Susan The Work of Ismar David at the Cary Collection, a finding aid. Rochester Institute of Technology David, Ismar A Draft for a Letter to the architect Erich Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn’s response is dated April 13th, 1953 David, Ismar A letter to Israel Soifer. October 3rd, 1972 David, Ismar A draft made for a talk at the Typophiles luncheon in New York on March 3rd, 1973 David, Ismar A note probably made in response to a letter from Elaine Vardy of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem Frank, Rafael ‘Über Hebräische Typen und Schriftarten’. In Archiv für Bochgewrbe, vol.48, no.11, 1911 pp.20–27 Friedlaender, Henri The Making of Hadassah Hebrew. Special edition made for the Typophile keepsake, Jerusalem, 1975 Friedlaender, Henri ‘Modern Hebrew Type Faces’. Typographica 16, undated, probably winter 1959, pp.4–9 Friedlaender, Henri and Stern, Gideon ‘Franzisca Baruch’ [Heb.] The Israel Bibliophiles newsletter 4, 1984, pp.1–5 Gonen, Rivka The History of the Hebrew Script [Heb.] Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture and the Israel Museum, 1970 Ha’aretz daily newspapaer Typefaces catalogue. Tel Aviv, 3.2.1936 Hadassah Apprentice School of Printing/Brandeis Centre Typefaces catalogue. Jerusalem, 1972 Jerusalem Type Foundry Hatzvi, First Announcement Announcement, [Heb.] Jerusalem, 1956 Jerusalem Type Foundry Typefaces Specimen. Jerusalem, 1959 Jezynskie type foundry Hebrew typefaces specimen. Warsaw, undated, published sometime after 1929 (Jezynskie’s specimen mentions an award the foundry received in 1929, it is reasonable to believe that the specimen was published around that time).


Koren, Eliyahu ‘The Letter as a basic element in the design of sacred books’. In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, pp.85–90 Molcho, Ilan Hebrew Typography [Heb.] Jerusalem: Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, 1981, p.15 Monotype The schocken folder, (series 547, 550, 551) found at the Monotype archives, Salfords, Surrey Monotype ‘Hebrew Mayer’ (Monotype series 448, 492) found at the Monotype archives, Salfords, Surrey Narkis, Tzvi ‘Narkis, Narkissim, etc.’, In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, pp.103–108 Soifer, Israel ‘The pioneer work of Maurice Spitzer’. In The Penrose Annual Annual, vol.63, editor Herbert Spencer. London: Lund Humphries Publishing Limited, 1970, pp.127–142 Spitzer, Moshe ‘The Development of the Square Letter’. In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1990, 2nd edition, pp.23–46 Spitzer, Moshe ‘On our letters’ [Heb.] Hed Hadfus (literally Echo of Print) The national union of print workers periodical, 10, September 1955, pp.9–24 Tamari, Ittai Joseph ‘Decipherability, Legibility and Readability of Modern Hebrew Typefaces’. In Raster Imaging and Digital Typography II II, Robert A. Morris and Jacques André, editors. Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp.128–136 Tamari, Ittai Joseph Hebräische Schriftgestaltung in Deutschland von der Jahrhundertwende bis zum Ausbruch des Zweiten Weltkrieges unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der ‘Frank-Rühl’- Lettern, (Hebrew type design in Germany, between the turn of the century and the outbreak of the second world war, with a particular focus on the typeface ‘Frank-Rühl’), Ph.D. thesis. Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg Universitat, 1993 Tamari, Ittai Joseph New Hebrew Letter Type, an exhibition catalogue. Tel Aviv: The University Gallery, Tel Aviv University, 1985 Yardeni, Ada The book of Hebrew Script. Jerusalem: Carta, 1997

Works consulted Friedlaender, Henri ‘Modern Hebrew Lettering’. Ariel Ariel, a quarterly review of the arts and the sciences in Israel, 4, 1963, pp.6–15 Lubell, Stephen ‘Hebrew typography—from the sacred to the mundane’. Typo/graphic Journal (Journal of the Society of Typographic Designers), 41, 1990, pp.16–23 Oron, Asher ‘Designing a New Hebrew Typeface’. In A Letter is forever, a collection of papers on the design of the Hebrew letter, [Heb.] Moshe Spitzer, editor. Jerusalem: Israel Ministry of Education and Culture, 1981, pp.91–95


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