An update to earlier presentations on Hebrew typography, focusing a bit more on recent Israeli typographers, and on how to best mix Hebrew and English--in two parts to deal with slideshare file size limits.
Some notes about Hebrew typography. First presented at Type90, Oxford, UK
Hebrew letters come in a wide variety of forms
Hebrew has a strong calligraphic tradition. The Torah, the most holy of Jewish texts, must be handwritten on a scroll if used for ritual readings in a synagogue.
The first form of Hebrew, pre-dating the Babylonian exile
In Bar Kochba’s time, the newer, square letters were used for everything, =except= coinage. One theory is that the Jews brought the “square” Aramaic script back from the first exile with them. By declaring anything written in the old script “unkosher,” Ezra would have eliminated variants of holy books written in Judea and Samaria, that had changed in unfamiliar ways.At the same time, they wanted to emphasize their newly granted “independence”, so kept the unique pre-exilic Judaean script on coinage through the Bar Kochba rebellion. You can find letters written by Bar Kochba using modern Hebrew “square letters.”
A tracing of a letter by bar kochba. This characters are perfectly readable (beyond issues of legibility) to anyone who knows current Hebrew lettering
From the Dead Sea Scrolls
Micrography, in which the flow of letters shapes pictures. You can pick up very bad micrography in places like Tzfat, today.
First printed Hebrew books. When Abraham Conat of Mantua died died, his wife, Estellina, continued the trade, making her the first woman to print Hebrew books. In the colophon of “Investigation of the World, by Jedaiah Bedersi she notes: I, Estallina, … wrote this book … with many pens without aid of miracle. There term for printing, הדפסה would not exist until 1477.
From the Prague Hagaddah.
Different widths of some characters were used to help justify lines.
A backwards character is used to fill space
The hyphen did not yet exist, so a word would simply break in the middle, if necessary.
As was the case with English, printers used ornate “drop caps” to begin sections of manuscript
But, in Hebrew, we most often used whole words, rather than single letters. Note special display characters used to imitate what had been lavish illustrations in handwritten editions.
Early on, the question fo mixing Hebrew and English arose. Here, the English is underneath the Hebrew. In terms of actual typesetting, the Hebrew consonants were set on one line. Then, the vowels were on their own line, and finally, in this case, the English below the Hebrew.
A detail of the previous slide
Without fonts prepared to work together, mixing languages could look awkward—but printers could and did print in many languages.
Detail of previous slide
A better choice, with the Hebrew and Latin sharing a common starting point. Much easier for the polyglot reader.
Hebrew from Germany in the Middle Ages, reflecting the influence of fraktur
The nadir of Hebrew typography
Part of the ferment in the late 19th century/early 20th century in Eastern Europe and the United States was an explosion of new typefaces and of playfulness with Hebrew letterforms—whether for Hebrew or Yiddish
At the same time, the artistic ferment of the time provided new ways to look at Hebrew—sometimes using wooden or metal type; sometimes taking advantage of free-form characters and modern printing. Most of these covers are courtesy of the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, an amazing treasure
Several editions of “Satan in Goray” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, each based on the last
Sadly, there was little progress on better text fonts, although the art-deco “Frank-Ruehl” type was a major improvement over 19th century “Modern”-influenced designs
Can you recognize the Yiddish word, “lider.”?
The Miriam typeface, another Art Deco design still popular today.
The Yiddish press provided a mass audience for a wide variety of secular and religious Hebrew and Yiddish
Note the very Israeli letterforms on this cover: sculpted, straight lines, with angled terminators and crowns
Mixing Hebrew, English, and Arabic in everyday bits of printing
Thanks to Unicode, any modern computing device, including smartphones, can use any alphabet from our familiar Latin, to Chinese, from Hebrew and Arabic or Russian, to emojis
Hebrew and English look different. English has upper and lower case. Hebrew characters are primarily squarish, most the same height with few descenders and only one ascender (the lamed). So, how do we best mix the two? What are the appropriate relative sizes?
Modern Hebrew newspapers generally eschew vowels
Ads in an Israeli newspaper
Note that slanting—in either direction—suffices for “italic”.