The Hebrew and Yiddish languages use a different alphabet than English. The picture below illustrates the Hebrew alphabet, in Hebrew alphabetical order. The alphabet consists of twenty-two letters (five of which have a different form when they appear at the end of a word, .....but more about that later).

The alphabet consists entirely of consonants. Note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English, so Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and Tav is the last.

The Hebrew alphabet is often called the "Alef-Bet," because of its first two letters.

Click here for the story how Alef got to be the first letter.


Nun Sofit
Mem Sofit
Kaf Sofit
Tzadi Sofit
Fay Sofit
click here to see a printer version

If you are familiar with Greek, you will no doubt notice substantial similarities in letter names and in the order of the alphabet.

The "Ch" is pronounced as in German or Scottish, a throat clearing noise, not as the "ch" in "chair."


Note that there are two forms or versions of some letters.

Kaf, Mem, Nun, Pay and Tzadi all are written differently when they appear at the end of a word than when they appear in the beginning or middle of the word. The version used at the end of a word is referred to as Kaf Sofit (Final Kaf), Mem Sofit (Final Mem), etc. The version of the letter on the left in the chart above (in black) is the final version. In all cases except the Mem Sofit, the final version has a long tail.


Like most early Semitic alphabetic writing systems, the Alef-Bet has no vowels. People who are fluent in the language do not need vowels to read Hebrew, and most newspapers, magazines, or books of general use written in Hebrew are written without vowels. Siddurim (Prayer Books) and Tanach (Torah, Neviyim, and Kethubim ) are the exceptions to the rule.

Around the 8th century, the Rabbis realized the need for aids to pronunciation, so they developed a system of dots and dashes called Nikud (points). These dots and dashes are written above, below or inside the letter, in ways that do not alter the spacing of the line. Text containing these markings is referred to as "pointed" text.

Below are two examples of pointed text. For emphasis, the points in the illustrations are in blue and somewhat larger than they would ordinarily be written.

example 1

The line of text above would be pronounced in Sephardic pronunciation, (which is what most people today use): V-ah-hav-ta L'ray-a(ch)a ka-moh-(ch)a. (And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Vayikra - Leviticus 19:18).

example 2

The above line of text would be pronounced (in Sephardic pronunciation): Vah-yhee eh-rev vah-yhee voh-kehr yohm ha-shee-shee. Va-y(ch)oo-loo ha-sha-ma-yeem v-ha-ah-retz v-(ch)ol tz-vah-am. (And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and the earth were finished, the whole host of them. Bereishit - Genesis Ch. 1-2).


Hard and Soft Sounds

Note that some Hebrew letters have two pronunciations. Bet, Kaf, and Pay have a "hard" sound (the first sound in the chart above) and a "soft" sound (the second sound). In pointed texts, these letters have dots in the center when they are to be pronounced with the hard sound. (See the examples in the chart above).

In Ashkenazic pronunciation, (the pronunciation used by many Jews of European descent), Tav also has a "soft" sound, and is pronounced as an "s" when it does not have a dot. See the letter Sav.

Vov, usually a consonant pronounced as a "v," is sometimes a vowel pronounced "oo" or "oh." When it is pronounced "oo", pointed texts have a dot in the middle. When it is pronounced "oh", pointed texts have a dot on top. See the examples of pointed text above.

Shin is pronounced "sh" when it has a dot over the right branch and "s" when it has a dot over the left branch. Other letters do not change pronunciation. See the letter Sin.


The style of writing illustrated above is the one most commonly seen in Hebrew books. It is referred to as block print or sometimes Assyrian text.

For sacred documents, such as torah scrolls or the scrolls inside tefillin and mezuzot, there is a special writing style with "crowns" (crows-foot-like marks coming up from the upper points) on many of the letters. This style of writing is known as STA"M (an abbreviation for "Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzot," which is where you will see that style of writing. For more information about the STA"M alphabet, including illustrations and relevant rules, see Hebrew Alphabet used in writing STA"M.

Modern ScriptThere is another style used for handwriting, in much the same way that cursive is used for the Roman (English) alphabet. This modern script style is illustrated at right. Click here or on the script to see a table of letters.


Rashi ScriptAnother style is used in certain texts to distinguish the body of the text from commentary upon the text. This style is known as Rashi Script, in honor of Rashi, the greatest commentator on the Torah and the Talmud. The alefbet at left is an example of Rashi Script. Click here or on the script to see a table of letters.


The process of writing Hebrew words in the Roman (English) alphabet is known as transliteration. Transliteration is more an art than a science, and opinions on the correct way to transliterate words vary widely. This is why the Jewish festival of lights (in Hebrew, Chet-Nun-Kaf-Hay) is spelled Chanukah, Channukkah, Hanuka, and many other interesting ways. Each spelling has a legitimate phonetic and orthographic basis; none is right or wrong.


Each letter in the Alef-Bet has a numerical value. These values can be used to write numbers, as the Romans used some of their letters (I, V, X, L, C, M) to represent numbers.
Click here for a table of the values.

Alef through Yud have the values 1 through 10.

Yud through Koof have the values 10 through 100, counting by 10s.

Koof through Tav have the values 100 through 400, counting by 100s.

Final letters have the same value as their non-final counterparts.

The number 11 would be rendered Yud-Alef. The number 12 would be Yud-Bet. The number 21 would be Kaf-Alef. The word Torah (Tav-Vav-Resh-Hay) has the numerical value 611, etc.

The only significant oddity in this pattern is the number 15, which if rendered as 10+5 would be a name of Hashem, so it is normally written Tet-Vav (9+6).


Because of this system of assigning numerical values to letters, every word has a numerical value. There is an entire discipline of Jewish mysticism known as Gematria that is entirely devoted to finding hidden meanings in the numerical values of words. For example, the number 18 is very significant, because it is the numerical value of the word Chai, meaning life. Donations to Jewish charities are routinely made in denominations of 18 for that reason.

Thanks to Judaism 101 web site!

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