Hebrew Alphabet used in writing STA"M
(Sifrei Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzos)
There are over 150 laws concerning how the Hebrew Alphabet must be written by the Jewish Scribe. Here, each letter has been scanned in separately, to point out some of the things to look for in good writing. Note: This is only a reference and is by no means complete. Please check your STA"M with a competent certified Sofer. Ask your Sofer if he is certified by the Vaad Mishmeres STA"M.
For the purpose of this document, this deals only with the Beis Yosef's opinion on how the letters should be written. There are several letters where the Ari Z'al has a difference of opinion, as seen below.
The Alef Bais according to Beis Yosef
The letters that differ according to the Ari Z'al
The Alef Beth according to Sephardic tradition
Note that there is also an exceedigly rare 4th style as well - a derivative of the Ari Z'al script called the Alter Rebbe's Ksav (Ksav means writing style) that is unique to the first Lubavitcher Rebbe of the Chassidic tradition. It is somewhat similar to Ari Z'al Ksav, but with the Alter Rebbe's modifications - an example of the script is here with a magnified view also viewable. Please understand that there is no original of the Alter Rebbe's script and there are, as a result, variations of opinion over what is the 'correct' version. Only a limited number of Lubavitcher sofrim feel they 'have it' and choose to write this ksav, and they are NOT all alike. Some rabbonim even at Chabad actually prefer straight Ari Ksav, since there is a clear, black-and-white, handed down version of that ksav and it is guaranteed 100% kosher to all schools.
Only consider the Alter Rebbe's ksav if you are willing to depend on the sofer's knowledge and realize that some other sofer, when inspecting the writing, might prefer another variation. Also, it is highly recommend that you only have them checked by a Lubavitcher sofer, as many non-Lubavitcher sofrim might have never seen this ksav, and certainly not be knowledgable enough to inspect them.
The Letter Aleph has 3 distinct parts and 10 laws concerning its form. There is an upper Yud, a lower Yud, and a body that is similar to a Vov. There should be a clear connection from the body of the Aleph to the Yuds but none of the faces of the Yuds are allowed to touch its body. The face of the upper Yud should be slightly angled upward. The very bottom end of the Vov part should be slightly turned upwards. The size of the Aleph should be 3X3 kulmusim.
Note: The word Kulmus(im) means the width of the tip of the quill.
The Letter Beis is made of 3 parts. The size of the letter is 3X3 kulmusim. The space in the middle of the Beis should be exactly equal the width of the top and bottom lines, which is 1 kulmus. The Beis should have a small heel coming out of its back on the bottom, so that it is clearly distinguished that it is a Beis and not a Chof Kefufa. It should also have a single Tag (pronounced tahg) on top of its head on the left side. A Tag is a single, short line, which usually will have a "crown" at the top. (Click on the Beis to see it better. This Tag should not be on the very end of the left side, nor be made too large, or it can cause a number of different problems.)
The Letter Gimel has a head of a Zayin, and has a leg sticking out of it on bottom whose face points slightly upward. There should be three Tagin on its head. All of the corners of the head should be squared. The right leg should be slightly longer than the left one. The height of the Gimel should be three kulmusim. Originally, Sofrim made the Gimel with a long neck, so as to be able to put the top of the next letter near the head of the Gimel. Nowadays, we arch the back of the right leg slanting downwards towards the right, to avoid any problems and to create ample space.
The Letter Daled has 2 main parts. There is a roof and a leg. If the heel which sticks out on the top right corner is missing, the letter is still kosher. We want there to be a heel sticking out so that the Daled is distinct from the Letter Reish. The roof should be 3 kulmusim long. There should be one Tag at the left end of the roof. (This Tag should not be on the very end of the left side, nor be made too large, because it can be a problem.) The leg should be slightly shorter than 3 kulmusim.
The Letter Heh is basically a Daled which has an upside down Yud at the lower left hand corner, at an equal distance away from the roof as from the leg. The heel that was found on the roof of the Daled isn't necessary on a Heh, as even if the body looked like a Reish it would be kosher, but most Sofrim put a heel on top anyway. There should be one Tag at the left end of the roof. (This Tag should not be on the very end of the left side, nor be made too large, because it can be a problem.) Great care must be taken so that the left leg does not touch the roof of the Heh. If it does touch, even with an amount as thin as a hair, it would be invalid.
The Letter Vov should be 1X3 kulmusim. The top right part of the Vov should be completely rounded, because if it's squared it would look like a Zayin. The face of the Vov should be straight up and down, not angled. Neither the head nor leg of the Vov should be made too long, because then it will look like another letter. (ie- a Reish or a Nun Peshuta)
The Letter Zayin should be 1X3 kulmusim. It should have a completely squared head with 3 Tagin on it. The leg should be no longer than 3 kulmusim, as otherwise the Zayin can be mistaken for a Nun Peshuta.
The Letter Ches is made up of 2 Zayins which are written next to one another and connected together on top. The right Zayin should have no Tagin. All of it's corners should be squared, except for the top right corner, which should be rounded. The left Zayin should have all of its corners squared, and instead of having 3 Tagin like a regular Zayin, it should have 1 Tag coming out of the upper left corner. The connection between the two Zayins is imperative, as if it's broken the letter will look like two Zayins instead of a Ches.
The Letter Tes has a size of 3X3 kulmusim. The left head of the Tes should look like the head of a Zayin, having completely squared corners and 3 Tagin on top of it. The lower left corner of the Tes should be squared as well. However, the lower right corner should be rounded. The right head of the Tes should curve inside the Tes, not far enough to touch the base of the Tes, but rather enough so that it's clear that it is curved inwards. The two heads of the Tes should not touch each other, as this would make it invalid.
The Letter Yud is the smallest letter of the alphabet, yet it can be the trickiest to write properly. The Yud should have a size of 1X2 kulmusim. The Yud should have a small Tag on the top left corner. This Tag should not be made too tall, because it can cause the letter to be invalid. The top right corner should be clearly rounded. The leg should not be too long, because otherwise the Yud can turn into a Vov. There should be a small kotz sticking out of the bottom left corner of the head of the Yud. According to many Poskim, a Yud without this kotz is invalid.
Note: A kotz is a small stick or thorn, and in this case it's used to represent a small point sticking out of the letter.
Letter Chof Kefufa
The Letter Chof Kefufa is one of the 5 letters which have a special letter which replaces it,when it is used at the end of a word. The Chof Kefufa has a size of 3X3 kulmusim. The upper and lower corners of it's back should be clearly rounded, so that there is no confusion on whether it's a Beis or Chof Kefufa. The space in the middle of the Chof Kefufa should be exactly equal the width of the top and bottom lines, which is 1 kulmus.
Letter Chof Peshuta
The Letter Chof Peshuta should have a roof which is no longer than 3 kulmusim. We should not lengthen its roof any further, nor make it shorter, as it could very possibly look like the Letter Reish or the Letter Vov. The leg of the Chof Peshuta should be a total of 5 1/2 kulmusim,when measuring from the top of the Chof to its tip. If it is any shorter, it could look like the Letter Reish. The top right corner of the Chof Peshuta should be rounded, as it is similar to it's cousin, the Chof Kefufa, which has a rounded top corner.
The Letter Lamed is made up of two separate letters. There is a Chof Kefufa which is written within the lines, and then a Vov whose bottom point touches the very top left corner of the Chof Kefufa. The Letter Lamed, therefore, is one of the largest letters, and one must make sure that there is enough space above it, because if the body of the Vov must be shortened, it can become invalid. The Lamed's dimensions are 6 kulmusim in height, (that is, 3 kulmusim for the Chof Kefufa, and 3 kulmusim for the Vov) and 4 kulmusim in width.(That is- 3 kulmusim for the Chof Kefufa, and 1 kulmus for the Vov.) The top and bottom corners of the body of the Chof Kefufa should be rounded, and the space in the middle of the Chof Kefufa should be 1 kulmus.(Exactly like the rules given above for a Chof Kefufa.) Our minhag is not to complete the bottom section of the Chof Kefufa part of the Lamed, rather we stop somewhere between 1/2 to 3/4 of the way from the end. As long as there is a clear bottom section to the Lamed, it will be valid. There should also be a small kotz sticking out of the middle of the head of the Vov section of the Lamed.
Letter Mem Pesucha
The Letter Mem Pesucha is another letter which has a special letter which replaces it when it is used at the end of a word. The Mem Pesucha is made up of two different letters- a Chof Peshuta, and a Vov. The dimensions of the Mem Pesucha are 3X3 kulmusim. That is, that the top and bottom of the Chof Peshuta part of the Mem Pesucha, are only 2 kulmusim in length. The top right corner should be rounded, (like a Letter Chof Peshuta should be,)and the right leg would then go down until it reaches a total length of 3 kulmusim. By the same token, the space in middle of the Mem Pesucha should equal 1 kulmus. The bottom right corner of the Mem Pesucha should be squared. The Vov part of the Mem Pesucha, (which is sometimes referred to as the "nose") should be angled so that the face of the Vov is angled upward. At the point where the head of the Vov connects to its leg, is where the Vov should touch the Chof Peshuta part of the Mem Pesucha. There should be a clear notch in between the two heads of the letters. Also, the connection between them should be thick, so that it's clear they are connected. At the bottom, the Vov and Chof Peshuta must not touch at all, as that would invalidate the letter since it would become a Mem Stumah.
Letter Mem Stumah
The Letter Mem Stumah comes at the end of a word that ends with a Mem. The Mem Stumah has a size of 3X3 kulmusim. The top right corner should be rounded, while the remaining corners must be squared. The box of space inside the Mem Stumah should also be completely squared, as we want to make the Mem Stumah clearly different from a Samech. There should be a slight protrusion from the top left corner which should extend a little bit past the body of the Mem Stumah. There should not be any splits along any portion of the Mem Stumah, as this would render it invalid.
Letter Nun Kefufa
The Letter Nun Kefufa is another letter which has a special letter which replaces it when it is used at the end of a word. The Nun Kefufa should have a head like a Zayin, that is- a square head with 3 Tagin on it. Originally, Sofrim made the Nun Kefufa with a long neck, so as to be able to put the top of the next letter near the head of the Nun Kefufa. Nowadays, we arch the back of the right leg slanting downwards towards the right, to avoid any problems and to create ample space. The base of the Nun Kefufa should extend beyond the end of the head. The total size of the Nun Kefufa should therefore be 1 1/2 X3 kulmusim.
Letter Nun Peshuta
The Letter Nun Peshuta comes at the end of a word that ends with a Nun. The size of the Nun Peshuta should be 1X5 kulmusim. It should have a completely squared head with 3 Tagin on it. The leg should be no shorter than 4 kulmusim, as otherwise the Nun Peshuta can be mistaken for a Zayin.
The Letter Samech has a size of 3X3 kulmusim. The space in the middle of the Samech should be exactly equal the width of the top and bottom lines, which is 1 kulmus. The left corner should be squared, while the other corners must be rounded, inside and outside. Great care should be taken to ensure that the corners are clearly rounded, so that the Samech doesn't look like the Mem Stumah. There should be a slight protrusion from the top left corner which should extend a little bit past the body of the Samech. There should not be any splits along any portion of the Samech, as this would render it invalid.
The Letter Ayin has a size of slightly larger than 3X3 kulmusim. The Ayin is made of 5 parts, and each part should be distinct. The right leg has the head of a Vov, with a rounded top right corner. The left leg should have the head of a Zayin. (According to the Arizal,the left leg has the head of a Vov.) The head should have 3 Tagin on it, like a regular Zayin. The heads should not touch one another at all. The Ayin has a slight slant toward the right, so that letters can fit comfortably next to it. The bottom portion which the two legs fit into should be thick and have a protrusion, to show that the Ayin is not a Tes, and also to create more room for nearby letters.
Letter Pay Kefufa
The Letter Pay Kefufa has a number of different parts. The overall size should be 4X3 kulmusim. The Pay should have an upside down Vov at the top left end, and the head of the Vov should enter the face of the Pay. If you look closely, you should see the outline of a Letter Bais (complete with its bottom heel) inside the empty part inside the Pay. It is because sofrim want so much to get this outline of the Bais in, that the letter is written slightly larger than the other letters. The space between the bottom of the upside down Vov and the top of the base of the bottom of the pay should be 1/2 a kulmus, in order to assure that the Vov doesn't touch the bottom.
Letter Pay Peshuta
The Letter Pay Peshuta comes at the end of a word which ends with a Pay. It has a size of 3X5 kulmusim. The Pay Peshuta is similar to the Pay Kefufa, as they both have an upside down Vov at the top left end, whose head (of the Vov) enters the face of the Pay. Where they differ is in the right leg, whereas the Pay Kefufa has a curled body, the right leg of the Pay Peshuta goes straight down. Of course, the head of the Vov should not touch the right leg, and the right leg should be clearly longer than the upside down Vov, since it otherwise can be invalid.
Letter Tzadi Kefufa
The Letter Tzadi Kefufa consists of pieces from 2 different letters. There is a Nun Kefufa, which is more curved than it normally is, and has a bigger bottom base than normal. There is also a Yud, which is resting on the back of the Nun part. The left head should have 3 Tagin on it, like a regular Zayin. The overall size should be 3X3kulmusim. The heads should not touch one another at all.
Letter Tzadi Peshuta
The Letter Tzadi Peshuta comes at the end of a word that ends with a Tzadi. It has a size of 3X5 kulmusim. The Tzadi Peshuta is similar to the Tzadi Kefufa, as they both have a Yud resting on the Nun part at the right side. Where they differ is in the left leg, whereas the Tzadi Kefufa has a curled body, from the Nun Kefufa part, the left leg of the Tzadi Peshuta goes straight down, like a Nun Peshuta. Of course, the head of the Yud should not touch the left head, and the right leg should be clearly longer than where the Yud meets the body, since it otherwise can be invalid.
The Letter Kuf is made up of two separate letters. There is a Chof Kefufa which is written within the lines, and then a part that is longer than a Zayin, but not as long as a Nun Peshuta,which is angled next to the Chof Kefufa. The Letter Kuf, therefore, is a large letter, and one must make sure that there is enough space below it, in order to have ample room for Zayin part of the Kuf. The Kuf's dimensions are 5 kulmusim in height, (that is, 3 kulmusim for the Chof Kefufa, and 4 kulmusim for the Zayin) and 3 kulmusim in width. (That is- 3 kulmusim for the Chof Kefufa, and the Zayin section is neatly placed and angled slightly under the roof of the Chof Kefufa section.) The top and bottom corners of the body of the Chof Kefufa should be rounded, and the space in the middle of the Chof Kefufa should be 1 kulmus.(Exactly like the rules given above for a Chof Kefufa.) We do not to complete the bottom section of the Chof Kefufa part of the Kuf, rather we stop about 1/4 to 1/2 of the way from the beginning. As long as there is a clear bottom section to the Kuf, it will be valid. There should be one Tag at the left end of the roof. (This Tag should not be on the very end of the left side, nor be made too large, because it can be a problem of possibly looking like a Lamed.) The two parts of the Kuf should not touch each other at all. If they do touch, even with an amount as thin as a hair, it would be invalid.
The Letter Reish should have a size of 3X3 kulmusim. However, Sofrim are usually careful to make the roof slightly longer than the leg, so that the Reish cannot have a problem of appearing like a Chof Peshuta. The top right corner should be clearly rounded, so as to avoid any problems of looking like a Daled.
The Letter Shin is easily distinguished by its three heads. The spacing of the Shin is something that takes practice for a Sofer to write correctly. The leftmost leg should have the head of a Zayin. (According to the Arizal, the left leg has the head of a Vov.) The head should have 3 Tagin on it, like a regular Zayin. The heads should not touch one another at all. Also, there should be no more than 3 heads in total, or the letter would be rendered invalid. The bottom should come to a point, and not be rounded or flat.
The Letter Tof consists of 3 parts. The total size of the Tof should be 3X3 kulmusim. The right leg is very similar to that of the Letter Daled and Heh, which also have a protrusion of the roof on the top right corner. The left leg is an upside down Vov, whose face points outward. Sofrim try to be careful not to let the head of the left leg protrude past the end of the roof, as it could cause spacing problems with nearby letters.
NOTES: When we refer to a leg having a certain size, we almost always refer to it as the size from the top of the letter (including its roof) to the bottom of the leg. An example is the Letter Daled, which has a total leg height of just under 3 kulmusim. The Letters Gimel, Zayin, Tes, Nun, Ayin, Tzadi and Shin are called by the abbreviation "Shatnez Getz" to show that they all have 3 Tagin on their respective heads.(On letters with more than one head, it's the square head.)
How I can become a Sofer (Jewish Scribe)?
- The way to become a Sofer is not by copying this page and imitating the letters found here. A Sofer must spend a long time learning the laws of how to write the letters. There are certain errors in writing which cannot be corrected, nor can they be detected by looking at the writing. For this reason, a Sofer must be God fearing and pious, as no one but he knows if an error was made. It is strongly suggested that people only purchase scrolls from reputable dealers Ð i.e. those who deal with scribes which are fully certified.
Where can I get Hebrew fonts?
- One option is to run a search on Hebrew fonts in Google and see what you come up with. The other is to go to http://www.davka.com where they sell Hebrew word fonts as well as word processing programs which come with many fonts.
How many letters are there in the Torah?
- There are 304,805 letters.
How can I write Hebrew numbers?
- This requires some basic knowledge of Gematria (Numeric Equivalents). The letters of the Hebrew Alphabet each have a numerical value. The Letter Aleph is equal to 1. The Letter Bais is equal to 2. The Letter Gimel is equal to 3. The Letter Daled is equal to 4. The Letter Heh is equal to 5. The Letter Vov is equal to 6. The Letter Zayin is equal to 7. The Letter Ches is equal to 8. The Letter Tes is equal to 9. The Letter Yud is equal to 10. The Letter Chof is equal to 20. The Letter Lamed is equal to 30. The Letter Mem is equal to 40. The Letter Nun is equal to 50. The Letter Samech is equal to 60. The Letter Ayin is equal to 70. The Letter Pay is equal to 80. The Letter Tzadi is equal to 90. The Letter Kuf is equal to 100. The Letter Reish is equal to 200. The Letter Shin is equal to 300. The Letter Tof is equal to 400. Basically, you would put the letters together to equal the number you are seeking e.g. - 22 would be CHOF-BEIS. However, if you wanted to write out the number fully, like when we write seventy one in English instead of 71, you would need to know the Hebrew words for seventy and one and put them next to one another. Finally, keep in mind that in Hebrew they also use the numbers 1234567890, and so even though they are not Hebrew characters, they are universally known and used by the name Arabic characters.
Are the letters provided for only for certified scribes or do they apply for anyone wishing to write Hebrew letters?
- The Hebrew language is similar to English in that there are many different fonts which one can use to write the letters. The letters posted are the only font that is allowed for writing the Holy Scrolls that we use.
Why don't you call the second letter a Bet, but rather you call it a Beis? Are letters pronounced differently in different fonts?
- Letter Beis and Letter Bet are the same thing. Beis is the Ashkenazic pronunciation of Bet. For example, in English we say Letter Z as "zee", while in Canada they say "zed". We both refer to the same thing. For the other letters as well, their exact name has been written with the Ashkenazic as opposed to Sefardic pronunciation. The difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic pronunciations is based on which European countries your ancestors lived in.
What makes a Mezuzah scroll kosher?
Major portions of this text are © Rabbi Yisroel David Berger, with additional edits by Jonathan Hirshon
© 2008, Temple Emanu-El of San Jose, except as noted for additional content used with permission and/or as attributed to original author. All Rights Reserved.