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Book in progress: The Art of Hebrew Script

When I began this book a number of years ago I did not anticipate the delays occasioned by my desire to write and publish Finding the Flow. And, because another book project has grown directly out of that one and an additional delay must ensue, I would like to publish some of my work for The Art of Hebrew Script online. The following alphabets were based upon my study of particular original or facsimile manuscripts for which I have digital files and permission to publish. For now, though, I would at least like to share some of the alphabets.

Note on Style. At present, Hebrew calligraphers inherit a vast tradition of styles, spanning the globe and recorded history, as well as the today’s innovative styles. During the age of manuscripts, before type, styles evolved slowly over the centuries; at present, however, calligraphers like type designers, create styles suited to their own particular purposes and taste, update historical styles, and may even develop ‘purely contemporary’ alphabets. Unlike a type designer, however, a calligrapher stimulated by a graphic motif in a manuscript fragment might try to imagine and recreate the missing forms! Regardless of the source of our inspiration, calligraphers, like other creative artists, hope their work will speak to the contemporary heart and mind.

I — Contemporary Explorations

Hebrew in a Postmodern Age — “Hebramaic”: I developed this hybrid alphabet by merging today’s distinctive Hebrew script with its direct ancestor, ancient Aramaic. As Hebrew evolved from Aramaic into a formal, square character it lost the cursive flow of its progenitor. Hence, the design of Hebramaic was motivated by desire to infuse formal Hebrew script with Aramaic’s flow. Indeed, I also appropriated the idea of the wave, found in the slightly wavy, unruled lines of extant Aramaic manuscripts, for arranging the Hebramaic characters as seen below. See Marriage Vows for a Hebramaic piece.

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A style I call “Eve”: A desire for curvilinear flow motivated this alphabet design; it has no conscious allusions to the script tradition. See Marriage Vows, second ketubah, for a text example.

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“Chinese”: In quotes because the Hebrew manuscripts from China which inspired this alphabet, although distinct, are not considered a style tradition by paleographers. My delight at the discovery of these manuscripts, while conducting research at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, produced a strong desire to design an alphabet by which to bring this unique cultural expression to light.

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II — Inspired by the Dead Sea Scrolls

The earliest documents of today’s Hebrew script, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, are fragments of biblical scrolls found in the Judean Desert. Written from the late 3rd century BCE to ca. 68 CE they include a wide range of stylistic variation. Perusing a multi-volume set of these published fragments I thus discovered inspiration for the two styles which I designed below.

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III — From the “Crystallized” Tradition

Note: In the Hebrew manuscript tradition the scribe was required to use a formal or square style for sacred texts while a less elaborate one was permissible for commentaries and secular works. Naturally, formal styles are best known since books of Hebrew manuscripts generally offer the most beautiful and prestigious examples of a hand. However, the less formal styles called semi-cursives, with their relative simplicity and surprisingly contemporary styling, are thus an excellent source from which to develop new designs. Three semi-cursives are presented below.

Eastern: progenitor of the European scripts below

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The European Tradition: Sephardi & Ashkenazi

Sephardi Square / Formal:

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Ashkenazi Square / Formal: please see Publications, Hebrew Calligraphy Styles, illustration at left

Contemporary Ashkenazi:

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Sephardi Semi-cursives:

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Ashkenazi Semi-cursive:

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Yemenite: a distinctive cultural style

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Workshops: see Teaching