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Encyclopedia > Romanization of Hebrew

Hebrew uses the Hebrew alphabet with optional vowel points. The romanization of Hebrew is the use of the Latin alphabet to transliterate Hebrew words. Hebrew redirects here. ... This article is mainly about Hebrew letters. ... In Hebrew orthography, Niqqud or Nikkud (Standard Hebrew נִקּוּד, Biblical Hebrew נְקֻדּוֹת, Tiberian Hebrew vowels) is the system of diacritical vowel points (or vowel marks) in the Hebrew alphabet. ... The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world today. ... Transliteration in a narrow sense is a mapping from one script into another script. ...

For example, the Hebrew name spelled ישראל ("Israel") in the Hebrew alphabet can be romanized as Yisrael or Yīsrā’ēl in the Latin alphabet.

Romanization includes any use of the Latin alphabet to transliterate Hebrew words. Usually it is to identify a Hebrew word in a non-Hebrew language that uses the Latin alphabet, such as German, Spanish, Turkish, and so on. The term transliteration means using an alphabet to represent the letters and sounds of a word spelled in another alphabet, whereas the term transcription means using an alphabet to represent the sounds only. Romanization can do both.


Inconsistency in Hebrew transliteration

Hebrew-to-English transliteration is wildly inconsistent. Different standards occur simultaneously, often in the same document.

An article might use the official Israeli transliteration standard for a Hebrew town name in Israel, and then an Anglicized German standard for a religious Hebrew term according to American Ashkenazim, and then an academic standard with diacritical marks for a precise Hebrew spelling and pronunciation. And so on. Ashkenazi (אַשְׁכֲּנָזִי, Standard Hebrew Aškanazi, Tiberian Hebrew ʾAškănāzî) Jews or Ashkenazic Jews, also called Ashkenazim (אַשְׁכֲּנָזִי&#1501...

A variety of transliteration standards results from the inadequacy of the Latin alphabet to represent all the letters and their sounds in the Hebrew alphabet. It is difficult to have to choose between transliterating Hebrew letters and transcribing Hebrew sounds. Often a particular Latin letter represents ambiguously any of several Hebrew letters and sounds. Likewise it difficult to choose between a broad transliteration that is easy to read with less information about the Hebrew and a narrow transliteration whose diacritical marks overload extra precision. For example, a transliteration for the phrase בְּטוֹבָה (meaning "in goodness") might prioritize Hebrew letters b-twbh or sounds be-tova or compromise to form be-towbhah or be-tovah . Each diacritical mark bĕ-ţôvāh specifies a letter and sound.

Moreover, ancient and modern Hebrew dialects have different pronunciations and therefore different transliterations into English. Usually the archaic Tiberian Hebrew of the Bible gets pronounced as if Israeli or Ashkenazi and then transliterated into English. For example, Biblical Hebrew שַׁבָּת (meaning "Sabbath") is really Tiberian Shabbāth but can become Israeli Shabbat or Ashkenazi Shabbos .

Sometimes a Hebrew word has already entered the English language, so a traditional English word might appear instead of a fresh transliteration. For example, to represent the Hebrew name יעקב, one might find the English name "Jacob" (or variant "James") instead of an expected transliteration, such as Israeli Ya’aqov , Ashkenazi Yaakov , Tiberian Ya‘ăķov or so on. (One might even see a Late Latin name Iacobus, Anglicized Russian Yakov, French Jacque or so on.)

The inconsistency in Hebrew transliteration is notoriously frustrating. Yet stubborn traditions pressure certain conventions for certain words into the same document.

Historic instances

Early romanization of Hebrew occurred with the contact between the Romans and the Jews. It was influenced by earlier transliteration into the Greek language. For example, the name of the Roman province of Iudaea (63 BCE) was apparently derived the Greek words Ἰούδα (Iouda) and Ἰουδαία (Ioudaia). These words can be seen in Chapter 1 of Esdras (Ezra) in the Septuagint, a Hellenistic translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Greek words in turn are transliterations of the Hebrew word יהודה (Y'huda) that we now know in English as Judah. In linguistics, romanization (or Latinization, also spelled romanisation or Latinisation) is the representation of a word or language with the Roman (Latin) alphabet, or a system for doing so, where the original word or language uses a different writing system. ... This article is becoming very long. ... Transliteration is the practice of transcribing a word or text written in one writing system into another writing system. ... Greek (, IPA — Hellenic) has a documented history of 3,500 years, the longest of any single language within the Indo-European family. ... Iudaea was the name of a Roman province, which extended over Judaea (Palestine). ... Centuries: 2nd century BC - 1st century BC - 1st century Decades: 110s BC 100s BC 90s BC 80s BC 70s BC - 60s BC - 50s BC 40s BC 30s BC 20s BC 10s BC Years: 68 BC 67 BC 66 BC 65 BC 64 BC 63 BC 62 BC 61 BC 60... 1. ... The Septuagint: A page from Codex vaticanus, the basis of Sir Lancelot Brentons English translation. ... The term Hellenistic (derived from HéllÄ“n, the Greeks traditional self-described ethnic name) was established by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to refer to the spreading of Greek culture over the non-Greek peoples that were conquered by Alexander the Great. ... 11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum This article discusses usage of the term Hebrew Bible. For the article on the Hebrew Bible itself, see Tanakh. ... Judah (יְהוּדָה Praise, Standard Hebrew YÉ™huda, Tiberian Hebrew YÉ™hûḏāh) is the name of several Biblical and historical figures. ...

In the 1st century, Satire 14 of Juvenal uses the Hebraic words sabbata, Iudaicum, and Moyses, apparently adopted from the Greek. The 1st century was that century which lasted from 1 to 100 according the Gregorian calendar. ... Frontispiece depicting Juvenal and Persius, from a volume translated by John Dryden in 1711. ...

The 4th century and 5th century Latin translations of the Hebrew Bible romanize its proper names. The familiar Biblical names in English are derived from these romanizations. The Vulgate, of the early 5th century, is considered the first direct Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible. Apart from names, another term that the Vulgate romanizes is the technical term mamzer (Hebrew ממזר). As a means of recording the passage of time, the 4th century was that century which lasted from 301 to 400. ... Europe in 450 The 5th century is the period from 401 - 500 in accordance with the Julian calendar in the Christian Era. ... 11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum This article discusses usage of the term Hebrew Bible. For the article on the Hebrew Bible itself, see Tanakh. ... The Vulgate Bible is an early 5th century translation of the Bible into Latin made by St. ... Technical terminology is the specialised vocabulary of a profession or of some other activity to which a group of people dedicate significant parts of their lives (for instance, hobbies or a particular segment of industry). ... Mamzer (Hebrew: ממזר) in Halakha (Jewish religious law) is a product of certain illegitimate relationships between two Jews. ...

With the rise of Zionism, some Jews promoted the use of romanization instead of Hebrew script in hopes of helping more people learn Hebrew. One such promoter was Ithamar Ben-Avi, or Ittamar Ben Avi as he styled himself. His father Eliezer Ben Yehuda raised him to be the first modern native speaker of Hebrew. In 1927 Ben-Avi published the biography Avi in romanized Hebrew (now listed in the online catalog of the Jewish National and University Library). However, the innovation did not catch on. Poster promoting a film about Jewish settlement in Palestine, 1930s: Toward a New Life (in Romanian),The Promised Land (in Hungarian), the small caption (bottom) reads First Palestinian film with sound Zionism is a political movement that supports a homeland for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, where... Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (אליעזר בן־יהודה) (b. ... The Jewish National and University Library is Israels national library, based in Jerusalems Hebrew University. ...

Modern uses

Romanized Hebrew can be used to present Hebrew terminology or text to anyone who is not familiar with Hebrew writing. Many Jewish prayer books include supplementary romanization for some or all of the Hebrew-language congregational prayers.

Romanized Hebrew is also used for Hebrew-language items in library catalogs and Hebrew-language place names on maps. In Israel, most catalogs and maps use the Hebrew script, but romanized maps are easily available and road signs include romanized names. Some Hebrew speakers use romanization to communicate when using Internet systems that have poor support for the Hebrew alphabet.

Standard romanizations exist for these various purposes. However, non-standard romanization is widely seen, even on some Israeli street signs. The standards are not generally taught outside of their specific organizations and disciplines.


  • Traditional, scholarly: ISO 259:1984; ISO 259-2:1994 (simplified); Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Handbook of Style
  • National: Rules of Transcription: Romanization of Hebrew. Academy of the Hebrew Language, 1957. Updated and augmented with a simplified version, 2000.
  • Artscroll transliteration
  • Bibliographic data: ANSI Z39.25-1975; ALA/LC Romanization Tables (1991) and their book Hebraica Cataloging (1987), with Encyclopaedia Judaica (1972-1993) as an authority on names and common terms. Library of Congress Authorities is an online database that records and sources the forms of subjects, names, and titles that the Library of Congress uses.
  • Geographic names: BGN/PCGN 1962 (US and UK), approximately equivalent to UNGEGN 1977 (United Nations), as both are based on the Academy of the Hebrew Language recommendations. However, BGN provides more and somewhat different specific recommendations. The GEONet Names Server is an authoritative online database that lists BGN names and assists with font character availability and conventional forms of names.
  • Phonemic: ISO/FDIS 259-3:1999 (not an adopted standard)

ISO 259 is an international standard for the romanization of Hebrew, dating to 1984, with updated ISO 259-2 (a simplification, disregarding several vowel signs, 1994) and ISO 259-3 (pointed script, 1996). ... Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... The Society of Biblical Literature is a constituent society of the American Council of Learned Societies with the stated mission to Foster Biblical Scholarship. Membership is open to the public, including 7200 individuals from over 80 countries. ... The Academy of the Hebrew Language (האקדמיה ללשון העברית) is the Supreme Foundation for the Science of the Hebrew Language, that was founded by the Israeli Government in 1953. ... The Artscroll transliteration is the compromise that the American-Jewish publisher Artscroll (an imprint of Mesorah publications ltd. ... The American Library Association (ALA) promotes libraries and library education in the United States and internationally. ... The Great Hall interior. ... The Encyclopaedia Judaica is a 26-volume English-language encyclopedia of the Jewish people and their faith, Judaism. ... The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) is an American federal body whose purpose is to establish and maintain uniform usage of geographic names throughout the U.S. government. ... United Nations Statistical Commission or United Nations Statistical Office or UNSCO (also known as the Statistics Division) is a Functional Commission of the UN Economic and Social Council. ...

ISO 259

Main article: ISO 259

ISO 259 is an international standard for the romanization of Hebrew, dating to 1984, with updated ISO 259-2 (a simplification, disregarding several vowel signs, 1994) and ISO 259-3 (pointed script, 1996). ...

א ב ג ד ה ו ז ח ט י כ ל מ נ ס ע פ צ ק ר ש ת
ʾ b g d h w z ḥ, ḫ y k l m n s ʿ p q r š, ś t

  Aleph (or alef) is the first letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Beth or Bet is the second letter of many Semetic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Gimmel is the third letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Aramaic, Syriac, Phoenician and Hebrew. ...   Dalet or Daleth is the fourth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   He (IPA: ) is the fifth letter of the Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets. ...   Vav or waw is the sixth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic in abjadi order; it is the twenty-seventh in modern Arabic order. ...   Zayin or Zain is the seventh letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Kheth or Het is the eighth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Teth or Tet is the ninth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Yud or Yodh is the tenth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Kaph or Kaf is the eleventh letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Lamed or Lamedh is the twelfth letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Mem is the thirteenth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Nun is the fourteenth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Samekh or Simketh is the fifteenth letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   ‘Áyin or Ayin is the sixteenth letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   This is about the letter found in some Semitic alphabets. ...   Tsade, Tsadi or Sadhe is the eighteenth letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Qoph is the nineteenth letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Resh is the twentieth letter of many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Shin or Sin is the twenty-first letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...   Taw or Tav is the twenty-second and last letter in many Semitic alphabets, including Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic. ...

Transcription vs. transliteration

Different purposes call for different choices of romanization. One extreme is to make a phonetic transcription of one person's speech on one occasion.

In Israel, a pronunciation known as General Israeli Hebrew or Standard Hebrew is widely used and documented. For Israeli speech and text where linguistic groups are not at issue, romanization can use a phonetic transcription according to Standard Hebrew pronunciation. However, there are many Israeli groups with differing pronunciations of Hebrew and differing social priorities.

An attempt to devise a more general system of romanization is complicated by the long and varied history of the Hebrew language. Most Hebrew texts can be appropriately pronounced according to several different systems of pronunciation, both traditional and modern. Even today, it is customary to write Hebrew using only consonants and matres lectionis. There was no way to indicate vowels clearly in Hebrew writing until the time of the Second Temple. Since an earlier time, multiple geographically separated communities have used Hebrew as a language of literature rather than conversation. Matres lectionis (singular form: mater lectionis) are an early manner of indicating vowels in the Hebrew alphabet. ... Drawing of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the time of Herod the Great A stone (2. ...

Fortunately, one system of assigning and indicating pronunciation in Hebrew, the Tiberian vocalization, is broadly authoritative for Hebrew text since the end of the Second Temple period (Sáenz-Badillos, page xi). It is possible to accommodate the pronunciations of different communities by transliterating the Tiberian vocalization without attempting to transcribe a specific phonetic pronunciation. Tiberian Hebrew is an oral tradition of pronunciation for ancient forms of Hebrew, especially the Hebrew of the Tanakh, that was given written form by masoretic scholars in the Jewish community at Tiberias in the early Middle Ages, beginning in the 8th century. ...

Notable varieties of Hebrew for which Tiberian vocalization is not suitable are the Hebrew of the Qumran community (as known from the Dead Sea Scrolls) and of the Samaritans. For romanizations of Samaritan pronunciation, it is advisable to take quotations directly from a Samaritan edition of the Hebrew Bible, which has approximately 6,000 textual variations from Jewish editions. The current version of the article or section is written like an essay. ... For other uses, see Samaritan (disambiguation). ...

It is appropriate to focus only on the consonantal spelling when discussing unusually structured words from ancient or medieval works.

Use of Tiberian principles

The Tiberian vocalization was devised in order to add indications of pronunciation to the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, without changing the consonantal text. It was intended for experts in Biblical Hebrew grammar and morphology.

Transliterations usually avoid the typographically complex marks that are used in Tiberian vocalization. They also attempt to indicate vowels and syllables more explicitly than Tiberian vocalization does. Therefore a technical transliteration requires the use of Tiberian principles, as mentioned below, rather than simply representing the Tiberian symbols. Many transliteration standards require a thorough knowledge of these principles, yet they usually do not provide practical details.


  • There are seven basic vowels.
  • A vowel may be long, short, or ultrashort.
  • The vowel "shva" may be sounded (shva na) or silent (shva nach).
  • Consonants that have been used historically to indicate vowels, the "matres lectionis", are no substitute for proper vowel marks.
  • The vowel "kamets" may have its usual sound (kamets gadol) or a different sound (kamets katan).


  • Six consonants (beth, gimel, daleth, kaph, pe, and tav) can be hard or soft. To be specific, they are pronounced either unvoiced or "spirantized". For example, the letter bet can be pronounced as "b" or "v". Tiberian vocalization marks a hard consonant with a dagesh kal (in the Hebrew term) or lene (Latin). A soft consonant lacks a dagesh kal, and is sometimes explicitly marked using rafe, an overbar. Transliterations sometimes also use an overbar or underbar to mark a soft consonant. (In Modern Hebrew, however, only three consonants -- bet, kaph, and pe -- retain the hard-soft distinction.)
  • A letter that looks like shin may be that letter (when marked with a shin dot) or the letter sin (when marked with a sin dot).
  • Most consonants can undergo gemination. Tiberian vocalization marks gemination with a dagesh hazak (in the Hebrew term) or forte (Latin), which looks the same as dagesh kal.
  • A consonant that is normally silent may be sounded if it is a root consonant or possessive ending. Tiberian vocalization marks such a consonant using a mapiq, which looks like a dagesh.
  • A silent vav may be used to hold a holem vowel, but sometimes a vav with holem has consonant value.

The dagesh (דגש) is a diacritic used in the Hebrew alphabet. ... Listen to this article · (info) This audio file was created from the revision dated 2005-07-20, and does not reflect subsequent edits to the article. ...

Additional transliteration principles

A further complication is that the Roman alphabet does not have as many letters for certain sounds found in the Hebrew alphabet, and sometimes no letter at all. Some romanizations resolve this problem using additional non-Tiberian principles:

  • The two letters that represent a stop may be written using the forward and backward quote marks, or similar marks.
  • Certain consonants are considered "emphatic" (the consonants ח ט צ), due to being pronounced traditionally toward the back of the mouth. They may be transliterated distinctively by using an underdot.
  • It is theorized that the letter "vav" (ו) was once pronounced like English "w", in contrast to its current pronunciation identical to the letter "vet" (the soft letter ב).
  • The Karmeli transcription (see link at bottom of page) creates additional letters based on similar Hebrew or Cyrillic letters to represent the sounds which lack Roman letters.

Finally, for ease of reading it is common to apply certain principles foreign to Hebrew:

  • Use a hyphen between common prefixes or suffixes and a romanized word.
  • Capitalize the first letter of a proper name, but not its prefixes.


  • Angel Sáenz-Badillos, A History of the Hebrew Language. Cambridge University Press, 1993. Reprinted in paperback 2000, ISBN 0-521-55634-1.
  • "The Jewish diaspora: Rome" at livius.org. Retrieved August 9, 2005.
  • Parallel texts of Ezra in various languages at Unbound Bible. Retrieved August 16, 2005.
  • Juvenal, Satire 14 at The Latin Library. Retrieved August 9, 2005.
  • "Transliteration" at nostradamus.net. Retrieved August 9, 2005. Excellent, lively summary of issues and options for transliteration of Hebrew.

The Latin Library is a website that collects public domain Latin texts. ...

See also

Due to the fact that the Arabic language has a number of phonemes that have no equivalent in English or other European languages, a number of different transliteration methods have been invented to represent certain Arabic characters, due to various conflicting goals: A desire to stay consistent with traditional usage...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Hebrew language at AllExperts (5300 words)
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Hebrew flourished until near the end of the Roman Period, when it continued on as a literary language by the Byzantine Period in the 4th century CE.
Hebrew functioned as the local mother tongue, Aramaic functioned as the international language with the rest of the Mideast, and eventually Greek functioned as another international language with the eastern areas of the Roman Empire.
Hebrew Information Center - hebrew alphabet (3773 words)
While the term "Hebrew" as a nationality is customarily used to refer to the ancient Israelites, the classical Hebrew language was extremely similar to the Canaanite languages spoken by their neighbors, such as Phoenician; indeed, Moabite and Hebrew are often considered to be two dialects of the same language.
Hebrew was also used as hebrew prayers a language of communication among Jews from different countries, particularly for the purpose of international trade.
Sephardi Hebrew hebrew symbols language is the basis of Standard Hebrew and not all that different hebrew calendar from it, although traditionally hebrew lexicon it has had a greater range of phonemes.
  More results at FactBites »



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