Hebrew Typography

How did Hebrew become such a unique script?

Print this page Print this page

Modern Hebrew

Modern times saw new technologies and new sensibilities. Frank-Ruehl, named for the early-20th-century Leipzig duo (a cantor and a graphic artist) who designed it, transposed Sephardi script into Art Nouveau. As "Rashi script" was abandoned by all but traditionalists, new sans-serif faces expressed the geometric design principles of the Bauhaus school and the shaking-off of layers of tradition. Closer to our own time, graphic designers strove to unite the old with the new: Ismar David and Zvi Narkis created the popular fonts that bear their surnames; Fransizka Baruch's new Ashkenazi style greets today's readers of Ha'aretz.

Perhaps the best-loved modern Jewish fonts are those of Eliyahu Koren (Korngold), who designed Israel's official seal and its first postage stamp and created fonts for the first original edition of the Hebrew Bible published in Israel and, later, the Siddur. Today, new faces continue to roll off designers' screens at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy and elsewhere, while faux-Hebrew Latin fonts ring their own changes on the crazy quilt of American-Jewish identity.

The Zohar (I:30b) says that in the beginning, all of existence was like ink secreted in a bottle, from which were drawn the letters, "rising above and falling below, garlanded with the four winds," and adorning the ineffable Name of God.  Fonts are only vessels, but the written word could not exist without them. There is a great double truth secreted in typography, a visual medium that uses all of its creativity to bring words into being, only to dissolve and be absorbed into them at the same moment.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Yehudah Mirsky

Yehudah Mirsky, a former US State Department official, lives in Jerusalem and is a Fellow at the Van Leer Institute and Harvard.