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Hebrew alphabet

The modern Hebrew alphabet developed from the Aramaic alphabet. Hebrew speakers call their alphabet the "aleph-bet".

Archeological evidence indicates that the original Hebrew script is related to the Phoenician script that was in wide use in the Middle East region at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C.[?], and which eventually evolved in Europe into the Greek and Roman alphabets. During the Babylonian exile[?] (6th century B.C.), the Jews adopted a more modern form of the same script from the Babylonians (who inherited it from the Assyrians). It was the "square" alphabet that is still used today. "Square"-related scripts were in use all over the Middle East for several hundred years, but following the rise of Christianity (and later, the rise of Islam), they gave way to the Roman and Arabic alphabets, respectively. According to traditional Jewish thought, the Hebrew writing system contained all the current letters at the time of Moses, although Ezra is known for his contribution to the square form.

Following the decline of Hebrew and Aramaic as the spoken languages of the Jews, the Hebrew alphabet was adopted in order to write down the languages of the Jewish diaspora (Yiddish and Judaeo-Spanish), probably because it was easier to teach Tanakh to the children that way. The Hebrew alphabet was retained as the official alphabet used for writing down the Hebrew language during its rebirth in the end of the 19th century.

The Hebrew alphabet has only one case, but some letters have special final forms used only at the end of a word. This is similar to Arabic, although much simpler. Hebrew is an abjad script: vowels are normally not indicated. There is a set of diacritical symbols that can be used to annotate a word with its vowels---this is done, for instance, when teaching the language to children. There are also cantillation marks[?] used to indicate how scriptural passages should be chanted, and decorative "crowns" used only for Torah scrolls.

Hebrew letters may also be used as numbers; see the entry on Hebrew numerals. This use of letters as numbers is used in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in a practice known as gematria.

See also: History of the Hebrew language.

Letters of the modern Hebrew Alphabet:

Name Sound Character Final
alef /glottal stop/ א
bet /b or v/ ב
gimel /g/ ג
dalet /d/ ד
he /h/ ה
vav /v/ ו
zayin /z/ ז
chet /aspirated h/ ח
tet /t/ ט
yod /y/ י
kaf /k or kh/ כ ך
lamed /l/ ל
mem /m/ מ ם
nun /n/ נ ן
samech /ss/ ס
ayin /guttural/ ע
pe /p or f/ פ ף
tsadi /ts/ צ ץ
kof /q/ ק
resh /r/ ר
shin /sh or s/ ש
tav /t/ ת

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