Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Sampling of Hebrew Letters -- Hebrew Alphabet Flashcards

I have always been interested in foreign languages.  When I was a teen I wanted to learn at least some parts of every language in the world.  Now I know that's a starry-eyed dream that will never happen; there are just too many languages :)

But languages are still fascinating, and whenever I hear someone speaking in a foreign tongue my ears perk up.  I know some French and Spanish, and a smattering of bits and pieces in a few other languages.  The most recent foray into another language was when my son James and I took a look at the Hebrew alphabet.

Besides the word,"shalom" we don't know many words in Hebrew at all.  But we learned some things about the letters.  This ancient language was one of the earliest to have a written alphabet; the letters were developed from those used by a neighbor to the Jewish people, the Phoenicians. 

The Greeks had also borrowed the Phonecian letters, and the Romans adopted use of the Greek letters --- so in a roundabout way, Hebrew and our modern English alphabet have a common origin.  The word "alphabet" itself comes from "alpha" and "bet" -- the first two letters in the Greek alphabet.  In Hebrew, these are "aleph" and "bet."

Each letter name in Greek or Hebrew (or Phonecian) is actually a word that starts with the sound associated with that letter.  So if we said our ABC letter names like them, we might say "apple, butterfly, car . . ."  In Hebrew, the first 3 letters go with "ox, house, camel").

For our study, we practiced saying and writing some of the Hebrew letters-- focusing on just the first 10 letters-- these were also formerly used as numbers (modern Hebrew has changed to using the western digital numbering system).  So number one would be represented by the letter aleph, number two would be bet, etc. up to ten.  The next 9 letters were used for writing 20, 30 . . . to 100, and the final three alphabet letters were used for 3 more hundreds (to make hundreds larger than 400, they would put these together-- 200 and 300 together would be used to write 500 . . .)  

I think it would be interesting to memorize all the letters and how to write them, and then practice writing some different numbers.  It was fun to learn even just up to 10, though.

For this short intro to Hebrew letters, we used two resources-- one was a book we just happened to have on our shelf.  Don't know where it came from, but it was perfect for a study like this . . . called A Hebrew Readiness Book, by Joel Lurie Grishaver, this is a Hebrew alphabet workbook for kids.  There is info to read about each letter, along with a picture of what the word is that goes with the letter.  They also show some simplified versions of Hebrew letters, for writing.  Here is a page with my son's writing of the first 10 alphabet letters (which are also numbers 1 - 10).  

He wrote them left to right, which isn't how Hebrew is written-- but for a first try it's just a minor mistake.  By the way, this alphabet workbook is totally "backwards" for an English speaker-- It begins at what we would consider the back of the book, with pages progressing from right to left (although English sentences on these pages are typed left to right).  The publisher for this workbook is Torah Aura Productions.

Another resource was a colorful set of flashcards, designed by Dinah Ely of The Traveling Classroom.  

Dinah offers these through her Teachers Pay Teachers store.  The artwork on these cards is beautifully done in full color.  Aleph shows an ox, bet has a house, gimel a camel, etc. Letters are shown as block text and cursive, as well as the way the ancient Israelites would have written them (called "paleo letters'-- how Hebrew looked at its beginning).  Down in the lower right corner there is the numerical equivalent for each letter, along with the Hebrew word used to say the number (although alphabet letters can be used to write the numbers, they still have their own number names).  The flashcards come as a printable ebook, with four cards per page (6 pages).

The same images on the flashcards are available in full-page size, too-- you can use the larger cards if you'd like to have a bigger image to present when learning/practicing the letters.  

There are some other Hebrew language items in Dinah's TpT store, too (her Passover Bingo game uses pictures along with Hebrew words), and she has a wealth of interesting Hebrew pins on her "Ancient Hebrew" pinboard:

If you're interested in doing a larger study in Hebrew (expanding to more words, grammar, etc.) you might like this website with free downloads of study materials: 

Have you been curious to learn more about Hebrew?  What do you think about doing a short (or long) study of the Hebrew letters?


  1. Thank you Diane for including my cards in your study! Looks like you learned about a few languages, and not just Hebrew...I am glad you and your family enjoyed your study:)

  2. Actually, the "Paleo Hebrew" here is Phoenician and not Hebrew. The Hebrew letters were not iconographs but were derived from them. You can see an example in the inscription written by Hezekiah when he ordered the digging of a tunnel underneath Jerusalem to bring water from one side of the city to the other. Here is the inscription:
    And here it is in transcription:
    There are no examples of Hebrew ever having used letters that looked like what is on these cards.

  3. OK-- good to know; thanks, Jason. That is very interesting to see the inscription (and transcription) from Hezekiah's time. It does like like the "shepherd's staff" (lamed) could be seen there; maybe that one remained very similar to Phoenician.

  4. Older Phoenician inscriptions are known as Proto-Canaanite, Proto-Hebrew, Paleo-Hebrew and various other names, since naming conventions vary. Abraham lived in Canaan, and his family spread throughout the area even before the move to Egypt. These cards are fine as you will see if you look into the alphabets some more. Styles varied by writer, stylus and writing surface type, as well as by region, but I think you will find the cards shown are all justified.

  5. Thanks, Bill, for this further info :) This is interesting; I wonder what Moses' handwriting looked like . . .