האותיות של האבג״ד בעברית | A Periodic Table of the Hebrew Aleph Bet Emphasizing Phonetic Grouping, Symbolic Association, and Diversity of Letter Form
Basic Hebrew letter and vowel lists adorn the opening pages of a number of siddurim published a century ago — evidence of the centrality of the Jewish prayer book as a common curricular resource. But the Hebrew letters are not only essential to fluency in Hebrew language, they are also the atomic elements comprising the world of the rabbinic Jewish imagination. This is especially so for those who conceive in their devotional literary practices an implicit theurgical capability in modifying and adapting the world of language though interpretation, translation, and innovative composition. To create a world with speech relies on thought and this creative ability is only limited by the facility of the thinker to derive meaning from a language’s underlying structure.
Here, for example, is RASHI (1040-1105 CE) in his exegesis of Leviticus 19:16, emphasizing the power of speech whilst explaining a hermeneutics based on phonetic interchangeability:
Heb. לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל. You shall not go about gossiping among your people.
I say that, since all those who instigate quarrels and speak evil talk go (הוֹלְכִים) into their friends’ houses in order to spy out (לְרַגֵּל) what evil they can see there, or what evil they can hear, to tell in the market-place, they are called הוֹלְכֵי רָכִיל, [which is the same as] הוֹלְכֵי רְגִילָה, – “those who go about spying” ; espiement in Old French, spying. A proof for my words is that we do not find [anywhere in Scripture] where the term רְכִילוּת is used without expressing it in terms of הֲלִיכָה, “going”; [for instance here,] לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל, “You shall not go around as a gossipmonger,” and, “going tale bearing (הוֹלְכֵי רָכִיל) (Jer. 6:28); [like] copper and iron.” With any other expression for evil talk, however, Scripture does not mention the term הֲלִיכָה, “going”; [for instance,], “He who slanders his fellow in secret” (Ps. 101: 5), and, “you deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120:3), and, “the tongue that speaks great things” (Ps. 12:4). Therefore, I say that the expression רָכִיל is an expression of “going around and spying מְרַגֵּל,” whereby [the letter] כ [of the word רָכִיל] is interchanged with [the letter] ג [so that the word רָכִיל is equivalent to רָגִיל].
For all letters which stem from the same source are interchangeable with one another [i.e., letters by the same speech organs, namely, the lips, tongue, teeth, palate, or throat]. [For example], [the letter] ב [is interchangeable] with פ or ו [as they are all labials; the letter] ג [is interchangeable] with כ as is [the letter] ק [since they are all palatals; the letter] נ [is interchangeable] with ל [because they are both linguals, and [the letters] ר and ז [are interchangeable] with צ [as they are all dentals].
Similarly, [the following verses illustrate how רָגַל is employed in connection with slander, just as is רָכִיל in our verse:], “And he slandered (וַיְרַגֵּל) your servant” (II Sam. 19:28), [lit.,] he spied deceitfully to say evil about me, and [likewise], “He did not slander (רָגַל) with his tongue” (Ps. 15:3). And likewise, [the term] רוֹכֵל means a merchant who goes around spying out (מְרַגֵּל) merchandise; [similarly,] one who sells perfumes with which women beautify themselves, since he constantly goes around in the towns, he is called a רוֹכֵל, equivalent to the term רוֹגֵל -one who spies. And the Targum renders [the phrase in our verse, לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל, as]: לָא תֵיכוּל קוּרְצִין, [lit., “You shall not eat the food of winking,” a figurative expression for slandering], as, וַאֲכַלוּ קַרְצֵיהוֹן דִּי יְהוּדָיֵא [lit., “and they ate their food of winking concerning the Jews” (Dan. 3:8), i.e., they informed against the Jews], and, אֲכַל בֵּהּ קֻרְצָא בֵּי מַלְכָּא [lit., “he ate the food of winking, concerning him, to the king’s palace” (Ber. 58a), i.e., he informed against him to the king. And why is the expression “eating the food of winking” used to signify slander?] It appears to me that it was the practice of these [informers and slanderers] to eat some sort of small snack at the house of those who listened to their words, for this [eating] acted as a [gesture of] final reinforcement, that the slanderer’s words were indeed well-founded and that he maintained them as the truth. This snack, then, is referred to as אֲכִילַת קוּרְצִין, [where the term קוּרְצִין is] denoted by [Scripture’s description of a faithless man], “He winks (קוֹרֵץ) with his eyes” (Prov. 6:13), for so is the way of all those who go around speaking evil talk, to wink with their eyes, thereby alluding to their slanderous words by innuendo, so that any other people listening will not understand.
This, therefore, is the Hebrew aleph-bet arranged in order of their numerical value, in rows 1-9, 10-90, and 100-900, so that letters with similar numerical value, (but dissimilar phonetic and symbolic attributes) appear in vertical columns. Attention has been given to the literal meaning of the letter names and the earliest glyph forms known for each letter in the Hebrew abgad.
Download Periodic-Table-of-Hebrew-tabloid-v.4.1.pdf (PDF, 316KB)
Editable document: ODT (recto) | ODT (verso) | FONTS
This is the Hebrew letter sheet I would love to have had when I was 11 years old. My goal as a Jewish educator has always been to cultivate a generation that embraces the creative and constructivist stream implicit within rabbinic Judaism’s interpretive, theurgical, and magical literary traditions. Thanks to my Hebrew students, especially those at the Jewish Journey Project at the JCC of Manhattan in 2012-2013, I was inspired to craft one and modify this letter chart together with their input. My intention for this chart is to represent the letters in as full diversity of symbolic meaning as is suggested in the forms of the letters, the meaning of the letter names, and even the phonetic letter groupings found in the Sefer Yetzirah. Clockwise from top right, each letter box shows the familiar Vilna Hebrew typeface surrounded by the following:
- Numerical value, Gematria
- Sofer Stam (Ashkenaz) calligraphic script
- Block letter form (Gilda Alef typeface)
- Cursive script
- Abraham Garton’s “RASHI” script
- Proto-Canaanite letter form, circa 1500 BCE
- Israelite-Samaritan letter form
If you would like to order a laminated color copy, please purchase direct from my publishing project, Dimus Parrhesia Press. (All proceeds benefit my work on the Open Siddur Project and the Jewish Free Culture Society.)
Inspiration from Siddur Torah Ohr (Schulzinger Bros. 1940):
RASHI Leviticus 19:16