Hebrew calligraphy has been practiced for a long time, although its appearance has altered very little during that span of time. It is essential to have at least a basic understanding of the Hebrew language before beginning to practice Hebrew calligraphy. The Hebrew alphabet, sometimes known as the alefbet after the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is substantially different from the English alphabet, and the rules for writing in the Hebrew script are quite different.
To begin, the Hebrew language is written and read from right to left, the opposite direction of most other languages. There are a total of 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the final form, or sofit, of five of these letters, may vary depending on where they are located in a word. There are more than 150 regulations that dictate how sofers, also known as Jewish scribes, are required to write the Hebrew alphabet. Thankfully, there are not nearly as many restrictions to adhere to while writing in basic Hebrew calligraphy.
The alefbet, like the majority of early Semitic writing systems, does not include any vowels; hence, native Hebrew speakers are able to write and speak the language without the need for vowels. On the other hand, when Hebrew literacy fell, Rabbis came up with a vowel system to help people pronounce the language correctly. Nikkudim is the dots and dashes that are seen in and around certain letters to signify vowels and to aid with pronunciation. These dots and dashes are found in and around specific letters. The term “pointed writing” refers to this kind of writing.
Hebrew lettering and calligraphy may be broken down into about three separate styles. There are three ksavs, or styles of writing, that are used for holy writings such as the STA”M, the Sifrei Torah, Tefillin, and Mezuzos. In certain rare cases, a fourth type is also used. For an in-depth description of these and a great site on Judaism visit the Temple Emanu-El website and click on the “About Judaism” section.
Along with the ksavs used for STA”M, there are a few other styles of Hebrew writing and calligraphy. For example, Rashi is a style used mainly to write commentaries on texts. Another every day, Hebrew style is Hebrew cursive script. This is arguably easier to learn and write than traditional Hebrew.
Today Hebrew calligraphy is still used not only by sofers for STA”M. The many other uses for modern Hebrew calligraphy are Ketubot (wedding certificates), Bar and Bot Mitzvah invitations, wedding invitations, and many other events. There are many Hebrew calligraphy artists available through the internet or maybe even in your city. A good site to check out is Elaine Adler’s custom Hebrew calligraphy.
There’s lots of information on the Hebrew language, alefbet, and calligraphy in print form and on the net. Try your local library for some more information or visit Omniglot for more information on the Hebrew language.