Hebrew using Windows

It can't be type type type, although I wish it could be. At some point I had to spend some time working on tools. Tonight, for instance, I decided to figure out what I did wrong when I moved over to an old Windows2000 box a few months ago.

On the previous computer I could type Hebrew in logical order in Word and everything worked peachy. On the new computer, no such luck.

Hoping that I get everything remembered correctly, it is a two-step process to make Windows (NT, 2K, XP) Hebrew-aware, and then to do the same for Hebrew.

  1. Go to your Regional settings control panel (e.g., select "Start -> Settings -> Control Panels -> Regional Options.
    1. Under "General", on the bottom half of your window, you will see "Language Settings". check the "hebrew" box. (Ignore "Advanced" settings here unless you want to add EBCDIC Hebrew—and unless you know what that is and are unfortunate enough to really need it—and if so there is a story that you should tell me—you really don't need this.)
    2. In the top pane of your "Regional Settings" window, choose "Input Locales", click "Add", and add Hebrew.
  2. Restart your computer
  3. If you will be using Microsoft Word 2000 or later (I can't speak for earlier versions), you now need to install the same resources in MS Office. Isn't it cool how Microsoft applications talk to each other? Start -> Programs -> Microsoft Language Tools -> Microsoft Office Language Settings and choose to add "Hebrew".
  4. For good luck, restart again.

At this point, you should have a little blue square icon in your toolbox or whatever Microsoft calls the cluttered set of teensy square icons at the lower right-hand edge of your Windows screen. Clicking that icon (there's a keyboard shortcut, but it escapes me at the moment) will cause the computer to think you want Hebrew. It should display characters in logical order as you type them.

For vowels, welcome to a wonderfully arcane system for inputting them. It is painful. You want this helpful page on Typing Hebrew Points.

There are some alternatives if you are interested in Yiddish, starting with a delightful keyboard layout manager that will make life simple for you and offer you several nice layouts. The problem is that the keyboard layout manager seemed to conflict with the above way of entering Hebrew, slightly. In the end, I decided to do without. But, for more information about it, and for lots of information about typesetting Yiddish, see Shoshke's "A User's Guide to Yiddish on the Internet". This covers Mac, Windows, Linux/Unix, etc.


I also tested Abiword. Since I didn't have to do more than piggyback on the Hebrew resources already installed in the control panel, this felt (and still feels) like a nifty tool for general Hebrew typing. It is also supported by the keyboard layout tool, mentioned above. But I can't figure out how to work with AbiWord and vowels. So, for now, this is not a tool in which to do Bible studies or to compose Hebrew poetry. I'll be working more with this anon, so expect to hear more.


I was under the illusion that InDesign 2.x, CS, supported BiDi Hebrew, although it was funky on the line wrap. The reality is much worse. InDesign supports OpenType fonts, but knows nothing about BiDi, so, for Hebrew, you type in your characters backwards. On a whim, I imported a Word document with vowelled Hebrew. It was not pretty. The vowels don't work backwards—you simply get a stream of backwards Hebrew with vowels interspersed as characters.

In the old days, this is how I set Hebrew using Quark XPress—I would write a filter in python (go back 20 years and it was Turbo Pascal) that re-encoded the characters to fit my own Hebrew fonts, reversed the order, and then hand-kerned the vowels into place. If I thought that gave me decent quality for reasonable effort I wouldn't be quite so desperate to take advantage of these new OpenType fonts. For InDesign to be useful for Hebrew, I will need the InDesign ME package, which costs a fortune. That will have to wait until I have some paying customers.


Now that I was reading files, I decided to see whether any of these programs could read imported Unicode Hebrew HTML files, such as I created a few weeks ago. InDesign could read the file, but failed to parse the Hebrew Unicode entities, but its sister CS program, GoLive, Adobe's web editor, had no such problem and even parsed the display direction correctly. Word parsed the HTML no problem (which is almost unfair—much of the Hebrew was created by saving the Hebrew Word files in the first place and then shoveling out that awful Word-generated HTML crud). AbiWord turned out to be super-finicky about reading HTML files—it had to be validatible HTML. Fair enough, I guess.

Right now, when I get caught up on too many programming projects, my next priority is writing about Hebrew typesetting—what pages should look like—I have a review of my synagogue's Mahzor from last High Holidays that I'll put together as a page as soon as I am able. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that some of this application-munging is helpful to someone. If so, let me know.


Our recent adventures led us to a few more helpful and free tools for Hebrew on Windows, which worked pretty reasonably (at least in windows xp) for entering hebrew text with vowels without too much headache, and having it show up properly right to left with the vowels in the right place and a fairly nice appearance.

The first step is still to set up the Hebrew language localization in Windows and then switch to HE from EN on the language bar when you want to enter hebrew.

For fonts, we found that both Ezra SIL (scripts.sil.org/EzraSIL_Home) and SBL Hebrew (www.sbl.org) were freely available and worked well for us. I really like the SBL font, personally.

Then, we used Tavultesoft keyman (www.tavultesoft.com/keyman), a free for non-commercial use virtual keyboard that works with the Windows language tools such that you
start an app that can handle hebrew text and start keying in the text and vowels using a fairly logical mapping. (Also, you need to turn on right to left paragraph ordering in your app or things like periods and commas and tabs will wind up poorly typeset.) I can't vouch for how this works in Word, as we actually did it in another open source package for office tools, OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org), but in OpenOffice there's a property that enables right to left formatting and gives you a toolbar option to switch between them.

When you start up Keyman, you get a little keyboard displayed in the lower right corner of your screen to show you what keys correspond to what letters - you type or click the little keys with the mouse, and the letters show up on your screen. (You can also print out more detail on the keyboard keymap, or just get used to the basics and memorize a few less obvious things - there are generally fairly logical mappings of the keyboard to hebrew letters and vowels cause the right Hebrew letters to show up.)

Now, we did all of this and then decided to save all our nicely entered hebrew text as unicode and port it over to LaTeX, but that's another story entirely and one you don't really need....

Cool! Thanks for posting the details. Important question, though: What encoding is used by this font? Is it Unicode? Compatible with the Windows Hebrew standard? It's own?

To test whether the font at least puts characters in somewhat standard places, change fonts to one of the Hebrew fonts installed when you added the Hebrew language resources to your computer and see if the document is still readable/printable.

Both InDesign 2 ME and CS ME work very well with Hebrew and nikud. If you purchase it from Karatsoft here in Israel then you will get CS and CS ME for the same price which is only marginally more than the price for CS. You of course will need Hebrew fonts that support OpenType nikud, the only ones available to my knowledge are from www.fontbit.co.il. I even have a font that does teamey mikra, but that's another story.

Hi Raphael,

I think I remember you from the Adobe forums. I have a boatload of fonts from MasterFont in OpenType format that appear to be working wonderfully with nikud in the Windows version of Indesign CS ME (from FontWorld, here in the States).

I look forward to exploring the ones at fontbit, though. I also made a post earlier this week about some free fonts that may be useful, from Dr. Berlin's font pages. I have another source, about which I'll be posting soon.

Do you work for Karatsoft? Should I be adding them to my sidebar of Hebrew type resources?


Well I have finally solved the problem of teamey mikra in InDesign. Unfortunately the solution is quite expensive and time-consuming so the software is not commercially available. However, Masterfont has expressed very serious interest and if people keep sending their requests for fonts with teamey mikra, then this will move him along in the right direction!

I'm computer-incompetent.
But I have the usage of Hebrew ASDF Keyboard
Layout; and cannot obtain any diacritic and punct-
uation by pressing AltGr+any instructed letter.
Would you know how to resolve the problem?
And are there such Hebrew ASDF keyboards for sale(or keyboards that I could customize the layouts for
my own convenience of typing)? Please advise.
Thanks. Meir

There is no way I can give useful advice at a distance. You need to find someone local who is comfortable with computer configuration to help you.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ari Davidow published on June 6, 2004 9:04 PM.

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