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Hebrew Typography Annotated Bibliography

As I prepare to talk about Hebrew Typography, one common thread that I run into is that there are a few, but very essential core texts on the subject, and that there doesn't appear to be any sort of annotation for newbies (myself having been one, and frequently returning to that state). So, here is a beginning. This is much longer than I intended. Don't be shy about sending me new suggestions, or adding comments to current suggestions.

Note: I use bold instead of italic for book titles because bold is significantly more readable in screen resolutions than italic on many computers. If I ever make a print stylesheet, this will be corrected for print.

Books/Booklets | Articles | Theses/Research Papers | Catalogs/Exhibits


Amram, David W. The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy. Holland Press:London, UK, 1963. An excellent and detailed survey of Hebrew typography in a time of great sporadic antisemitism, in the heart of where fine Latin printing was invented. Not an "overview" book; invaluable for details.

Avrin, Leila. Micrography as Art. Paris and Jerusalem, 1981. This is one of the few books listed here that I don't know, but Avrin is a wonderful writer, and micrography is a vital part of Jewish calligraphic tradition (do eschew those horrid tourist pieces available in Tsfat—hold out for quality). I haven't seen any other detailed treatment of the subject. The Brandeis University Library has a copy that is bound in with a French language booklet (Sirat, Colette. La lettre hébraïque et sa signification). The illustrations are all b/w, and the type is printed too wide, on a significantly too-small leading to be comfortable to read. I hope that there is a different edition available.

Birnbaum, Soloman A. The Hebrew Scripts. Part 2 (plates). London, 1954–57. Part 1 (text), Leiden, 1971. Expensive to own personally, but an excellent resource and available at many libraries. There is a lot of detail here that simply isn't available in any other general source.

David, Ismar. The Hebrew Letter, Jason Aronson:Northvale, NJ, USA, 1990. This is the ultimate Hebrew calligraphy book. Although not quite so finely done as the late David's box on Latin calligraphy, (Our Calligraphic Heritage) this is nonethless a wonderful set. It consists of a book with a history of Hebrew lettering, and examples of lettering from several periods. The examples include images of the source styles, and then David's rendering of them for learning. There are also a series of calligraphy cards highlighting each of almost 30 styles, including some that are entirely fanciful experiments by David. A wonderful set, and vital for all lovers of Hebrew lettering.

Frank, Herman. אידישע טיפּאָגראַפיע און בּוך-אויסאַרבּעטונג קונסט (Jewish Typography and Bookmaking Art). Hebrew-American Typographical Union Local No. 83, ITU:New York, 1938. Available as a digital reprint from the National Yiddish Book Center, www.bikher.org. My Yiddish is not good enough to read this carefully, but it looks like the best overall survey of Hebrew printing I have seen. The bibliography is very extensive and very good, citing sources in many languages (including English). My copy also contains an insert of a photomontage of "modern printing press technology." Excellent!
collage of modern printing press technology

Friedländer, Henri. The Making of Hadassah Hebrew. Typophiles Keepsake. Jerusalem, 1975. A fascinating look at the creation of the major modern Hebrew typeface, a work begun prior to WWII, and carried out during the Holocaust and eventually available in the modern State of Israel in 1958.

Leaf, Reuben. Hebrew Alphabets, Reuben Leaf Studio, New York, 1950, republished by Bloch Publishing, NY, 1976. An unmatched treasury of Hebrew calligraphic and print styles, starting with Canaanitish script through samples of Israeli advertising and promotional materials through 1950.

Naveh, Joseph. Early History of the Alphabet. Jerusalem, 1982 (Reprinted 1997: Magnes Press, Jerusalem). A nice survey of early semitic alphabets including Hebrew.

Posner, Raphael and Ta-Shema, Israel. The Hebrew Book. Jerusalem, 1975. Until the release of Ada Yardeni's book, this was the best, and only collection of articles about everything from the art of calligraphy to lists of early printers to a history of Hebrew Typography. Much of this material was extracted from the Encyclopedia Judaica, apparently—I have never sat down with the Encyclopedia to compare. It's a good resource and readily available used.

Yardeni, Ada. The Book of Hebrew Script: History, Palaeography, Script Styles, Calligraphy & Design, Carta Jerusalem, 1997. Revised and expanded from the Hebrew edition, ספר הכתב העברי. Unfortunately, not a book on typography, per se, but invaluable in understanding Hebrew lettering, calligraphy, and scripts. Invaluable for typographers and calligraphers, despite its faults.


Avrin, Leila. "Acrophonic, Micrographic, Typographic: The Story of Hebrew Letters", Fine Print, Vol. 12, No. 1, January 1986. An excellent six-page overview of Hebrew lettering with lots of good illustrations, by the late author of the entries in Encyclopedia Judaica on Hebrew Typography. At the same time, I would love to know why she neglects to mention the indefatigable and wonderful Tzvi Narkiss in her survey of modern Israeli typographers. Even in a piece this short, I do not understand why or how he is ignored. The hard part will be located a copy of Fine Print, but better university libraries should certainly have copies.

Beletsky, Misha. "Zvi Narkiss and Hebrew type design," in Language Culture Type, ATypI:Surrey, UK/Graphis:New York, 2002. Another excellent article about Hebrew type design, and the only one in English that I have found that focuses on Zvi Narkiss' wonderful and influential work. A good excuse to find the book and to enjoy generally excellent articles about type and typography around the globe. The second half of the book consists of Type showings, including Zvika Rosenberg's (www.masterfont.co.il) "Papaya" font, among other excellent Hebrew faces.

Spitzer, Moshe. "The Development of Hebrew Lettering," Ariel, No. 37, 1974, pp. 4-28. Widely available as an offprint, printed for "The Typophiles, New York. Another good short history of Hebrew Lettering, the modern type side of this one focusing on faces that Dr. Spitzer helped sponsor in his Jerusalem Typefoundry such as HaTzvi. He also considers odd attempts such as Eric Gill's Hebrew, complete with Latin-style serifs. Like Avrin's article, this one cuts off prior to considering Narkiss or later Israeli type designers.

Zafren, Herbert C. "Early Yiddish Typography," in Jewish Book Annual, Vol. 44, 1986-1987/5747. A short article on Vaybertaytsh, aka "Yiddish Type" (term proposed by Zafren), a special Hebrew typeface style used exclusively for Yiddish, starting in the 16th century. But when did it end? What were its ultimate parameters? This article reads like part of a conversation and I am lacking what came before, and what follows. Is this still used somewhere today? If so, where and in what context? If not, when did it die out and why?

Zafren, Herbert C. "Variety in the Typography of Yiddish," Hebrew Union College Annual, Vol. LIII, Cincinnati, 1982. A more complete exposition of "Early Yiddish Tyopgraphy," although again, while it is more clear to me how Italian and Sephardic types came to dominate Hebrew printing, with Ashkenazic types reserved exclusively for Yiddish, beginning over a period of 100 years or so, it isn't clear when this ended (or is still ongoing in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities? There may be some fascinating cultural history here, starting with the use of a "debased" type form for printed Yiddish, then primarily for "women's texts", but that isn't this article, which simply establishes the existence of such a difference without speculating on its reason for being.

Theses/Research Papers

Pfeffer, Bruce J. "Typography and Kavanah: The Prayerbook Page Layout," thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Ordination, Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, 2000. The only survey of this subject, and an unexpected complete, thoughtful, and invaluable one.

Prais, Simon. "Design Considerations Affecting the Simultaneous Use of Latin & Hebrew Typography," a dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements of a Degree of Master of Arts, Department of Communication Arts and Design, Faculty of Arts and Design, Manchester Polytechnic, UK, December 1985. This is the only work I have found so far tackling this subject (other than my weblog) and contains much useful material. A PDF of this dissertation can be freely downloaded from: www.hebrewtypography.me.uk.

Sadek, George and Maxim Zhukov. "Typography Polyglot: A Comparative Study in Multilingual Typesetting," a research project of The Center for Design & Typgraphy, The Cooper Union, NYC, 1991. Brief on text, and great on samples of relatively neutral typography in languages ranging from English to Swahili, from Farsi to Hebrew to Chinese, this report also contains invaluable data about relative type sizes, relative character counts for translations, etc. Zhukov was head of the UN's printing office for many years, and has incredibly deep knowledge of presenting polyglot texts in contexts where the reader is expected to focus on only one text (which is different from many polyglot siddurim or Bibles, where reference two or more entries may be common), and where all texts must be presented equally. Examples include virtually all commercial translation, not to mention diplomatic materials. The choice of a spread from the Plantin polyglot bible, and an El Lisitzky polyglot text on Futurism on the inside back cover form excellent bookends to this data. Excellent.

Tamari, Ittai Joseph, et al. "Hebrew Typography in German-Speaking Regions: An Interim Report," Fachhochschule Köln, Campus Gummersbach, Forschungsprojekt Hebräische Typographie im deutschsprachigen Raum, Gummersbach, Germany, 2001. This is a "work in progress" describing an amazing project to create a database of German Hebrew typefaces. There is a short article on the mysticism of Hebrew letters, an intro to Hebrew Typography, and a couple of articles about the technical aspects of what the team is trying to do. The database itself, which is pretty amazing, can be accessed at: fsygs21.inf.fh-koeln.de/HebrewShow/servlet/HebrewShow.


Gold, Leonard Singer, ed. A Sign and a Witness: 2000 Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts, New York Public Library, 1988. A wonderful exhibit catalog with some excellent articles on all aspects of the Hebrew manuscript, printing, books. Easily my favorite catalog for articles.

Hebrew Manuscripts from the Palatine Library, Parma, an exhibit at the Jewish National and University Library, Berman Hall, Jerusalem, 1985. Lots of great manuscripts. Images in black and white. Notes (note poor page layout) in English, Italian, Hebrew.

Hiat, Rabbi Philip, ed. A Visual Testimony: Judaica from the Vatican Library, Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, FL, 1987. Another great source of Hebrew book plates, most in color. This exhibit was upstairs at the New York Public Library while "A Sign and a Witness" was downstairs. What a lovely time that was.

Hill, Brad Sabin, ed. Hebraica: Manuscripts and Early Printed Books from the Library of the Valmadonna Trust, an exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library, NYC. Valmadonna Trust Library, 1989. For plates and samples of content, this is my favorite Hebrew type exhibit catalog. Indeed, it was a wonderful exhibit.

Langenberg, David L., ed. Of Many Generations: Judaica and Hebraica from the Taube/Baron Collection, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, CA, 1989. Some interesting pages, b/w illustrations. Detailed notes and some interesting attempts at providing context for the layperson.

Thank you for visiting: http://www.klezmershack.com/hebrew/biblio/
Copyright © 2004 by Ari Davidow, ari@ivritype.com. All rights reserved. Last revised Nov 29, 2007.

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