Monday, November 30, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 24 & 25

We've met these letters in previous lessons acting as vowel helpers. Today we are learning them as their own letters, each with their own sound. The letters are the Yud and the Vav.



(Remember: To request your very own copy of our Hebrew textbook, which corresponds to our online instructional videos, please "Enroll" in Twebrew School by clicking here. Within 2 Business Days, you will receive an email from us with a personalized link to a site where you can download the book. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at JewishTreats@NJOP.org.)

The Letter Tzadi



The letter tzadi is one of the five letters of the aleph-bet that has a sofit, a different form used when the letter appears at the end of the word. The regular tzadi is one of the most difficult letters of the Hebrew alphabet to write. The letter bends and folds while at the same time reaching its arms upwards. And yet the very shape of the letter helps us to better understand the letter.

The root word of tzadi means hunter. If one looks at the shape of the letter, one can envision (using one’s imagination) a hunter kneeling down with his bow, ready to strike. At the same time, the Hebrew word tzad means side, and the tzadi bends to one side while stretching to the other. Still again, the letter’s name is often mispronounced as tzadik, which means righteousness, and one can see in the stretched out arms of the letter the idea of humankind reaching up to heaven while striving to reach the Divine.

There can be no doubt about it, tzadi is an intense letter.

A tzadik is a righteous person, a person who has attained an extremely high level of righteousness in his/her life. But a tzadik is not perfect, because only God is perfect. Perhaps this is why the letter tzadi represents the numeric value of 90...just shy of 100, representing numerical completion.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Letter Twins Pey/Phey




The letter pey, like the chaf, has three forms: pey with a dot in the middle, phey with no dot, and phey sofit, with a different shape when appearing at the end of a word.

The name of the letter, pey, is related to the word peh, which means mouth. Human beings are the only one of God’s creations that have the power of intelligent speech.

Symbolically, the sages see the shape of the pey as representing the two sides of communication. The regular pey (or phey) represents a closed mouth, whereas a phey sofit represents an open mouth. Part of the responsibility of having intelligent speech is knowing when to talk and when to listen.

The order of the alphabet can also teach a meaningful lesson about life. The ayin, representing the eye, precedes the pey, representing the mouth, because one should first visually assess a situation before opening one’s mouth to comment on it.

Another important word that begins with the letter pey is pote’ach, which means to open. In the prayer of Ashrei, we describe God as "pote’ach et yadecha, oo’mas’be’ah l’chol chai ratzon, You open Your hand, and satisfy the needs of all creatures." The letter pey looks like a closed hand which we are requesting God to open and provide us with our sustenance.

The numerical value of pey is 80.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Letter Ayin


The pronunciation of the letter ayin varies according to location. Initially, the sound created by ayin was very guttural, meaning that the sound was produced almost completely in one’s throat. An excellent example of this is the name of that sinful city, Gomorrah (as in Sodom and Gomorrah). The first letter of Gomorrah is an ayin not a gimmel. Many Middle Eastern communities still maintain this pronunciation, while most Ashkenazi communities read the ayin as a silent letter that assumes the sound of its accompanying vowel.

The numeric value of ayin is 70, a number of significance in Jewish life. The great legislative body of the Jewish people, the Sanhedrin had 70 members, just as there were 70 elders who led the Israelites. One of the qualifications to be a member of the Sanhedrin was knowledge of the 70 languages of the world (created when God destroyed the Tower of Babel and confused the people by dividing them into 70 nations with 70 languages). (Talmud Sanhedrin 17a)

The age of 70 is also considered to be the age when even those who are not scholars attain wisdom. (According to Jewish law one must rise in the presence of a person 70 years or older.) Perhaps this is related to the fact that 70 is the numeric value of ayin, which translates as eye. After 70 years, one has seen just about everything.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 21 & 23

Today we learn how to read the two look-a-like letters, the Shin and Sin. Lesson 22 in your textbook is a page you can use for a quick review of the skills you've learned thus far!



(Remember: To request your very own copy of our Hebrew textbook, which corresponds to our online instructional videos, please "Enroll" in Twebrew School by clicking here. Within 2 Business Days, you will receive an email from us with a personalized link to a site where you can download the book. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at JewishTreats@NJOP.org.)

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the Father of Modern Hebrew


The official language of Israel is Hebrew, but many people don't know that until the end of the 19th century almost no one spoke Hebrew colloquially. Lashon Hakodesh, the holy tongue, was used only for prayer and study.

Much of modern Hebrew usage must be credited to the efforts of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (originally Eliezer Yitzhak Perlman), about whom the historian Cecil Roth noted: “Before Ben-Yehuda... Jews could speak Hebrew; after him they did.” Born in Luzhki, Russia, Ben-Yehuda abandoned his traditional background for more secular studies when he was a young adult. He also became an ardent Zionist.

Ben-Yehuda and his wife Devora arrived in Jerusalem in 1881. Even before he left Paris (where he had studied at the Sorbonne), Ben-Yehuda tried to use Hebrew to communicate with other Jews, and many were able to respond to him because of their knowledge of Biblical Hebrew.

The Ben-Yehudas tried to raise their children speaking only Hebrew. As they grew, Ben-Yehuda was forced to create new words for many objects that did not have a Hebrew equivalent. (Devora Ben-Yehuda died of tuberculosis shortly before 3 of her children were taken in a diphtheria epidemic. Later, Ben-Yehuda married Devora's younger sister, Hemda.)

Ben-Yehuda taught Hebrew in schools, lectured in public forums and printed Hebrew newspapers. His cause was not always popular. The majority “ultra-Orthodox” population of Jerusalem was highly opposed to the use of lashon hakodesh (the holy tongue) as an everyday language.

The Committee of the Hebrew Language (later the Academy of the Hebrew Language) was created by Ben-Yehuda as another means of furthering the development of Hebrew. The Committee helped coin new words, worked through idiomatic difficulties and helped Ben-Yehuda create his 17 volume dictionary. Only 6 volumes were published before Ben-Yehuda died of tuberculosis in December 1922. His wife and son, Ehud, completed the remaining volumes.

(Photo above taken from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 19 & 20

Today we learn how to read the two look-a-like letters, the Taf and Saf.



(Remember: To request your very own copy of our Hebrew textbook, which corresponds to our online instructional videos, please "Enroll" in Twebrew School by clicking here. Within 2 Business Days, you will receive an email from us with a personalized link to a site where you can download the book. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at JewishTreats@NJOP.org.)

The Letter Samach



Samach is one of the less commonly used letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As its name suggests, the samach makes an “ssss” sound, which is also produced by the letter sin (to be introduced in a future Twebrew Treat). In fact, masoretic grammar rules allow the samach and the sin to be used interchangeably.

The name of the letter, samach is related to the word li'smoch, which means to support. It is interesting to note that the previous letter, nun, was left out of the Ashrei prayer because of its relationship with the word nophail, falling. The line in Ashrei relating to the samach is “Somaich Ah’doh’nai L’chol Ha’nophlim, God supports those who are falling.”

Samach is the first letter of the word saviv, which means surrounding. (Sivivon is the Hebrew word for a dreidel or spinning top played with on Chanukah) The roundness of the letter alludes to protection, like the gates of a city protect those within.

The numeric value of samach is 60.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk, Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 18

Today we take a few minutes to review some of the letters and vowels we've learned in previous lessons. We're also introduced to the term "Short Vowels".



(Remember: To request your very own copy of our Hebrew textbook, which corresponds to our online instructional videos, please "Enroll" in Twebrew School by clicking here. Within 2 Business Days, you will receive an email from us with a personalized link to a site where you can download the book. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at JewishTreats@NJOP.org.)

The Letter Nun


The prayer Ashrei (which is Psalm 145) is recited during services three times a day. One of the most noticeable features of Ashrei is that it is an acrostic of the entire Hebrew alphabet, with the letters of the aleph-bet, in order, starting each line except one. The line that should have begun with the letter nun, is missing. From aleph to tav, all the other letters are accounted for. According to the Talmud (Berachot 4b), “Rabbi Johanan says: Why is there no nun in Ashrei? Because the fall of Israel begins with it. For it is written: ‘Fallen is the virgin of Israel, she shall no more rise’ (Amos 5:2).” The letter nun is skipped because it represents the concept of falling (Nun-Phey-Lamed).

On the other hand, nun is also the letter that begins such words as neshama (soul) and ner (candle). The neshama is often compared to a ner, representing the way that the soul guides a person through the turmoil of life.

When used as a prefix with a verb, nun signifies the first person plural future (we) conjugation. According to The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet, when used as a suffix the nun can signify the superlative, adding intensity to a description or causing a noun to be transformed into an adjective. For instance, rachaim means "have mercy," but rachman means a compassionate person.


The nun is one of the five letters that uses a sofit form. The regular nun sits on the same line as the other numbers, whereas the nun sofit is long, dropping down well below the other letters.

Numerically, the letter nun is equivalent to 50.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 16 & 17

Today, we learn how to read the letter Gimmel as well as a new vowel which makes an Oo sound like in the word Spoon.



(Remember: To request your very own copy of our Hebrew textbook, which corresponds to our online instructional videos, please "Enroll" in Twebrew School by clicking here. Within 2 Business Days, you will receive an email from us with a personalized link to a site where you can download the book. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at JewishTreats@NJOP.org.)

The Letter Mem


The letter mem is a majestic letter--literally. Mem is the first letter of the Hebrew words malchut/royalty and memshalah/dominion. A melech (king) is a leader who rules by the will of the people, whereas a moshel is more of an authoritarian ruler.

The letter mem, when used as a prefix, is the preposition “from.” Perhaps this is related to the letter's connection to forms of government, from where rules are issued. This, of course, can be understood spiritually to relate to the words that emanated from God, the ultimate Melech, to create the world.

The mem is closely tied to the word mayim (water), which is written as two mems connected by a yud. Water is a critical ingredient for life. Indeed, every creature is predominantly made of water. Mayim is often used as an analogy for the Torah, which is referred to as mayim chaim, living water, because it is critical for spiritual life.

The numeric value of the letter mem is forty. In Judaism, the number 40 is connected to several important events such as the number of days it rained during the flood, the number of days that Moses was on Mount Sinai and the number of years the Jews wandered in the wilderness.

Mem is one of the five letters of the aleph-bet that has a sofit, a different form used when the letter appears at the end of the word. The sages interpreted this to represent the difference between that which is revealed (the regular mem is open) and that which is hidden (the mem sofit is completely closed) (Talmud Shabbat 104a).

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 14 & 15

Since Lesson 13 in our Hebrew primer (receive your copy by registering here) is a review, we skip ahead to Lessons 14 & 15. Today, we learn how to read the letter Lamed as well as a new vowel which makes an Ay sound, like you'd hear in the word Snake.

The Letter Lamed

The word lev, which means heart, begins with a lamed. When the Hebrew letters are lined up, it is not surprising to find that the lamed is the middle letter, the "heart" of the Hebrew alphabet. In addition to taking center position, the lamed is also the tallest letter of the aleph-bet, making it a visual focal point.

The name lamed is related to the Hebrew root Lamed-Mem-Daled, which means both to teach and to study. The teaching and studying of the Torah is the central focus of Jewish life and those who immerse themselves in studying the Torah are meant to be the central figures in Jewish society, those to whom we turn for leadership. (Of course, in the ideal state!)

Lamed is often found as a prefix representing either the preposition “to” or “for.” For instance, “Hoo holech l’veit ha'knesset” means “he is going to the synagogue.” Whereas the Biblical verse “lech lecha” is translated as “go for yourself.”

Numerically, lamed represents the number 30.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 12

Today we learn to read the first of the five Final Letters of the Aleph-Bet, the Mem Sofit. It's a mate to the letter Mem, which we learned in Lessons 5 & 6.

K'tav Ivri: Ancient Hebrew Script

Archeology is one of the major academic attractions of the Land of Israel. One hardly has to scratch the surface of the land to find coins dating back thousands of years. A walk through the corridors of the many Israeli museums reveals much about the land, its people and their language. What is most noticeable about the archeological finds of ancient Israel is that, while the words are in Hebrew, the letters all “look funny.”

If the shape of the Hebrew letters have mystical significance, as the kabbalists tell us, then why do the ancient Hebrew letters look nothing like the Hebrew letters of the Torah?

The sages themselves address the distinction between the scripts in Talmud Sanhedrin (21b). The script of the Torah and of all Hebrew writing since the Talmudic period, is known as K’tav Ashuri (possibly meaning Assyrian Script). The script found on ancient coins and in tombs resembles the ancient Phoenician writing, and is referred to as K’tav Ivri (Hebrew Script).

While the sages of the Talmud debated in which font the Torah was originally written, the general consensus is K’tav Ashuri, as certain attributes of K’tav Ivri do not align with the mystical teachings about the letters.

K’tav Ivri is viewed as a lesser script that came into use when the people descended into immorality and idolatry. K’tav Ashuri, however, was brought back into use at an unspecified time in later history (possibly in the era of Ezra). No matter which script (K’tav Ivri or K’tav Ashuri) one is referring to, all of the names of the letters, their sequence, and their numerical values remain the same.

For a more in depth look at this topic, please visit the Jewish Virtual Library.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 10 & 11

In Lesson 7 we met the letter resh. Today we are introduced to resh's look-a-like letter, the daled. We'll also learn how to read the cholam vowel which makes an "Oh" sound.




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Letter Twins Chaf/Kaf

The name of the letter chaf (kaf when there is a dot in its center) is derived from the word kafuf, meaning bent, and alludes to the shape of the letter (which to most English readers looks like a backwards C). It is interesting to note that the palm of one’s hand is also known as a kaf. Whereas the letter yud represented the complete yad (hand, including the fingers), the kaf, palm of the hand, is that which forms a cup and is able to contain things.

When used as a prefix, the letter chaf represents the comparative proposition “like.” Genesis 1:26 reads: “Va’yomer Eh-lohim, na’aseh adam b’tzal'maynu kid’moo'tainu...” And the Lord said ‘Let us make Adam in our image, like our form.”

The letter chaf is also the first letter that has a sofit, a different shape when appearing at the end of a word, with the letter appearing as a right angle with the vertical line hanging lower than the other letters. When used as a suffix, the chaf sofit represents the second person possessive, as in shelach/shelcha, meaning yours (m/f).

Numerically, chaf represents the number 20.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk, Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 9

Today's lesson focuses on the silent letter Ayin as well as a new vowel tha makes an Eh sound.

The Letter Yud


This tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is distinctive for its petite size. The yud dangles in the air, half the size of the other letters. Perhaps the letter looks like this to remind us to look up toward the Heavens in order to understand what is important in life. Yud, along with the letters hey and vav, is one of the letters that form the name of God. Indeed, yud in a name may indicate a special relationship with the divine (as in Yehoshua / Joshua).

Like many of the letters previously discussed, the numeric value of yud is significant. Yud represents ten. Ten is the first of the two digit numbers and represents a completeness in the process of counting. The wholeness of the number ten, and thus the letter yud, is exemplified by the Ten Commandments, the Ten Sephirot, and numerous other groupings of ten in Jewish tradition.

Since ten represents the next interval in counting, it can also be seen as symbolic of the future. From that vantage point it is not surprising that the letter yud, when used as a prefix in Hebrew verb conjugation, represents the third person future (masculine).

The name yud is similar to the Hebrew word yad, which means hand. A person’s hand seems a small and powerless part of the body, and yet it is with the help of one’s hands that a person performs most of his/her activities in this world. The yud, like the yad, is small but powerful.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk, Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 8

Today's video lesson focuses on recognizing the differences between the Hebrew letters Hey and Chet. You'll also have a chance to practice reading the letter Hey.

The Letter Tet



The letter tet is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It first appears in the Torah in the word tov, which means good, when God creates light and notes that it is “good” (Genesis 1:4).

According to the Midrash (legendary interpretation of the Bible), the name tet alludes to the word tit, which means mud. This is a reference to the earth from which Adam, the first human being, was created. When God created the first human, His response was more than just tov, it was “tov me’od,” very good.

Some letters in an alphabet are in constant demand. Others, like the tet are less commonly used. In fact, the letter tet. is the least common letter found in the Torah, where it appears a mere 1,802 times. (In comparison to the letter yud, which appears 31,530 times.)

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lesson 7

In today's Twebrew School Instructional Video we teach you how to read the rounded letter Resh!

The Letter Chet


Many people are familiar with the shape of the letter chet because it is the first letter of the words chai and chaim, both of which mean “life.”

The significant numeric value of chet (eight), is perhaps why chet is part of the Hebrew word for life (chaim). As mentioned in the discussion of the letter zayin, the number seven is related to the concept of wholeness in nature--explained as the count of the walls of a cube plus its inner (empty) mass. Eight, however, represents that which is a step beyond nature. (In fact, this understanding of eight is often associated with brit mila/circumcision, Chanukah and Shemini Atzeret.)

What is the importance of the chet in chai in relationship to the letter eight and its representation of the supernatural? A person must always respect the miracle of life and of the incredible power of “animate” beings.

It is interesting to note that when a scribe writes the letter chet, he combines two zayins with a “roof” attaching one to the other. A human being must recognize God (who is outside of nature) as the provider of all sustenance (the literal meaning of the letter zayin). Without God there is no sustenance, without sustenance there is no chaim / life.


Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lessons 5 & 6

In today's Twebrew School Instructional Video we encounter the letter Mem and the E vowel like used in the word Eel.


The Hebrew Vowels

A E I O U and sometimes Y...To an English speaker, vowels are letters and are no different in form from consonants. In Hebrew, however, the vowels, which specify the sounds of the letters, are composed of dots and dashes and are known as nikkudot (dots).

One may notice, however, that most Hebrew books (and, for that matter, all Torah scrolls) lack nikkudot. Those fluent in Hebrew reading do not need the vowels in order to read the language. However, when one is first learning to read Hebrew, the vowels are very important. We therefore introduce them here:

The Kamatz looks like a small t but the vertical line is often an attached dot rather than a line. Kamatz gives the consonant a rounded “ah” sound.

The Patach is a flat, horizontal line and gives the consonant a flat “ah” sound.

The Tzayreh is composed of two dots aligned horizontally. Tzayreh gives the consonant an “ay” sound.

The Segol is an upside pyramid of three dots that gives the consonant the sound of “eh.”

The Sh’va, which is two vertical dots, does not actually create a sound. Rather, the sh’va adopts the natural sound of the letter.

The Chirik is a single dot directly under the letter that gives the consonant an “ee” sound.

The Cholam creates the sound of “oh” and is either a dot above the letter (slightly to the left) or a vav with a dot balancing overhead.

The Koobootz creates an “oo” sound and is represented by a diagonal line of three dots. The same sound is created by the shoorook, which is the letter vav with a dot in its middle.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lessons 3 & 4

Today we learn how to read the look-alike letters Bet and Vet, as well as a silent vowel.

The Letter Zayin


The letter zayin looks quite similar to its neighbor, the letter vav. Tall and straight, a simple vertical line, the vav (equivalent to the number six) represents the visible world (corresponding to six sides: front, back, right, left, up and down). The zayin, which looks like a crowned vav, has the numerical value of seven and represents, according to Kabbalah, the natural order.

Seven represents the natural order as represented by the seven days of creation. One way of understanding the power of seven is to imagine a box. A box has six sides including the top and the bottom, the seventh “dimension” of a box is the empty matter inside.

As a representative of nature, is it any wonder that zayin is the first letter of the word zera, seed? A seed represents ultimate completion in nature, for everything a plant needs to grow is already contained within it. It is also the first letter of the word zan, which means sustainer and is a reference to God who provides the world with grain for food. The letter zayin is so closely tied to nature that it even looks like a flower newly sprouted from the ground.

The Hebrew noun zayin, however, actually translates as weapon, reminding the world that since the curse of Adam, it is natural for humankind to “struggle” for his/her sustenance.


Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk, Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Lessons 1 & 2

You've already been enjoying the our daily posts that offer insight into Hebrew letters and the Hebrew language in general. Now, we think you're ready to begin learning how to Read Hebrew! Here's your Twebrew School Instructional Video #1! Enjoy!

Twebrew School Instructional Video: Introduction

We're excited to have launched the online Instructional Video component of Twebrew School! We encourage you to view this Introductory video to learn the How's and Why's of our Twebrew School approach!


Twebrew School! It’s the first Social Media Hebrew School for Adults!

Tweet Ups for Jews who want to learn to read Hebrew!

Learn to read Hebrew in 3 easy ways – and they’re all free!

  1. Twebrew School Tweet Ups! As Twebrew School locations are added, you'll be able to visit TwebrewSchool.org and search for a Twebrew School Tweet Up location near you (we'll begin posting locations shortly!). Twebrew Schools are self-organized Hebrew classes sponsored by @JewishTweets! We can help you find a Twebrew School teacher too! Then, you’ll attend a Twebrew School class once a week for five weeks at a convenient location. We’ll provide the Hebrew primers and lessons. You just show up!
  1. Twebrew School Light! Learning to read Hebrew has never been more convenient! You can register here to download a Hebrew primer and then view the introductory video to learn the How's and Why's of our Hebrew teaching technique. Then, every day through the end of November, we’ll Tweet out a Twebrew School video lesson from our Twitterfeed at Twitter.com/JewishTweets. Miss a Tweet? No problem! You'll be able to visit TwebrewSchool.org and click on the video lesson you’ve missed to catch up!
  1. Not quite ready for Prime Time Twebrew School. Not sure you want to learn to read Hebrew? Think that learning about Hebrew is interesting? Simply subscribe to our daily Twebrew School e-newsletter! We’ll provide you with daily Hebrew words of wisdom!

Would you like to be a Twebrew School teacher?

If you know how to read Hebrew well and know what a Tweet Up is, then you’re perfect for the job! Actually, it’s a volunteer position, but you do get a snazzy Twebrew School Teacher t-shirt and we’ll help promote you and your Twebrew School class on Twitter and Facebook!

Click here to apply! We’ll let you know in 2 business days if you qualify!

Just think Twebrew School is cool – and want to share it with your Jewish friends?

Simply Tweet out this URL with the hashtag #Twebrew or #TwebrewSchool and/or post it on Facebook!

The Letter Vav


Vav, one of the smallest letters of the Hebrew alphabet, is a mere vertical line. Slight as it is, however, it is a letter that has a powerful impact on the Hebrew language. Perhaps this is because vav represents the physical world that surrounds us. Metaphorically, vav represents the letter six and six represents six directions: forward, back, right, left, up and down.

Vav, however, is a letter of connection. As a prefix, vav is the connecting conjunction meaning either “and” or “or” depending on the context. In fact, the vav is translated in different places as a wide range of conjunctions, however "and/or" are the most common. Perhaps, this is why the literal meaning of the letter, vav, is hook.

In Biblical Hebrew, the vav, when used as the conjunction “and,” and attached to a verb, becomes a vav hahm’ha’pehchet, a vav that flips the tense of the verb. For instance, “yomar” means “he will say,” but “va’yomar” means “he said.” The vav hahm’ha’pehchet changes past to future and future to past. It has no effect on present tense verbs.

What is even more interesting about the vav hahm’ha’pehchet is that the vav is also one of the letters that form God’s name, and God, who is Omnipresent, represents eternity - He was, He is, He will be (hayah, hoveh, v’yee’yeh). Furthermore, only the present tense of the word “to be” contains a vav. The past and the future can be altered depending on perspective (think of those who “alter history”) but the present is what it is, unchangeable. This concept also represents the eternal nature of God: past, present and future are all God’s present state of being.

Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk, Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Letter Hey


Hey, the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is a soft and gentle sounding letter. It sounds similar to the “h” in English, much like a breath gently released.

The letter hey is one of the three letters that make up the name of God (along with yud and vav). In fact, a solitary hey is one way of abbreviating the word “Hashem,” literally “the name,” which is used as a stand-in for God’s ineffable name. Physically, the hey can be viewed as a person covered by a protective shield, symbolic of how God protects each soul.

While the hey has a mild and unobtrusive sound, it is a letter of great, yet contradictory, power in Hebrew grammar. First and foremost, the hey as a prefix represents the definite article in Hebrew. While kelev means dog, ha’kelev means the dog. The inclusion, or exclusion, of the definite article can alter the meaning of a sentence. For instance, “I dislike neighbors” versus “I dislike the neighbors.”

However, in Hebrew grammar, the hey as a prefix on the first word of a sentence can also be indicative of a question--quite the opposite from the role of a definitive article! Thus, depending on context and vocal inflection, one might read, “Ha’eesh halach la’sif'riya” as “The man went to the library” or Did the man go to the library?”


Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Letters Gimmel and Daled



Gimmel and daled, the third and fourth letters of the Hebrew alphabet, are paired together by the sages to represent the giving of charity. As has been pointed out, the numeric value of each number is considered significant. Gimmel (3) plus daled (4) equals 7, the number that represents completion. Acts of kindness, such as giving, are how human beings can work to bring the world to perfection.

Gimmel is the first letter of the Hebrew term “g'milut chasadim,” acts of kindness. The sages noted that the shape of the gimmel appears to be like a man with his foot stretched forward as if running somewhere... right into the daled. The daled, which is the first letter of the word dal, meaning a needy person, appears to be facing away from the gimmel, so that the gimmel cannot see the "face" of the daled. This pair of letters thus teaches a valuable lesson about how to give charity. One should run after the opportunity to give, but one should not embarrass the person in need.

The ultimate form of giving is enabling a person to become self sufficient...which is related to the concept of weaning - gomail. It is interesting to note that the form of the letter gimmel is similar in shape to a camel (not surprisingly called a gamal), an incredibly self-sufficient creature.

Not only does the letter daled face away from the gimmel, but it faces towards the next letter, hey, which is a component of the name of God.


Bibliographical acknowledgment: The Wisdom In The Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Deed and Thought. By Rabbi Michael L. Munk. Published by Mesorah Publications, 1983.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why It’s Called Hebrew

The word Hebrew, according to etymological sources, is a transliteration of the word Ivri, which is a descriptive term used for Abraham in Genesis 14:13: “And there came one [from the captives of Sodom] that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew...”

Some commentators suggest that Abraham is called Ivri because he was a descendant of Eber (Genesis 11:14), who, together with his own great-grandfather, Shem, was an early monotheist. (In Hebrew, Ivri and Eber share the same root letters.)

Others see the term Hebrew, or Ivri, as related to Abraham’s physical locale. Ivri technically means “one who has crossed over.” Abraham had been raised in Ur, which was the great city of the time. The Midrash suggests that Abraham interacted with Nimrod, the powerful despot of the era, and thus must have been in the center of the Mesopotamian civilization. However, Abraham left that land (at God’s behest) for the Land of Canaan, and, in so doing, he crossed the Jordan River.

More than reflecting his place of origin, however, the name Ivri signifies that he was a man who had “crossed over” in a metaphysical sense. He was the first person to transition from polytheism to monotheism and to then teach monotheism to others. Monotheism was the essence of the legacy that Abraham left to his descendants, but so was the title Ivri (Ivrim in plural). It appears again in the story of Joseph (who is referred to as an Ivri by the wife of Potifar) and, more importantly, in the story of the Exodus.

The name Ivrim, or Hebrews, was the name by which the Children of Israel were known for a long time. It’s usage is found in numerous Biblical books, such as Kings and Isaiah. However, in time, the Jewish people came to be known as Yehudim, Judeans, but the name of the language remained Hebrew (Ivrit).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Letter Twins Bet/Vet




Bet, the second letter of the Aleph-Bet, is actually two letters in one. With a dot (dagesh) in its belly it makes the sound of a “b,” but without the dot it is transformed into the letter vet and sounds like “v.”

The letter bet represents the number 2 and thus symbolizes duality. In fact, it is partly because bet is two that it is the first letter of the first word of the Torah (Bereishit). Duality is critical to creation: night and day, cold and hot, wet and dry, black and white, and, of course, right and wrong. Without duality and therefore choice, there would be no need for the Torah because all of humankind would be without free will.

Additionally, the Talmud relates that all of the letters of the alphabet desired to be the first letter of the Torah, but God chose the bet because bet is the first letter of the Hebrew word bracha, blessing. A blessing is an increase in goodness (as two is more than one). But the idea of a blessing is also dependent on the existence of duality in the world: one cannot know "good" if one does not know "bad."

Because everything in the world has this duality to some degree, except for God (represented by the aleph - 1), human beings are able to have bechira, free choice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Letter Aleph


A startling fact: The first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet has no sound! Silence seems a very strange way to begin a system of communication.

But the Aleph is a letter of strength. Remember the proverb...strong like bull, dumb (silent) like ox. (In fact, it has been suggested that the shape of the letter is reminiscent of the head of an ox.) The shape of the aleph is firmly rooted to both the ground and the sky by its two feet. Kabbalistically, the aleph is viewed as being created from a tilted vav (the straight line) separating two yuds (the little lines). This combination is significant in two ways. 1) Physically, the shape of the aleph represents the connection between the upper world and the lower world (heaven and earth). 2) The letters yud and vav are two out of the three letters that are found in God's name.

Aleph is representative of God. In Hebrew, each letter has a numeric value, and the numeric value of aleph is one. Aleph is therefore a symbol of God's unity.

Aleph is also the first letter of the word anochi (“I, Myself”), the first word of the Ten Commandments. The Midrash (Jewish legend) relates that while God chose the letter Bet to start the Torah (Bereishith), He gave the aleph the honor of starting the Ten Commandments.