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programs to modernize traditional Judaism.

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Hanefesh - National Assembly of Hebrew Students.

Hebrew is an ancient language, dating back over 6000 years. It is in a completely different family to the
English languag. English is part of a family of languages called "Indo-European". Hebrew is part of the
Haimo-Semitic family.

Like English, Hebrew has an alphabet. In fact, our English word "alphabet" comes from the names of the
first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph and Beth. The Hebrew alphabet was used as the basis for
the ancient Greek alphabet, which in turn became the basis for the alphabet used by the Romans, and
now by most languages in Europe.

Unlike English, the Hebrew and Yiddish language are written from right to left. As an example, here is
the first verse of Genesis, written without the vowel signs.

with vowel signs

Hebrew words have power:

We tend to take written language for granted. According to Jewish legend, the Torah (the five books of
the Bible) was written 2000 years before the Universe was created, and by implication, the letters
themselves predated the Universe. God used the Torah as a blueprint when He created the universe.
The Torah is the utmost truth; since the Torah is a relatively small book, it is believed that the Torah
contains not just the "obvious" reading, but many, many different hidden meanings as well.

For example, in Genesis, it is written that "the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Later on in Genesis, "Adam"
is referred to, but nowhere is Adam introduced - it's taken for granted that the reader understands that
"Adam" must be the man in question. Now, in Hebrew, Adam is written like this:
This consists of three letters (right to left): Aleph, Daleth and Mem.
The word for "blood" in Hebrew is "Dam" - letter Daleth and letter Mem. LetterAleph by itself not only
represents the "Ah" sound, but also the element of air, or breath - so "Adam" is seen as blood with the
breath of life - the man created by God.

There are many other such hidden meanings in the Bible - using letters as numbers, using a "cypher" so
that the last letter of the alphabet corresponds to the first, the penultimate letter corresponding to the
second, and so on, and hidden abbreviations. Scholars have spent many years finding meaning in these,
and the Talmud is a body of writing which largely consists of commentaries - the "hidden meanings" - on
the Torah. Even today, Jewish scholars are researching such hidden meanings. In recent years, the
"Bible Code" has received a lot of publicity; this is a system where supposed hidden messages are
teased out of the bible by picking, say, every 31st letter in a sequence, or every 42nd letter, to reveal
new words.

Each Hebrew letter corresponds to a number; most Hebrew bibles actually use the letters to indicate
chapter numbers and verse numbers. This means that every single Hebrew word has a numeric value,
and scholars have long been fascinated by entirely different words that have the same numeric value as
each other. A simple example: the word for love is Ahebah (Alef-Heh-Beth-Heh), which adds up to 13.
The word for unity is Achad (Alef-Cheth-Daleth), which also adds up to 13. Thus there is a
correspondence between love and unity. The art of finding words with the same numeric value is called
gematria - the concept is vaguely similar to numerology (where a person's name is reduced to a
number, to indicate their personality), except that gematria is usually conducted on biblical names and
the names of angels.

Finally, Hebrew letters are divided into three categories: three "mother" letters, which correspond to the
three elements (Air, Water and Fire - Earth is considered to be a combination of all three elements, and
not an element in its own right), seven "double" letters, which correspond to the seven planets known to
the ancients (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Double letters are so called
because they historically had two different sounds; for example, the letter "Peh" can have a "P" sound or
an "F" or "Ph" sound; some of these distinctions have now disappeared - for instance, the letter "Gimel"
only has a single sound now (a hard "G"), but used to have two sounds ("G" or "J"). The remaining
twelve letters correspond to the twelve zodiac signs:
The Hebrew letters
The Hebrew Vowels

Like most early Semitic alphabetic writing systems, the alefbet has no vowels. People who are
fluent in the language do not need vowels to read Hebrew, and most things written in Hebrew in
Israel are written without vowels. However, the Rabbi realized the need for aids to pronunciation,
so they developed a system of dots and dashes known as points. These dots and dashes are
written above or below the letter, in ways that do not alter the spacing of the line. Text
containing these markings is referred to as "pointed" text. Below is an example of pointed text.
For emphasis, I have drawn the points in the illustration in blue and somewhat larger than they
would ordinarily be written.

V'ahavta l'rayahkhah kamokha.

And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Leviticus

There is another style used for handwriting, in much the same way that cursive is used for the
Roman (English) alphabet.
Another style is used in certain texts to distinguish the body of the text from commentary upon
the text. This style is known as Rashi Script, in honor of Rashi, the greatest commentator on the
Torah and the Talmud.