Tag Archives: hebrew

Friedberg Genizah Project Online

Absolutely awesome site makeover employing well-done user-centered design (UCD). 🙂

The only drawback is that it only supports ~shudder~, Internet Explorer. 😛

“The Friedberg Genizah Project was initiated by Mr Albert D Friedberg of Toronto, Canada, who foresaw the fascinating possibilities of harnessing modern information technology in order to advance international research into the riches of the Cairo Genizah. The hundreds of thousands of Genizah fragments around the world include Bible texts and commentaries, rabbinic dictionaries, halakhic works, poetry, liturgical texts, philosophical and polemic treatises, commercial documents and letters. This sea of primary source material – written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, Arabic, Judeo-Persian and Yiddish – dates from the 8th century until after the 15th century. The Genizah is a window on nearly 1000 years of Jewish and Middle Eastern history, scholarship and daily life. The FGP will open this window wider than ever before, launching a new era in Genizah scholarship…”

The project can be found here: http://www.genizah.org/


Jehovah Nissi – Mistaken Hebrew Tattoo

The specimen:

As always, this portion of the image is used under Fair Use Doctrine for the purpose of education and criticism.

I came across the image above over on RateMyInk.com, and was stricken with sorrow. The owner claims “it is Hebrew and it says “Jehovah Nissi” which translates as God my banner or God my victory.”

It is not exactly what he thinks.

We have here yet another case of two common problems:

  1. The text is spelled backwards. This usually happens when a computer system is not properly set up to display languages written from right-to-left. I’ve talked about this elsewhere on this blog.
  2. The text is misspelled. There’s an extra wau (ו) in “Jehovah” and an extra yod (י) in “Nissi.” It’s more like this text was spelled out phonetically, rather than relying upon traditional Hebrew spelling.

Please, I cannot urge anyone who wants to get a tattoo in a foreign language enough to double-check their sources and rely upon professionals for their translations (be they translators, religious officials and/or native speakers). Otherwise mistakes happen, and tattoos are (generally) not temporary endeavors.

Be safe!

Multi Lingual Keyboard Frustration: Don’t Let This Happen To You

So, being both modern-tech and digital communications savvy as well as deeply involved in the study of ancient languages and old-fashioned correspondence… my everyday life tends to express irony.

I was trying to log into one of the many SQL databases (which I manage through this nifty program called phpMyAdmin), and the program was consistently denying me access, telling me that my password was incorrect. Believing that I simply might be mistaken with what password I used, I went through my entire password repertoire…

No luck.

I then figured that I must have improperly capitalized things, so I made sure that my shift key wasn’t stuck, and that my caps-lock key was up. A number of “dots” later in the password field and…

No dice.

Now I was getting frustrated! I figured that the SQL server must be down, which would then mean, by way of logic, that the website that was driven by it would also be down. Fearing that was the case I had to check, so I clicked up on the URL field of my web browser and entered in the address:


It then dawned on me: I was typing with the Hebrew keyboard in the password field.


It was me who was not working…

Don’t let this happen to you. 🙂


PS: Challenge for techno-language-nerds like myself. 100 Points to whoever decodes the following cipher first:

א צאתהוליצ פריעסת אנד א ראבבי פינד תהעמסעלועס סיתתינג נעכת תו עאצה ותהער ונ א לונג חוורנעט אנד סו אפתער סומע העסיתאתיונ סתארת תו תאלכ תו עאצהותהער. אפתער דיסצוססינג תהע שעאתהער אנד ספורתס, תהע פריעסת תורנס תו תהע ראבבי אנד סאטס תהאת הע תהווגהת ית שאס ראתהער סתראנגע תהאת עה שאס נות אללושעד תו עאת פורכ, אנד אסכעד הימ שהעתהער הע עוער האד.

תהע ראבבי רעפליעד, ’שעלל, שהענ י שאס א סמאלל בוט, י דיד ינ פאצת תאסתע א סמאלל פיעצע ופ באצונ.’

’שהאת שאס ית ליכע?’ אסכעד תהע פריעסת.

תהע ראבבי רעפליעד: ’נות נעארלט אס גווד אס סעח.’

I am My Beloved’s and My Beloved is Mine – New Tattoo Stencil

Aramaic Designs is now offering a spiffy new series of Tattoo Stencils featuring the Song of Solomon (à la David Beckham albeit with a choice of proper gender):

[Click here to go to it]

From the Song of Solomon, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine,” in Aramaic, guaranteed correct. Choose it in either masculine or feminine forms, or purchase both at a significant discount (a great gift for couples).

[Click here to go to it]

The same as the one above only in Hebrew. You can also obtain it in either masculine or feminine forms, or both together as well.


“Grandfather” – Another Mistaken Tattoo

This particular tattoo I came across is “correct.” Well… the problem is that it’s too correct. Bear with me as I try and explain why.

Generally, when you look up a word in an Aramaic or Hebrew dictionary, things are organized by lemma. What is a lemma you ask? A very good question, as (ironically) most dictionaries define this term with even more lexical jargon. I would see things as:

A lemma is a form of a word defined by convention for indexing purposes.

For example, say you go to an English dictionary to look up the word “went.” For those who are well versed in English, it’s obvious to turn to the G section and look up the verb “go.” This is because by convention in English dictionaries, verbs are listed by their roots rather than by inflected forms. So, in this case, “go” would be the lemma for “went.”

Now in Aramaic, the system of lemmas is slightly different (as it is with every language), and furthermore, Aramaic lemmas may be different between dialects. A good example of such a difference occurs between Jewish and Syriac Aramaic, but to understand why you need to know that in Aramaic, nouns have three forms:

  • The Absolute state (the general form of the word,); A masculine example טָב (tâv: “good”/”good one”); A feminine example טָבָא (tâvâ: “good”/”good one”).
  • The Construct state (a form that indicates relationships between words); A masculine example טָב (tâv: “good”; same as absolute); A feminine example טָבַת (tâvath: “good”).
  • The Emphatic state (a form that originally indicated “definiteness” similar to “the” in English); A masculine example טָבָא (tâvâ: “the good”/”the good one”); A feminine example טָבְתָא (tavthâ: “the good”/”the good one”).

Where Jewish Aramaic linguists have cataloged their words in the Absolute state, Syriac Aramaic linguists have cataloged their words in the Emphatic. Why? In Syriac dialects, the Emphatic state, over time, lost its original use as a way to determine definiteness and became the “regular” base form for words in everyday speech. To them, it made more sense to organize things by what was used the most in common vernacular, so that’s exactly what they did.

So what was the result? We have this historical fork in Jewish Aramaic classification and Syriac Aramaic classification, and for the longest time, never the twain would meet; however, in modern times, this generally has not been too much of a big deal. A new convention has been adopted by listing both the Absolute and Emphatic forms, one after another. The best of both worlds.

Now where does this leave us with the photo I showed you at the top of the page? Well, the owner believes that they have the word for “Grandfather” tattooed on their back.

Do they? Yes and yes. Twice. Our tattoo in question can be interpreted as:

סָבָּא, סָב
sâbâ, sâv

סָבָּא (sâbâ) is the Emphatic form of the word for “Elder” or “Grandfather.”
סָב (sâv) is the Absolute form of the same word. Yikes!

What our friend above has tattooed on his back literally says “Grandfather, Grandfather” or (if the words were reversed and we were to ignore the comma) “Grandfather’s Grandfather.” He took the whole lexical entry, rather than the one piece he would need.

Now, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it hundreds of times on this blog: If you are planning on obtaining a tattoo in Aramaic (or any other foreign language for that matter) do not rely upon anything less than an expert who is able to explain every detail of what they give you.

  • Don’t trust looking things up in a dictionary on your own. As we’ve seen here, conventions between languages are different.
  • Don’t trust anything you get “for free” on the internet. Yahoo Answers, most messageboards, Wikipedia, and chatrooms are right out!
  • Always double-check your translation with a third party before getting it inked. Aramaic Designs does not only offer reliable translations, but a means of double-checking translations from other sources pro bono.