Re: Hebrew Vav Holam

From: Peter Kirk (
Date: Thu Jul 31 2003 - 06:43:55 EDT

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    On 30/07/2003 21:53, Jony Rosenne wrote:

    >I have not seen an answer to my question: Is the distinction from the Masora
    >or later.
    Several sources have told me that it dates back at least to the
    Leningrad codex, dated 1008/9 CE. As I wanted to check for myself, I
    found a facsimile page at
    The resolution even of the enlarged image is barely sufficient to tell.
    But, looking at the centred words in the second line of text, 'eyley
    mo'av yo'xazemo ra`ad from Exodus 15:15, there are clearly two holams
    each positioned between mem and vav, so definitely to the right side of
    the vav, where modern spelling is with holam male. There are many more
    examples on this page.

    The holam before weak alef in yo'xazemo is also positioned above the
    gap between the letters, but in bigdol in the centred section of the
    fourth line of text it is shifted to the left, although this is not
    normal in modern typography.

    The second word on the first line of text and the second word on the
    third line, both yoshvey from 15:14,15, show that holam was not merged
    with shin dot.

    Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a case of vav followed by holam
    on this one page. But I think I can safely say that it would not have
    been written like the holam plus vav in mo'av, with the holam definitely
    to the right of the right edge of the vav. I am sure it would be
    positioned above and to the right of yod just like the holam in
    yo'xazemo and yoshvey above and to the left of yod.

    So the general picture I get here is of a clear distinction between
    holam pronounced before or after a base letter, but that the rules are
    less fixed than in modern typography. If holam is to be pronounced
    between base letters A and B, it may be positioned between A and B,
    above the left of A, or above the right of B, in fairly free variation.
    But if it is to be pronounced after B, its position is distinct, above
    the left of B or further left. I would suggest that holam male as a
    distinct character is a later innovation, that at this stage it was
    written simply as a regularly positioned holam, roughly above the base
    character boundary, followed by a vav.

    >The evidence you present supports a claim that some manuscripts and printers
    >have been making the distinction for hundreds of years.
    >However, the distinction is rare, and common use does not make it. This
    >common use somewhat predates computers, and the disparaging remark is out of
    Yes, it does predate computers. I apologise for any suggestion that it
    doesn't. It may be common use now, though far from universal, but the
    goal of Unicode is to encode Hebrew (and other languages) from all
    periods, and not just current common practice.


    Peter Kirk

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