The History of the Alefbet

The ancient Hebrews shared their alphabet with the seafaring, merchant Phoenicians, and in fact may have borrowed the entire thing from them. Originally the Alefbet was probably based on little simple pictures of everyday things that conveniently started with the sounds they represented. Alef was the word for ox, and Bet was the word for house.

In turn, the Greeks copied the Phoenician Alefbet, changing some letters to fit their language. The Romans came along and took the Greek alphabet, once again making changes as they wished. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman variation of the alphabet was preserved for centuries by monks, who used it for reading and writing books in Latin - mostly religious works.

As time progressed and Europe left the dark ages, people slowly began using the Latin alphabet to represent the languages they were really speaking. (Latin wasn't exactly street talk at that point.) At first spelling was a big problem, because the letters had to be used differently for languages that didn't sound at all like Latin. But eventually people settled on some standards, and French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish and many other languages developed their own versions of the alphabets that are used today.

So what had happened to the Alefbet? It didn't look like the original script, but the same letters were there. And once scribes had settled on a form of calligraphy for writing scripture, it actually didn't change that much. Jews had continued to use skilled scribes to make copies of the Holy Torah, using the same stylized caligraphy that they had used for centuries.

Some changes had been made, but not major ones. For the most part, it was just that people thought up new ways of writing for different purposes. RASHI script, named for a great rabbi known for his commentary on the Torah, was a kind of italic typeface used for commentary - so that you could tell which part was Torah and which was commentary. Then some bright guy got the idea to make a script form of the Alefbet, which would be quicker to write.

However, the book form remained much the same as it had for at least two thousand years.

So that's what we'll be learning. Let's begin!