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Hebrew acronyms: Wikis

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Acronyms are a common part of the Hebrew language, with many organisations, places and people known by their acronyms.

Contents

Typography

Hebrew typography uses a special punctuation mark called Gershayim (״) to denote acronyms, placing the sign between the second-last and last letters of the non-inflected form of the acronym (e.g. "Report", singular: "דו״ח"; plural: "דו״חות"); initialisms are denoted using the punctuation mark Geresh (׳) by placing the sign after the last letter of the initialism (e.g. "Ms.": "׳בג").[1] However, in practice, single and double quotes are often used instead of the special punctuation marks, with the single quote used both in acronyms and initialisms.

If the acronym is read as is, then the spelling should be with a final form letter. If, on the other hand, the acronym is read as the complete phrase or read as the individual letters, then it should be spelled with a medial form letter.[1] In practice, this rule is more often than not ignored, and the acronyms spelled either way.

In some cases, abbreviations of two words are written using the same format, often combining the first two letters of each word. The gershayim are used between the first and second letters of the second word; Examples include ארה"ב (for ארצות הברית, the United States); ברה"מ (for ברית המועצות, the Soviet Union); ראשל"צ (for ראשון לציון, Rishon LeZion); ביה"ס (for בית הספר, the school).

Pronunciation

Unlike English acronyms, where each letter is pronounced individually, Hebrew acronyms are effectively converted to words by the insertion of a vowel sound (usually "a") between the letters.. Examples include Shas (ש״ס), Tanakh (תנ״ך) and Shabak (שב״כ). There are exceptions to the use of "a", such as Etzel (אצ״ל).

When one of the letters is vav or yud, these may be read as vowels ("u" and "i") instead: דו״ח (duakh = דין וחשבון, judgement and account); שו״ת (shut = שאלות ותשובות, questions and answers); סכו״ם (sakum = סכין כף ומזלג, knife spoon and fork); תפו״ז (tapuz = תפוח זהב, orange, lit. golden apple); או״ם (um = האומות המאוחדות, the United Nations); ביל״ו Bilu; לח״י Lehi. (An exception is בית״ר Beitar.)

Hebrew numbers (e.g. year numbers in the Hebrew calendar) are written the same way as acronyms, with gershayim before the last character, but pronounced as separate letter names: e.g. תשס״ח (Hebrew year 2007–2008) is tav-shin-samekh-khet.

Usage

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People

Acronyms have been widely used in Hebrew since at least the Middle Ages. Several important rabbis are referred to with acronyms of their names. For example, Baal Shem Tov is called the Besht (Hebrew: בעש״ט), Rav Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) is commonly known as Rambam (Hebrew: רמב״ם), Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak is known as Rashi, and Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman (Nahmanides) is likewise known as the Ramban (Hebrew: רמב״ן).

Text

The usage of Hebrew acronyms extends to liturgical groupings: the word Tanakh (Hebrew: תנ״ך) is an acronym for Torah (Five Books of Moses), Nevi'im (Book of Prophets), and Ketuvim (Hagiographa).

Most often, though, one will find use of acronyms as acrostics, in both prayer, poetry (see Piyyut), and kabbalistic works. Because each Hebrew letter also has a numeric value, embedding an acrostic may give an additional layer of meaning to these works.

One purpose of acrostics was as a mnemonic or a way for an author to weave his name as a signature, or some other spiritual thought, into his work, at a time when much was memorized. Examples of prayers which contain acrostics include:

  • Lekhah Dodi - The first letter of each stanza (not including the first and last) spells out "Shlomo Halevi" (Hebrew: שלמה הלוי) the name of the author Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz.
  • Shokhen Ad - Lines are written so that letters line up vertically, spelling the name Yitzchak, which may refer to the patriarch Yitzchak, or to an unknown author.
  • Ashrei - The first letter of every verse starts with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, with the omission of nun.

It is also a common part of Jewish thought to make inferences based on hidden acrostics. For example the Hebrew words for "man" (he: אישׁ) and "woman" (he: אשׁה) can be used to draw the inference that marriage, the joining of a man and a woman, is a spiritual relationship, because if one removes from each of the words "man" and "woman", one of the letters in the word "God" (he: י-ה), all that is left when "God" is removed from the joining of the two, is the word for destruction (he: אשׁ lit: fire) in place of each.

So much can be interpreted from Hebrew, and attributed to or inferred from it, that an interpretational system, called exegesis, has been developed along these lines.

See also

References


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