Semitic Scripts in English Documents

Students of the Hebrew Bible (and other disciplines which have Hebrew and other Semitic languages as a core element of the discipline) are often faced with the need to include non-Western fonts in written documents, such as homework assignments and research papers. A Google search such as "Hebrew font" will return a daunting number of search results, without even necessarily addressing text processing applications and right-to-left text entry. A survey conducted in the Winter of 2005 revealed a somewhat bewildering set of potential choices for fonts and related tools. This web page will hopefully provide a "fast path" for members of the NEJS community to quickly get up and running doing combined English and Hebrew text entry. It includes a section on tools for transliterating Semitic texts. [Bible students may want to look at Aleppo and Leningrad Codices on the Web for a few online resources for text study.]

There are three pieces to the combined English and Hebrew text entry pie: (1) fonts, (2) right-to-left-text entry, and (3) text processing applications that support typing in multiple languages.

The rest of this page describes these pieces in greater detail.



A web search will locate a number of Hebrew (and Arabic) fonts available on the Internet, some free and some for a fee. You will want to use only Unicode fonts for your English/Hebrew documents. First, a few words on Unicode:

For our purposes, Unicode offers three main advantages:
(1) As you can see from the few fonts mentioned just above, both English and Hebrew (as well as Arabic) characters are available within the font. There is no need to switch fonts in the middle of composing a document.
(2) Hebrew (and Arabic) characters are already defined, as we have seen, in fonts which are shipped with the operating system, both with Windows PCs and OS X on the Mac. There is no need to search for, locate, possibly pay for, download, and install additional fonts; the characters you need are already there.
(3) Students of the Hebrew Bible who use the Accordance application will find that Accordance knows how to export strings of characters encoded in Unicode code points; this makes it really easy to copy-and-paste, for example, Biblical text search results from Accordance into your own document.

If you're interesting in digging in further to Unicode and Unicode fonts, there is a wealth of material available on the Web. The official source is The range of code points assigned to Hebrew characters is fully defined in
Back to index


Right-to-left text entry

On the Mac under OS X, right-to-left text entry is a native part of the operating system. To activate it:
(1) Open the "International" item in "System Preferences".
(2) Select the "Input Menu" tab.
(3) Check either the "Hebrew" or "Hebrew-QWERTY" Unicode keyboard.
(4)Check "Show Input Menu in Menu Bar" to make it easy to switch between left-to-right and right-to-left input modes.

On a PC running Windows 2000 or Windows XP, a right-to-left keyboard driver is also shipped with the OS. It is enabled by checking "Install files for complex script and right-to-left languages" in the "Language" tab of the "Regional and Language Options" control panel. This is described in detail at the Microsoft support site. After enabling right-to-left language support, you will then activate the Hebrew keyboard driver as described here. At this point, a little blue "EN" icon will appear in your system tray. If you then press Left-ALT + SHIFT, the icon will change to "HE" and you can begin entering Hebrew text. If you don't have a Hebrew keyboard, Microsoft provides a small Javascript program which shows the mapping to a US QWERTY keyboard (and also displays the associated Unicode code point for each Hebrew letter); the Javascript program requires Internet Explorer.

The Microsoft keyboard driver is limited to the set of bare Hebrew consonants: no vowels, no dagesh, and no trope marks. If you only need these additional language features occasionally, you may find the Windows Character Map utility as an adequate work-around. However, for direct keyboard input of all the consonants, vowels, trope markings, and so forth, for which there are Unicode code points, you will want to download and install the keyboard driver available from the Society of Biblical Literature. It is packaged along with the SBL Hebrew font (although the driver works fine with other Unicode fonts) at This distribution includes two keyboard drivers, one for QWERTY keyboards and onefor Hebrew keyboards; see the ReadMe.txt document for more information. The ZIP includes complete documentation on installing the keyboard drivers; the documentation displays their respective keyboard maps.

Back to index


Text processing applications

You can see the survey's fairly short list of possible text processing applications.

However, for the Mac, you should consider strongly using Mellel (from the Redlex folks); it is very inexpensive, quite functional, and warmly regarded in Bruce Rosen's own informal web search of user feedback for Mac-based word processors. It is Accordance's own preferred word processor (see here for Accordance's view on this and other Unicode-related matters) and there are apparently issues with MS/Word's right-to-left handling on the Mac platform.

For the PC, MS/Word works fine. WordPerfect, from a quick look at Google search for hebrew wordperfect left to right, does not support right to left text input particularly well. You can look here if you are interested in Nota Bene; they offer a demo version for download while their software is priced at close to $400 with scholar and student discounts available.
Back to index


Transliterating Semitic texts

There is often a need to include transliterations for Semitic characters into Roman letters, rather than the original Hebrew (or Arabic or Akkadian, etc.) characters. Many of the Hebrew letters can be transliterated directly into their Roman equivalent (such as ב as the letter b or מ as the letter m). But, how about the צ, conventionally transliterated as the letter s with a dot below it, or the letter ח, usually transliterated as an h with a hook below it, or the letter ש, and so forth? In addition, transliterations often need to indicate vowel lengths, typically by writing a bar over the lengthened vowel.

Fortunately, Unicode fonts can solve these needs as well. The Unicode standard includes two groups, Latin Extended A and Latin Extended Additional which define code points to address many of these needs.

There are at least two fonts which implement these code points, Arial MS Unicode and Tahoma. Using them, you will be able include such characters as ā, š, ḫ, ṣ, and so forth. These two fonts also implement code points for both Hebrew and Arabic and therefore may serve to be generally useful for document preparation.