July 6, 2011

Fun With Hebrew Fonts: Liturgical Use of Meteg

Filed under: Judaism, Software Blog — marcstober @ 7:00 am

For the Family Service Siddur I’m editing, we set the Hebrew text in Times New Roman1 using Microsoft Word, because this was a volunteer project and we all had that software available, and because that font is actually quite nice at rendering Hebrew with vowels as needed for liturgy.

A reviewer noticed an error in Mah Tovu:

The quamats2 that should be under the resh is under the kaf. It’s not a typo; I had typed the letters correctly: kaf , shva , resh , qamats , meteg .

I realized the issue was with the meteg. (In liturgy, meteg is used to indicate the stressed syllable, particularly when it’s not the last syllable, which is usually stressed in Hebrew.) Without the meteg, the vowel is centered below the “point” of the resh, not the center of the letter:

So far, so good; this contributes to the readability of the letters. The problem is that Times New Roman shifts vowels to the right when followed by meteg. This is okay if the vowel starts off below the center of the letter:

But when the vowel is centered under right edge of the letter to start with, it ends up appearing under the previous letter, incorrectly. For example, the font Cardo doesn’t shift the vowel when a meteg is added, which I think is better:

It’s worth noting that not all Hebrew fonts even include meteg, which is not used in modern Hebrew.
I solved the problem using the overstrike feature of Word’s equation editor:

To reproduce this:

  1. Press ctrl-F9 to insert the special equation editor brackets.
  2. Paste in the following: eq \o(רָ,ˌ)

Note that the character used here is actually the Unicode MODIFIER LETTER LOW VERTICAL LINE character (hex 02CC), because Hebrew points without a consonant are rendered with a dotted circle by the software. I think this character is used as a phonetic symbol to indicate stress anyway, so it’s not inappropriate. However, I consider this a work-around; in a perfect world, I’d like to have an accurate digital text that renders into print without pretending it’s an equation.

Hope someone finds this helpful or at least interesting!

1This would be version 5.01 of Times New Roman from Microsoft. I’m pretty sure the original 1930’s version of the font for the London Times didn’t include Hebrew!

2I am not a not usually fan of the letter “q” in Hebrew transliterations, but I am using the standard Unicode names of Hebrew characters.

  • Efraim Feinstein

    Nasty bug and interesting work around. What would happen if you stuck a Zero Width Non-Joiner between the qamats and the meteg?nnI don’t think the meteg positioning in the bet is quite right either. I think it should be slightly more to the right, with the right side roughly aligned with the horizontal line on the bet (which is what SBL Hebrew, Ezra SIL, Taamey David and Taamey Frank do. Cardo pushes it too far right, aligning it with the bet’s right side serif; the version of Times New Roman I have doesn’t work at all, positioning the meteg and the horizontal line on the qamats overlapping).nnFor style, I’m not much of a fan of Times New Roman’s Hebrew, although it looks like its vowel support has improved quite a bit. In older versions, every holam took up a full character space, making the printouts look terrible. Sadly, some published books were printed in it. u00a0It tends to look generic and makes books *look* like they were produced in MS Word.

  • Good idea about the zero-width non joiner but it didn’t work. I tried some other odd space characters that don’t work either.nnI’m confused about what you might about the meteg being slightly more to the right – in siddurim it’s usually on the *left*?nnI think you need Vista or Win7 for the Hebrew fonts to work well – I know what you mean about the extra spaces. So, I am thankful that Microsoft has included it in the standard US distribution of their operating system at least. As far as style, I think that generic was probably good for this project, but of course the whole point is to make Siddur-building tools more available so people can choose their own style.

  • Efraim Feinstein

    oops — missing words. I meant the qamats positioning in combination with the meteg. There are, in fact, a right meteg and a left meteg in Tanach, but, in general, it is on the left.