Font development has always been a key part of our work. The accurate display of Biblical Hebrew on mobile devices has been one of the distinguishing features of the apps we have built. For many years, we used a proprietary technology for rendering fully-pointed Hebrew. The fonts were bitmaps and the layout engine was developed by us based on the ideas presented by Yannis Haralambous in his paper, “Typesetting the Holy Bible in Hebrew.” This technology worked well, but could not take advantage of improvements in font handling on mobile platforms. With those improvements — in particular, support for OpenType fonts — we developed our own OpenType font for Biblical Hebrew, tailored to the specifics of Android behavior. This font was modeled on our bitmap font and layout engine. Then, as we moved on to cross-platform development — adding iOS to our work — one of the first steps we took was to tweak our Hebrew OpenType font to also handle the specifics of iOS behavior.

Next, with the idea for an app that would show a two-column Tikkun-style layout of the Torah text, with the fully-pointed Hebrew on the right and the unpointed Hebrew on the left, we needed to have a font for the unpointed text that would be in the style appropriate for sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot. This style is know as STaM (סת״ם). As I began working on creating a new font in this style, I learned that there are a number of different traditions for how to form the letters. The three most common traditions are the two Ashkenzai styles — Beis Yosef and Arizal — and the Sephardic tradition. This YouTube video was helpful to me in learning about the distinguishing features of each style. Once I knew about these distinctions, I realized that I should create three fonts, not one.

Of course, you may wonder why we did not just use any of the existing STaM fonts. As I mentioned earlier, we already had an OpenType font for Biblical Hebrew that provided excellent readability on Android and iOS. Now we wanted STaM fonts whose metrics would match. If both the Biblical Hebrew font and the STaM font have the same font metrics, then in a two-column presentation, at any font size, the words on each line take up the same amount of space, with the same line height. Having everything match ensures that the two columns of text look equally well-aligned and well-spaced.  Additionally, we wanted to be able to show the various special letter forms that are in a Torah. These include the large and small letters, the broken vav and the closed qof. By creating our own fonts, we can add any special forms that we want. So doing our own fonts was an easy choice to make, given the appearance standards we wanted to achieve. I am currently working on adding all of the special letter forms to our three StaM fonts.

Write to me directly at marsha@zigzagworld.com