Tag: Tikkun

Sheva Na / Qamats Qatan

In addition to laying out the Torah text according to a standard set of columns, line breaks and internal breaks, and accurately displaying all of the vowels and trop (cantillation marks), we also want to distinguish between the two different pronunciations of the sheva and kamatz vowels. A sheva can either be a sheva na (moving sheva) or a sheva nach (resting sheva). The sheva na is pronounced as a short “e”, while the sheva nach is not pronounced at all. A qamats can either be a qamats qatan (small qamatz) or a qamatz gadol (big qamatz). The qamats qatan is pronounced as the “o” in boring while the qamats gadol is pronounced as the “a” in father. To support a Torah reader’s accuracy, it is very helpful if the study text that the reader is using visually distinguishes among these forms.

As you probably know, there is no single standard way to display these different sheva and qamats forms, and many texts do not concern themselves with doing so at all. Also, even those Hebrew fonts that include vowels and cantillation marks often do not support additional sheva and qamats forms, either. Today, most fonts that are being developed are Unicode fonts; Unicode is now the standard for representing and handling text in the world’s many languages and writing systems. In 2005, Unicode added the qamats qatan as a distinct character, as well as three other Biblical Hebrew characters (lower dot, nun hafukha, and atnah hafukh). Because the qamats qatan is now part of the standard, it is being supported in more fonts, and in many fonts is shown as a qamats gadol but with a longer and perhaps modified vertical stem. However, the sheva na is not a separate Unicode character, so it is sometimes indicated as a bolder, bigger sheva nach or alternately by a mark of some sort above the letter it serves. There are many who would like to see the sheva na added to Unicode, to allow for standardization. For example, see this proposal from last year.

Since we are doing our own font development, we have included both the qamats qatan and sheva na in our Traditional Hebrew font. Here is how we display them:

In our tikkun app, we plan to include the sheva na and qamats qatan in all of the Torah text initially, and will add that information to other parts of our library of texts as we go along.

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Yemenite Traditions

As I was reading about various b’nai mitzvah practices and customs (there are lots of links out there), I took an interesting detour and learned a bit about Yemenite Torah reading traditions. I thought I would share some of what I learned this week.

At the Mechon Mamre web site, I read that “Yemenite Jews always allowed even children of five or six to take an aliyah.” And the Wikipedia article  on Yemenite Jews adds that “Children under the age of Bar Mitzvah are often given the sixth aliyah. Each verse of the Torah read in Hebrew is followed by the Aramaic translation, usually chanted by a child. Both the sixth aliyah and the Targum have a simplified melody, distinct from the general Torah melody used for the other aliyot.” So Torah reading (leining) was taught from a very young age. The article also notes that “In the Yemenite tradition each person called to the Torah scroll for an aliyah reads for himself.”

I also came across an article by Ephraim Stulberg on the division of aliyot in the weekly parashiyot. He references some research that indicates that the aliyah divisions did not become standardized until some time in the eighteenth century, and that the Yemenite community has its own division that differs in places from the division we see in most books today. I have looked for a table or listing of the Yemenite aliyah divisions, but so far have not yet found that information. Relating this to the Tikkun app that we are developing, this does bring up the need to support the user in selecting any range of verses as a reading to practice; this flexibility will allow the app to serve any user’s tradition.

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Leining (Torah reading)

We are building a Tikkun app to help Torah readers. To make it worth using, it needs to support the ways that Torah readers (leiners) like to study. I found a good discussion about how leiners practice at the judaism.stackexchange.com website. In case you are not familiar with it, this website (also called “mi yodeya”) is a very interesting discussion group for all Judaism-related topics.

Here are some of the recommendations from that discussion:

Chunking: Break the reading up into chunks, and master one chunk at a time. The size of the chunks depends on the reader’s skill level, the section being read, and perhaps other factors.

Understand Hebrew grammar and vocabulary: The more that the reader knows, the easier it will be to get the vowels correct.

Understand the trop system: Knowing the trop patterns and how they are typically used simplifies memorization.

Record/listen: Recording yourself (after you have practiced for a while), and then listening to yourself, can help identify tricky problems.

Schedule: Set up a practice schedule and stick to it.

As we look at what features to build into the app, we will be thinking about how to support as many of these approaches as we can, in addition to the file sharing features that we have been working on to support tutors and their students.

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Welcome to our blog

Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to our Hebrew in Hand Newsletter for so many years! I look forward to staying in touch with you about our work through this blog, which will be updated regularly. I plan to tweet whenever there is an update — find us @hebrewinhand. Visit us here anytime to find out what we are up to. As always, we want to hear from you. Please share your thoughts and questions directly with me at:


In case you have just found us, here is a quick summary of who we are and what we are doing. ZigZag, Inc. is a small software development company, and for many years we have been creating mobile apps of Judaic and Hebrew interest. As part of our work, we have created Android apps, web apps and fonts for accurately displaying Biblical Hebrew on mobile devices. We have recently added iOS apps to our development repertoire. Our most well-known apps are Tanach Bible and My Tanach, both for Android. They were done in partnership with Davka Corporation, and are sold through them.

Late last year, we began exploring the idea of creating a cross-platform Tikkun app — for both iOS and Android — for leiners (Torah readers) and b’nai mitzvah tutors and students. Our first task was to determine whether to use a cross-platform development environment, or to code each app natively. After studying the most promising cross-platform options, we decided to try using Nativescript to code the core of the app — the two-column display of Torah text, pointed text on the right and unpointed text on the left, with fully-justified lines,  predetermined line-breaks, and extra space at specific points within a line of text. This is a very demanding layout to handle. And we found that the cross-platform environment was just too limited for it to work. We then moved on to creating two separate apps, each coded natively. Both apps can display the two-column Tikkun text, plus handle a few user preferences. Here is the two-column text displayed on an iPad:

The next major technical area that we needed to work through was how to share study materials between users, no matter which platform each might be using. It clearly would not be enough for iOS users to only share with iOS users and Android users to only share with Android users. Again, we studied the various technologies for sharing data between users on different platforms, and settled on Google Drive as being the best candidate for our needs. We implemented a very limited proof-of-concept sharing feature in both the iOS and Android environments, and are now expanding that work to include the standard user interface features that users will expect. We now have the ability to securely sign in and out of Google drive accounts. We are next working on the internal mechanisms for sharing a specific file with a specific user directly through the app.

And that is where we are today.

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