Hebrew Class

It is utterly remarkable that in this year of the Common Era 2020 that even in Unicode you can’t write Hebrew in Microsoft Word without gymnastics.  The task at work was a fairly simple one: proofread the Hebrew in a typeset manuscript ready for the printer.  This means the manuscript is a PDF at this point and to get Hebrew to appear in a comment bubble you need to copy it from Word and paste it in.  But wait!  Word only has some Hebrew letters in its Symbols menu.  Try getting a yod to appear.  I looked up a Unicode chart, copied and pasted the Unicode unique identifier and Word gave me a capital P.  Not a jot or tittle to be found.  So, to get the yod I had to fetch my personal Mac and use the language menu and type the word out.  Copy.  Paste in an email from my personal account to my work account.  Wait.  Open work email message.  Copy again.  Paste again.

Using this method, a task that would take me maybe twenty minutes stretched into hours.  There was simply no way to get Microsoft Word to display a full Hebrew alphabet shy of changing the language on the computer.  And since I don’t read Modern Hebrew I had a feeling that would lead to disaster.  Part of the problem is that programmers thought it would be smart to make Unicode Hebrew automatically appear right to left.  This has been the bane of many of us since the earliest word processors tried to replicate the language.  We grew used to typing it in backwards.  Now you never know which letter is going to disappear if you hit delete—it doesn’t help that it can act differently on a Mac than on your standard business-issue PC.  Not only that, but when you paste it the receiving document often automatically reverses word order.  Can I get a pen and paper over here?

I sometimes jokingly lament the hold that technology has on us.  In some instances the joking takes on a serious tone, I know.  I do wonder about having techies drive where we’re going.  It’s one thing to make it possible to print Hebrew letters in electronic form, but it is quite another to read them and have a sense of what they’re saying.  And those of us challenged by the whole right-left orientation and a cursor blinking on one side of a word but having its effect on the other wonder if it’s worth the effort.  There’s a reason ancient people wrote in clay, it seems. 

6 thoughts on “Hebrew Class

  1. You’re not doing it right. I was part of a team who solved this issue, almost, nearly 20 years ago. You should ignore the Symbols font or character set and choose (from Insert – Symbol – More Symbols – subset Hebrew) the Hebrew character set which is built into Word. You will find there almost everything you need, including proper right to left support. I can’t claim that it is entirely without glitches, not least because I haven’t looked at it for 15 years, but it does at least nearly everything you could need. It might work better with a specialized Hebrew font like the free ones offered by SIL or SBL.

    As for whether your PDF reader supports this in comment bubbles, that depends on the software you are using, but not on Word.


    • Thanks, Peter. I appreciate the advice. I don’t use Word at home, and the version we use at work is very outdated. This is the first time in nearly 12 years that I’ve had to reproduce Hebrew in Word and it will likely be another dozen years before I need to do so again. Hopefully by that time they will update the software at work!


      • Well, i think that’s your problem: outdated software. But in that case you shouldn’t be writing about “this year of the Common Era 2020”. Perhaps change that to 2000!

        Meanwhile your employer should be ashamed of using outdated software, not only because of these issues but also because of serious security issues. Don’t tell me they are still on Windows XP!


    • Thanks, Mike. If it were my choice I wouldn’t be! My work computer uses software the company installs (much of it sorely outdated). On my personal computer I can enter Hebrew with no problem at all (which is how I solved the work problem in the end). Thanks for the comment!


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