Occasionally, I’ll have a Hebrew student who insists that he (or she) doesn’t see the need to learn both block script and cursive script when studying Hebrew. When I hear that, I have one response.

“You don’t have to learn both ways, but if you don’t you are cheating yourself.”

Yes, it’s true that most printed materials in Israel are written in block script (and usually without vowel points, called nikkudot). However, private correspondence is usually written in cursive. Many labels are also written in cursive, so shopping might be a bit difficult if you only read block script. And then there’s graffiti…

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You can buy this coffee mug from
Israeli-t.com

One of my students who didn’t want to learn cursive sent me a bit of graffiti she saw on a wall, and she had no idea what it said. So she asked me to translate for her. It literally means “the people of Israel are alive,” but is usually translated “Israel lives.”

The thing is, Hebrew doesn’t have upper-case and lower-case letters. It has only one alphabet and all the letters have the same “x-height.” It does have some ascenders and descenders, such as in the letters khaf sofit (ך) and lamed (ל), which go slightly above or below the baseline, but most of them fit neatly between a top line and a bottom line. (Actually, Hebrew “hangs” from the topline rather than sitting on a bottom line as English does.)

When we learned English in elementary school (or kindergarten), first we learned block print (I learned the stick-and-ball method) and we learned both upper-case and lower-upper-case letters. Call that 2 alphabets since there are two forms of each letter. Then, later on, we learned cursive, which also has two forms. So that’s a total of 4 alphabets we learned so we could read and write English.

Hebrew only has one set of forms for each of two scripts, block and cursive. Learning to read and write in Hebrew cursive should certainly be no more difficult than learning to read and write in both block and cursive scripts in English!

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