Q&A: If the head of government of the Republic of Ireland is widely known as the Taoiseach, why isn’t the head of government of Israel widely known by a Hebrew term rather than as “Prime Minister”?

Three reasons:

  1. Because only the Irish Prime Minister is accorded this honour (the PM of France isn’t referred to in English as the Premier Ministre, the Spanish PM isn’t called the Primer Ministro, etc.)
  2. Because Rosh Hamemshalah is a bit of a mouthful for most foreigners
    and—last but not least:
  3. Because foreign Jews would confuse the Israeli PM with Rosh Hashanah, and think that he must be celebrated only once a year.

Q&A: Is it possible to design Scrabble in languages that are not fully alphabetic, such as Hebrew?

There is a Hebrew version of Scrabble, because Hebrew has an alphabet (shucks—who do you think invented it?).

However, the Hebrew version is not always readily available—especially when one is abroad (i.e., outside Israel). For those situations (as in many others), SimHebrew (simulated Hebrew) comes in handy, as evident from this example of a Hebrew Scrabble game that we played in the family:

Scrabble in SimHebrew

Q&A: Why are the Hebrew words melakh, melekh, & malakh so similar?

Misapprehensions like this are precisely why conventional transliteration of Hebrew is so flawed.

In SimHebrew (simulated Hebrew in Latin characters), the spelling distinctions between those three words are clear, and preserved:

  • melakh’: in Hebrew מלח, in SimHebrew mlk
  • melekh’: in Hebrew מלך, in SimHebrew mlç
  • malakh’: in Hebrew מלאך, in SimHebrew mlaç

See Modern-day Ecclesiastes for more examples.

Q&A: Is it true that, in the Book of Revelation, Hebrew letters were used instead of Greek for the mark of the beast (666)?

Not so Beastly

This urban legend has been making the rounds for years in relation to the logo of a certain energy drink whose logo is three claw marks that supposedly look like the Hebrew letter vav, which also has the numerical value of 6—i.e., ‘666’

The problem is, vav is very length-specific: it goes down to the baseline, but no more. Since the middle claw mark is longer than the other two, it suggests that it is the end-of-word form of a different Hebrew letter (nun = n), whose numerical value is 50—so technically, the numbers are 6–50–6. Not so Beastly.

Last but not least, numerical values above 100 using Hebrew letters don’t work like decimal numbers. To write the number 666 with Hebrew letters, one would write תרס”ו (tav-resh-samekh-vav), which numerically is 400+200+60+6, and would be read phonetically Tarsu™—which doesn’t mean anything, but I’ve trademarked it, anyway, to sell to a company with a devilishly good drink.