The SimHebrew Bible (MacDonald version)

If I have rather quiet on the Autumn Light front in recent months, it’s because I’ve been hard at work on the SimHebrew Bible, and other projects.

My friend Bob MacDonald, retired computing developer and musician, who has done an extraordinary amount of work in translating the Hebrew Bible and setting it to music (based on the original cantillation values), appears to have taken to SimHebrew, and in a matter of days has created his own Square Hebrew-SimHebrew Convertor to rival my own, and with it, has produced SimHebrew versions of the Book of Psalms, The Twelve [minor prophets], Isaiah, Exodus, Genesis, and the five scrolls.

‘Tis a thing of beauty—illustrating the concision and gem-like simplicity of the original Hebrew, revealing the word stems, preserving the distinctions between aleph and ayin, ḥet and khaph, tet and tav, etc. that are lost in phonetic transcription, but without the jumble of eye-glazing diacritics that characterize scholarly transliteration. It’s humbling that he rustled up a converter in a few days that took me and my programmer son and another programmer several months and tweaks to get to the same point. Although the project is currently viewable by invitation only, you can see an example in Bob’s post yesterday at

Unlike my own SimHebrew Bible, which is based on a ‘full spelling’ (ktiv malé) of the Masoretic text, the Macdonald SimHebrew Bible uses the traditional deficient spelling (ktiv ḥaser) version, as used in the Leningrad Codex. I, too, did so initially, but halfway through the Book of Genesis, I realised that since the SimHebrew Bible is aimed primarily at a non-Hebrew-reading readership, it’s best to used the ‘full spelling’ version, as it helps the reader distinguish the presence of /o/, /i/, and /u/ vowels in the text, which is often not readily apparent in the deficient spelling version. Ultimately, however, both the full and the deficient spelling variations of the SimHebrew Bible will be required, so MacDonald’s endeavour is very welcome.

Q&A: What is the Moabite word for “Israel” in the Mesha Stele?

Exactly as in Hebrew—Yisrael ישראל (blue rectangle below)—as evident at the start of the third sentence (line 5), in which he describes how Omri king of Israel had oppressed Moab:

Top of Mesha Stele (b&w rendering) Source:
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Q&A: What is the difference between the Hebrew words dabar and amar?

The verb d-b-r (דבר) is to speak—i.e. it is more formal and intentional. Hence words put in writing are also dbrim* (‘dvarim’); the Ten Commandments in Hebrew are Aseret Hadibrot (The Ten Proclamations); and religious prophets always warned civic leaders to honour at hdbrim awr H’ xivh* etc. (the things that the Lord commanded).

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Q&A: What words or phrases tell me you’re from Israel?

Oh boy. Where to start?

The following examples are all drawn from my Hebrew-language guide to my Israeli clients on correct English usage, אל ףדיח (Al-Fadiḥ—stylised Arabic-Hebrew, meaning ‘Don’t Screw-Up’).

Like most non-native English speakers, Israelis will tend to make certain errors based on the use in their native language—such as:

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Q&A: What is the meaning of the Hebrew proverb ”שמחת זקנתי בראש חוצות”?

It’s not a proverb so much as an expression of disdain or indifference. In common usage, only the first two words are used—with a suitable expression of boredom or nonchalance, while pointedly not looking away from whatever you’re doing at that moment: שמחת זקנתי… (Simhat zqenti…)

Literally, it means, ‘My old woman’s happiness for all to see’, and is a translation of the Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) expression, La gracia di tu mana (‘Your mother’s happiness’)—i.e., ‘[That might make my mother happy, but] I couldn’t care less’.

Q&A: Why might a translator use a calque?

[A2A] One would use a calque (a.k.a. loan translation) when there is no equivalent word or expression in the target language, but it captures the meaning so well and concisely that one is moved to recreate it by emulating the same word combination using native words in the target language.

In Hebrew, noted examples are:

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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: What is a biblical Hebrew expression that hardly anyone is familiar with – or even knows what it means?

My favourite so far is לֹא אָבָה יַבְּמִי – lo avah yabmi (Deut. 25:9)—meaning ‘He will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother’—which is the official complaint of a childless widow whose brother-in-law refuses to do his fraternal duty of giving her a child after the husband has died.


The expression is unfamiliar because the word yabmi is a conjugation of a curious verb— לִבְּמוֹת libmot — which is awkward to pronounce, not used in other contexts, and even the word for husband’s brother (יבם yavam), is unfamiliar today (in modern Hebrew, it is גיס gis, and can refer to the wife’s brother, as well).

I also love the description of the consequences of such a refusal:

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Q&A: Which English words or phrases have been adopted in Hebrew but do not mean the same thing?


A beq-eqs.

This is a frequent theme of mine in my Hebrew blog, in which I warn my clients (and other native Hebrew speakers) about the pitfalls of English expression.

One of the oldest—and certainly one of my favourite—examples, which go back decades, if not a century, is the word beq-eqs, which is a corruption of ‘back axle’—i.e. ‘rear axle’. You might think that doesn’t qualify as a loan word with a different meaning—until you discover that the word for ‘front axle’ is—wait for it—front-beq-eqs

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