Modern Hebrew Calligraphy
The origins of modern Hebrew calligraphy can be found in two ways. One can seek its sources in Hebrew scribal traditions, or one can see it as part of the international revival of calligraphy as an art form, a movement that has grown steadily since the 1960s.
- In the USA, Israel & England
A distinction must be made between the art of the Jewish *scribe and that of the calligrapher, both in purpose and style of writing and in the education of the writer. The Hebrew scribe, the sofer, has been called sofer setam at least since the late 19th century, setam being an acronym of sefarim – books (of the Torah), tefillin (scriptural passages encased in small black leather boxes worn by men during morning prayer) and mezuzot (similar passages affixed to doorposts). Since ancient times, the Torah scribe was a man of piety, one who donned tefillin himself (thus women were excluded from the profession) and prepared himself spiritually for the sacred task before him. In the Middle Ages, scribes wrote Bible codices as well as scrolls, for study and private use. Many of them signed their names in the colophons of the books they wrote, but ritual writings were never signed. Standards of script were high, with aesthetics taken for granted. Once Hebrew books were printed, by the late 15th century, the demand for hand-written codices decreased, and although there was always a need for ritual writings, there was not enough work in any one community to support the same number of scribes who had been occupied with writing in the Middle Ages.
Even before the days of printing, there were Hebrew scribes who specialized in calligraphy. Calligraphy, from the Greek kalli (beautiful) graphos (writing), is artistic writing for its own sake. The art was more important than the purpose, and certain kinds of books and shorter texts became popular subjects for calligraphic expression before and after the Renaissance. The calligraphers of the Middle Ages and even later ones were trained soferim; their script style was that of the sofer, but they were commissioned for their skills in decorating Bible codices, prayer books,
(books read at the home Seder on the eve of Passover), and
(marriage documents), with illuminations, enlarged and decorated letters, and micrography, minute Hebrew script written in geometrical, vegetal and figurative shapes. In Ereẓ Israel and in Egypt from the late 9th through the 12th centuries, in Yemen in the 15th and 16th, and in Spain from the 13th to the 15th centuries, frontispiece and finispiece pages were decorated with carpet pages (full-page decorations resembling oriental carpets) that were entirely micrographic, or that combined micrography with illumination. Scribes in medieval Egypt also decorated ketubbot with micrography. The texts used for micrographic carpet pages in the Bibles of Egypt, Yemen and Spain were more often from Psalms than the masorah. In Spain, carpet pages were composed of complex geometric interlaces and interwoven palmettes. One exceptionally creative calligrapher from Barcelona illustrated, by writing all designs and figures with the text of Psalms, frontispiece pages of a Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur maḥzor with Jewish symbols as well as secular subjects and figures. In Germany, masoretic micrography appeared in the margins and initial word panels of Bibles, often drawn into the shapes of animals and grotesques familiar to the Romanesque and Gothic artist. Only in rare instances were there full-page micrographic pictures. Enlarged Hebrew initial letters were favored by artistic scribes of Germany; sometimes these were filled in with zoomorphic figures. Because the Ashkenazi letter displayed extreme contrasts of the thick and thin (shading) in its vertical stroke, the calligrapher often decorated the thinnest point with a rosette or circle or another ornament.
After the Renaissance, the major work done by calligraphers, especially in Italy, was the making of ketubbot, often enhanced with additional illumination and micrography. To some extent in the late 17th century, and even more so in the 18th century, in Holland, Bohemia, Moravia and Italy, calligraphers wrote and decorated haggadot for Passover. These men usually signed their works; at times Sofer or Schreiber formed part of their names. Sometimes calligraphers copied printed books, especially haggadot, with woodcut and engraved illustrations. Some never rose beyond the talent of folk artists, some were gifted draftsmen as well as calligraphers. One Jewish calligrapher, Jehuda Machabeu, was active in Amsterdam and Pernambuco, Brazil, in the first half of the 17th century. He wrote several prayer books in Spanish, and in 1660, in Amsterdam, he penned a sample Latin calligraphy book which included four examples of the Hebrew alphabet, Libro que contiene diversos modos de caracteres, now in the Richard and Beatrice Levy collection in Florida. Other manuscripts from his quill are in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana University
Library in Amsterdam, and the Ets-Ḥayyim/Livaria Montezinos of the Portuguese Jewish Rabbinical Seminary in Amsterdam. In addition to haggadot, 18th-century calligraphers wrote and decorated megillot (scrolls of Esther), as well as small books of benedictions for special occasions, such as the wedding service, grace after meals, circumcision (pinkas mohelim) Sabbath hymns (Seder tikkunei shabbat), books dealing with the laws of ritual slaughter, for visiting the sick, for burials and mourning, and calendars, especially for counting the omer between Passover and Shavuot. While some of these calligraphers remained anonymous, the names of many are known, among them: Shabbetai (Sheftel), son of Zalman Aurback, who wrote a haggadah in Prague in 1719, now in the Jewish Museum, Prague, and Aaron Berachiah, son of Moses who, with Samuel Ḥayyim, son of Judah Finklash Reich, in Mikulov (Nicolsburg), Moravia, worked on a book of laws for visiting the sick written in 1722, now in the Jewish Museum, Prague. More famous was Zimel (Meshullam) Sofer of Balin (Polna, Bohemia). A book of Sabbath prayers was written by him in 1714 (British Library Add. 1133), as was a Grace after Meals written in 1715 (Gross Family Collection, Tel Aviv). He also wrote a haggadah in 1719 (JNUL Ms. 80 5573). He worked in Vienna in the 1730s, and in the middle of the decade wrote another haggadah. Two years earlier, he calligraphed prayers in honor of the sovereign on two large sheets, in Hebrew and German, now in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna (Heb. 223 and 224). A contemporary of Zimel, Aaron Wolf (Schreiber) Herlingen of Gewitsch (Jevicko, Moravia), achieved greater prominence as the scribe of the Royal Library in Vienna; he was a first-rate draftsman as well as calligrapher in both Hebrew and Latin scripts. A circumcision register by him is now in Prague, and other works by him are in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Cod. ser. nov. 1593 and 1594), the Israel Museum, the Kaufmann Collection of the Academy of Sciences in Budapest (A423), the Levy collection in Florida, and the Gross Family collection in Tel Aviv. He wrote two haggadot in 1728, and six others between 1730 and 1751. One of his specialties was the micrographic writing of the five megillot in French, German and Hebrew, with delicate drawings and gold leaf decorations. Other calligraphers were Joseph ben David of Leipnik, Moravia, who worked in Darmstadt and wrote several haggadot, one in 1712 (JNUL 80 983), one now in the British Library (Sloane 3173) and one in the Jesselson collection, New York; Nathan ben Harav Samson of Meseritch (Moravia), who wrote a haggadah in Prague in 1728; Zvi Hirsch Dreznitz from Strassnitz, who worked in Nikolsburg, where he wrote a Grace after Meals now in the Royal Library in Copenhagen (Cod. Hebr. XXXII); Uri Feibush, son of Isaac Segal of Altona – Hamburg, whose haggadah of 1739 belongs to the Jewish community of Copenhagen, and whose circumcision register is in the Klau Library of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; Abraham of Ihringen, Germany; Jacob ben Judah Leib Shamesh of Berlin, who wrote a haggadah in Hamburg in 1729, and Nathan ben Abraham Speyer, who wrote a haggadah in Breslau in 1768 (JNUL 80 2340.); Ḥayyim ben Asher Anshel of Kittsee (Austria), who wrote a haggadah in Vienna in 1748 (Gross Family collection, Tel Aviv), Ḥayyim ben Moses, a haggadah in Hamburg written in 1768 now in the Israel Museum; Mordecai Mirandola of Ferrara, Italy (haggadah, 1769). The making of these calligraphic ritual books continued into the 19th century; Mordecai (Marcus) ben Yeuzel Donath of Nitra (now Slovakia), known to be a sofer setam, was one of the most productive artists, famous for his circumcision and other prayer books, megillot, and mizraḥim (hung on the eastern wall of homes to indicate the direction of prayer). He drew enlarged Hebrew letters as ribbons, popular since the 18th century for titles and as initial word decorations. His works are in the Israel Museum, the Wolfson Museum of Hechal Shlomo, Jerusalem, the Hungarian Jewish Museum in Budapest, and in private collections.
On the title pages of several of the 18th-century handwritten books, the calligraphers proclaimed their script as the "Amsterdam" letters. This style of writing, even when it wandered far from its prototype, was modeled after the typeface designed and cast by the non-Jewish Hungarian printer and punchcutter Nicholas Kis, who worked in Amsterdam from 1680 to 1690 and was also the punch-cutter of the popular roman face known as "Janson." The types were used in the Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695, printed by Asher Anshel and Issachar Baer.
The calligraphers of Italian ketubbot were responsible for fine work, continuing an unbroken tradition from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Nearly all were anonymous, but one scribe, Samuel Manoah, son of Shabbetai Isaac of Fiano, signed a ketubbah in its micrographic decoration in 1757. Micrographic traditions continued in Eastern and Western Europe, the U.S. and the Near East, reinforced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the availability of lithographic reproduction, for single sheet illustrations. All the while, sofrei setam continued to write ritual books: the Torah, Navi (single scrolls of the prophets from which the haftarah was and still is read in some congregations), tefillin, mezuzot, and nondecorated megillot and ketubbot. By the 20th century, the Hebrew scribal hand could be classified broadly as Sephardi, with Italian and Dutch variations, Ashkenazi (Stam), and Oriental, which could also be further subdivided into Yemenite, Persian and North African variations.
The training of the scribe differs profoundly from that of the modern calligrapher. Scribes today learn their script from a master scribe. They learn only one traditional script, the style in which the master writes, in an intensive course of about four months. Along with script they learn the halakhah, the traditional laws for the exact writing of sacred texts and for the preparation of materials: parchment (or vellum, which side may be used for each text), pens (reed for Sephardim, quill for Ashkenazim) and ink, and the ruling of the parchment. In Israel, classes for scribes are subsidized by the Ministry of Religion, and examination and certification for scribes are supervised
by the Office of the Chief Rabbinate. The scribe does not deviate from the script taught him, and the ethnic origin of the scribe today has little to do with the script style. Scribes of Yemenite and other Near Eastern communities are often eager to learn Stam because this script brings higher prices.
Scribal writing is a totally disciplined art. Calligraphy combines discipline with freedom of expression. It is a profession for women as well as men. The 20th-century calligrapher, unlike the scribe, was and in most cases still is self-taught. Some calligraphers learn from the three popular how-to-do-it calligraphy books, by L.F. Toby, Reuben Leaf and Jay Greenspan (see bibliography). Even if they are taught formally calligraphers are on their own to choose or adapt a script style. No universal, objective standards have been set, and the borderline between amateur and professional is narrow and undefined. Some U.S. calligraphers have taken courses with other calligraphers who are only a few years ahead of them in being self-taught, either privately or through local calligraphy societies (for non-Hebrew script) or through adult education classes in Jewish colleges, Hillel houses, YM-YWHAS or Jewish community centers. In Israel, courses have been given in recent years by the Israel Museum, the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, the Popular University, and Yedidei Ha-Sefer, the Israel Bibliophiles. Many Hebrew calligraphers in the U.S. today improve their script through workshops sponsored by local societies or, more recently, at national conferences, headed by acknowledged leaders, such as Ismar David and Lili Wronker. Some calligraphers in the U.S. and England approach teachers in Israel for guidance. Calligraphers use metal nibs of all sizes and only a few of them work on parchment, preferring the less expensive, more available and familiar paper. Many combine writing with art or design; some reproduce their works in lithography and silkscreen. As yet there are no local or national organizations of Hebrew calligraphers in the U.S. and Canada, as there is in Israel, where the Calligraphers' Branch of the Israel Bibliophiles was formed in 1984 (now the Israel Calligraphy Society). It sponsors beginning and advanced classes and monthly lectures, demonstrations, workshops, exhibitions and tours of public and private manuscript collections. In America, Jewish calligraphers usually belong to their local society. Before and after "The Jewish Wedding" exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum in New York in 1977/78, where the works of several local calligraphers were hung, three ketubbah festivals were held. For the first time, standards of excellence were set, and amateur and professional calligraphers saw that they were not working in a vacuum.
Calligraphy in the U.S., Israel & England
Most calligraphers in the U.S. started their careers by writing a ketubbah, or wedding and bar mitzvah invitations for their relatives or friends, or New Year's greetings for their families, then built up enough of a local and regional reputation to consider Hebrew calligraphy as a career. Some have their own mail-order businesses or sell through art galleries, retail bookstores, or the Internet. Others were established Jewish graphic designers who at least could write the Hebrew alphabet, often called upon by local synagogues and organizations to write testimonials, honorary certificates and contribution cards. Calligraphers and graphic artists were usually skilled in the Latin alphabet as well. In large cities there were veteran letterers, such as Sigmund Forst in New York, Dr. Solomon S. Levadi (a dentist and novelist who designed ex libris), Bin Noon, and Max Kupferstock in Chicago, and Irving Bookstein in Boston. Until the late 1960s, except for the occasional ketubbah, the need for Hebrew calligraphy was limited. In England, the demand for Hebrew lettering was even less. It was filled by graphic artists such as Jan Le Witt, George Him, and
. Jan Le Witt (1907–1991) received his education in Czestochowa, Poland, and began his career as a designer in Warsaw in 1927. There he entered into a design partnership with George Him (b. Lodz, Poland, 1900–1981); the two moved to England in 1937 and remained partners until 1954. Together they designed the modern type "Haim." George Him studied comparative literature and history at the universities of Bonn and Berlin, then studied four years of design at the Staatliche Akademie für Graphische Kunst und Buchgewerbe (Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Design) in Leipzig. Along with his other graphic work and book illustration, he was chief designer of the Israel pavilion in the Montreal Expo of 1967. With Otto Treumann, he designed the El Al logo. Abram Games (1914–1996) designed War Office posters during World War II and is especially famous for his Festival of Britain posters and emblem of 1951. He has designed postage stamps and emblems for England and for Israel, covers for the Jewish Chronicle, and he designed the cover and endpapers of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. One of England's outstanding Latin calligraphers and historians of script, Berthold L. Wolpe (b. Offenbach, 1905–1989), was in his youth responsible for the Hebrew lettering of the Offenbacher Haggadah of 1927, in association with calligrapher and type designer Rudolph Koch and illustrator Fritz Kredel. He was originally trained in metalsmithing and engraving, and then studied with Koch at the Offenbach Kunstgewerbeschule (Art School) from 1924 to 1927, working as his assistant from 1929 to 1934. He also designed Hebrew lettering for synagogue and Passover tapestries and metal ceremonial objects. He left Nazi Germany to settle in England in 1935. In Holland, Otto Treumann (b. Fürth, 1919–2001), other than his design of the El Al logo with George Him, was inexperienced in Hebrew letter design. He taught at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, and for many years was president of the Society of Graphic Designers in The Netherlands. He serves on the board of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and has designed postage stamps for Israel.
Just as Latin calligraphy has enjoyed a steady rise since the days of Edward Johnston in England and Rudolph von Larisch in Vienna, with a self-conscious renewal on both amateur and professional levels in the U.S. in the past 20 years, so Hebrew calligraphy has enjoyed a renaissance, sporadically
since the 1920s, and steadily in the past 15 years. Fortunately, the Hebrew letter itself, calligraphic and typographic, has been given a new life in the 20th century. There had been no improvement in beauty or legibility in the scribal hand since the Middle Ages, and new typefaces were few and far between. Punch cutters were never Jewish, as far as is known, although a few typographers may have worked with Jewish scribes. Modern Hebrew calligraphy is closely interwoven with modern Hebrew typography, more so than at any time since the invention of printing, when the most beautiful and legible types were based on the medieval Sephardi hand.
Three pioneers of modern Hebrew calligraphy in Israel were Franziska Baruch, Henri Friedlaender, and Yerachmiel Schechter. Franziska Baruch (b. Hamburg, 1901–?), studied graphic design and lettering at the Staatliche Kunstgewerbeschule (State School of Arts and Crafts), Berlin. Many of her early designs included Latin lettering. In about 1918, artist
asked the young Franziska to write out the Hebrew and German script for his illustrated edition of the Haggadah. For this Baruch studied, in the library of the Jewish community in Berlin, medieval and later Ashkenazi manuscripts and the printed Prague Haggadah of 1520. From these prototypes she developed an ornamental letter that Steinhardt used not only in his woodcut Haggadah of 1921/22 and its subsequent reprints, but in later offset-printed editions of individual books of the Bible, such as the 1953 Jonah. Her Ashkenazi-style typeface, "Stam," produced by the Berthold foundry in Berlin, was very popular in the 1920s and 1930s, but variations on this letter were made without her permission. She designed other fonts, the most famous of which was commissioned by the Schocken Publishing Company, for whom she worked in the 1920s, "Schocken-Baruch," produced by Monotype. It was based on the Sephardi letter of early Italian printers, and is still used today for special editions. Another Ashkenazi typeface was commissioned by Orientalist
Leo Ary *Mayer
, cast by Enschedé of Holland, named "Mayer-Baruch"; it did not appear on the market immediately, but was later manufactured by the Jerusalem Type Foundry of Moshe Spitzer. Baruch arrived in Palestine in 1933. Over the years, she designed signs and building inscriptions, logos (the Hadassah-Brandeis Printing School among them), medallions, publishers' emblems (Mosad Bialik and Tarshish Books), ex libris, and maps. She designed the first emergency currency of the new State of Israel, and the Israel passport (1948). In letter design, she always held to her principles of functionalism, readability and harmony.
Henri Friedlaender's influence on the modern Hebrew calligraphy and typography has been more lasting. Born in Lyons, France, in 1904, he grew up in Germany, working for two printing houses in Berlin from 1922 until 1925; he then studied at the Staatliche Academie für Graphische Kunst und Buchgewerbe (Academy for the Graphic Arts and Book Crafts) in Leipzig, in 1925/26. He also worked in Dresden, Hellerau, and Offenbach, in the last city in 1927/28 at the Klingspor typefoundry, and with Rudolf Koch. The next year he was in Hamburg, and from 1929 to 1932 he was designer and project manager at the Offizin Haag-Drugulin. While working there, he received a query from Schocken as to the existence of a Hebrew typeface. Because the answer was negative he began to experiment. An early version of what was eventually to become his "Hadassah" typeface was inspired by a Scroll of Esther that he owned, dating from ca. 1800.
With the rise of the Nazis, Friedlaender sought refuge in Holland. He was designer at Moulton & Co. Press in The Hague from 1932 to 1942. World War II was spent in hiding, during which time he worked on his Hebrew type design as well as his personal lettering in Hebrew, German and Dutch, often writing quotations from the Bible. After World War II, he continued to work for Moulton & Co. as a free-lance designer and as a teacher of typography.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, Friedlaender was invited by the Hadassah Youth services to start a printing school in Jerusalem; he headed the Hadassah-Brandeis Vocational School from 1950 until it closed in 1970. His "Hadassah" type was cut and cast in 1958 by Inter-type with a license from Lettergieterij, Amsterdam, and it eventually became available for photo-composition. The letter is exceptionally clear, bold and legible and is now the most widely used of all modern Hebrew typefaces. He has also designed successful Hebrew letters for IBM, "Shalom," "Hadar," and "Aviv". In 1971, Friedlaender was awarded the Gutenberg Prize in Mainz. Friedlaender believes that there is only one basic Hebrew alphabet (from the time the Aramaic branch of the Semitic alphabet was adopted), and that the different styles over the centuries can be accounted for by the difference in support (stone, papyrus, parchment) and writing tools (reed, quill, metal nibs). He taught his students the principles of letter forms, not specific styles. His students were then free to proceed from these principles.
Hella (AA) Hartman (b. Amsterdam, 1935), who assumed the teaching of Friedlaender's classes at the Brandeis School from 1960 to 1970, graduated from the Rietveld Academy in graphics and illustration in 1954; she then studied typography there for a fifth year. After immigrating to Israel in 1957, she returned to Amsterdam for a year to study privately with Otto Treumann. In Israel, she worked for the Jewish National Fund's graphics department and taught art and calligraphy in several schools; she now teaches calligraphy and the history of the printed letter in Hadassah College's printing department. Hartman teaches her own versions of Ashkenazi, Sephardi and "Yerushalmi" letters, in addition to a few of the basic Latin script styles.
The earliest teacher of calligraphy in Palestine was Yerachmiel Schechter (b. Horodenka, Galicia, 1900). Self taught as a calligrapher, he executed all of the official writings for the Zionist Congresses from 1921 to 1927. Moving to Palestine in 1934, he taught at the New Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts when it reopened in 1935 with
as director. He had always researched the Hebrew letter, and he developed the first "Yerushalmi" style, which he based on the earliest manuscripts
of the Middle Ages from the Firkovich collection in Leningrad and those found in the Cairo Genizah, as well as inscriptions from the Second Temple period. Most calligraphers today believe the "Yerushalmi" script was inspired by the Dead Sea Scrolls, but this version is a later phase of the letter (1950s). Schechter taught according to methods of Edward Johnston, with a strong emphasis on historical styles; he taught Sephardi, Ashkenazi ("Stam"), "Rashi" (Sephardi semicursive) and Latin styles with which the Hebrew letter could be integrated. "Budko" script was also developed and taught by Schechter; this style was initiated by Bezalel's director (1935–1940) when a committee requested the modernization of Hebrew script for teaching in grade schools. Schechter retired officially in 1972. He designed the lettering on the currency of the new State of Israel.
Among Schechter's students were several of Israel's best known calligraphers, including Zev Lippmann (b. Erfurt, Germany, 1920–), who settled in Palestine in 1933 and studied at Bezalel from 1936 to 1939. In 1951, Lippmann was asked by L.F. Toby, who was a semi-professional graphic designer, to do the illustrations in a booklet for which he had written the text. Lippmann believes that the source of "Yerushalmi" script, which is illustrated in the booklet, was the inscriptions of the Second Temple period, called "Even" or stone script, or "Even Yerushalmi" before it was called "Yerushalmi." But the version illustrated is closer to the aforementioned medieval manuscripts than to the earlier inscriptions. Other scripts were illustrated in the first edition: a cursive script called "Rollit," after the firm "Roli," Rothschild and Lippmann, and "Barcelona," based on the "Schocken-Baruch" type, itself based on Italian Renaissance typography. Over the years, this calligraphic bestseller has gone through many editions, with its brief text translated into English. Another script was added, "Universal," designed by graphic artist and Bezalel teacher Emmanuel Grau for the Hebrew University, to be seen on all of their buildings.
Fred Pauker (1927–1985), Israel's most creative master of script, was also a graphic designer. Love for the Hebrew letter is evident in everything he wrote. Born in Vienna, he spent the war years in England. In 1949 he immigrated to Israel, and studied at Bezalel from 1952 to 1956. Pauker had a natural feel for script, and was already accomplished in English lettering before enrolling in Bezalel.
Fred Pauker's many works included script; he also designed the lettering for commemorative plaques, monumental and building inscriptions in stone (the LA Mayer Museum in Jerusalem and the El Al offices in London and Paris), logos, and honorary certificates. He designed the publications of the Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, but his real interest was calligraphy. His integration of the Hebrew and English letter is so perfect that it takes a while for the eye of the observer to separate one script from the other. Pauker's internationally acclaimed letter design is his 1969 traveler's prayer in El Al's folder, commissioned by W. Turnowsky.
Noah Ophir, born in Jerusalem in 1932, has been involved with Hebrew letters since he was a child; his father Moshe Zilberstein and his uncle, Yehiel Dresner, were sign makers. He graduated from Bezalel in 1956, and taught calligraphy there from 1956 to 1960, along with his teacher Schechter. Ophir's thesis was a modern version of the letters of the Dead Sea Scrolls. His alphabet received first prize in the competition for the exhibition commemorating the 10th anniversary of the State of Israel. Ophir uses his "Dead Sea Scroll" script for the writing of traditional texts. In his 1985 Haggadah, illustrated by Yossi Stern, the lettering is so even that it is mistaken for type. His letter has an Oriental-Yemenite character, with its vertical strokes slightly on the diagonal. Ophir's major output in graphic art stresses the Hebrew letter – corporate identity graphics for hotels, exhibition pavilions for museums and Israel's pavilions in world's fairs. He designs decorative walls for buildings which include script (Chief Rabbinate in Tel Aviv) and teaches calligraphy at the Popular University in Jerusalem. In addition to his printed Haggadah, he has also hand-written and illuminated facsimiles of medieval haggadot on vellum.
The Dead Sea Scrolls had a great impact on many calligraphers, professional and amateur. The "Yerushalmi" letter was transformed by several calligraphers under its influence, in the reduction of elimination of the lower part of the vertical stroke of many letters, with emphasis on a strong upper horizontal bar. The final mem also became elongated. Rabbi Zev Gotthold, who studied in yeshivot in Poland and New York, wrote and decorated ketubbot for friends during the time he lived in the U.S. (1938–1951), then brought the custom to Israel with him. He favors his own Dead Sea Scroll script for the ketubbot he still writes as an avocation.
Zvi Narkis (b. Botosani, Rumania, 1921) is a calligrapher, graphic artist and type designer, with 35 fonts, including variations, to his credit. He arrived in Palestine in 1944, and studied graphic arts and lettering at Bezalel during 1946, 1948 and 1949, but left to work for the Jewish National Fund. In 1958 he designed "Narkiss Block," a sanserif type for hand composition, and from 1965 to 1968, "Narkiss Book" and "Narkiss Bold," faintly serifed, for Linotype (now Linotron). The first book in which the latter two appeared was Moshe Levine's The Tabernacle (Tel Aviv, Hebrew ed., 1968; English ed., 1969). Letraset (England) and Transfertech (U.S.) produce "Narkiss" letters, and they are also available on Compedit of Addressograph/Multigraph ("Narkiss Tam," "Narkissim," and "Frank-Rühl Dor"). He is now preparing his letter designs for laser writers, and modernizing historical typefaces such as "Vilna" (ca. 1850), and creating the biblical accents and cantillation for his "Frank-Rühl Dor." A major calligraphic limited edition designed by Zvi Narkiss was Great is Peace, by Daniel Sperber, published in 1979. Talmudic sources were written by hand; commentary was set in Linotype "Narkiss Book" and "Bold." Zvi Narkiss researches and lectures in the history of the Hebrew letter, and has mastered all major and lesser-known historical styles.
Elly Gross (b. Vienna, 1921), another Bezalel graduate
(1942), immigrated to Israel in 1939. She has studied, traveled, and exhibited extensively in Europe and the U.S. As a free-lance graphic artist and illustrator in Tel Aviv, she has designed street signs, book jackets, bindings and logos. Script has played a major role in her work. Eli Preis (b. Berlin, 1921) studied at Bezalel from the year he arrived in the country, 1937, to 1941, then worked for the Jewish National Fund, after which he free-lanced. Some of his works were sponsored by the Jewish Agency, which, like the Zionist Congresses and the Jewish National Fund, were early patrons of Hebrew calligraphy. One calligraphic work by Preis unique for its time was a Kiddush and Grace After Meals, published by the Jerusalem Art Publishing Society (Korngold) in 1952. Also ahead of the ketubbah revival was Theo (Tzvi) Hausman (b. Berlin, 1920–1956), who calligraphed one in 1955. Hausman, who had studied in the Art School in Basle, immigrated to Israel in 1954. He worked as a free-lance designer, for the government and the Knesset, as well as for Heinz van Cleef and Moshe Spitzer at the Jerusalem Type Foundry. A modern display letter of his design was to become the typeface "Ha-Ẓevi," cast after he died. It is an open letter with almost even shading and minimal serifs.
Several recent immigrants established their reputations in the U.S. and brought their American calligraphic customs with them – this does not mean lettering style but rather the type of calligraphic work they produce. Instead of commercial and architectural lettering, they specialized in single-sheet works that are meant to be hung in private homes, commissioned ketubbot, or ones that are hand-printed, or books. Their writing is less apt to be based on historical styles than that of calligraphers trained in Israel.
David Moss (b. Dayton, Ohio, 1946) was the first in the U.S. to gain a national reputation writing ketubbot tailored individually to the couple. While visiting Israel after he received his B.A., Moss asked a sofer setam to write out the Ashkenazi alphabet for him. His method since has been to develop a letter of his own, use it for a few years, and then go on to a new letter design. He combines papercuts and micrography with calligraphy, working on parchment and paper. Recently he has spent less time on single sheet works such as amulets and mizraḥim to devote himself to books: in 1981 he wrote a small alef-bet book inspired by medieval children's primers found in the Cairo Genizah; in 1984 he completed his Haggadah, commissioned by Florida manuscript collector Richard Levy, which has been published in a limited edition facsimile. Moss settled in Jerusalem in 1983.
Malla Carl-Blumenkranz (b. Kalisz, Poland, 1927) has written more letters in the past ten years, at which time she returned to the art after a long absence, than most calligraphers write in a lifetime. After studying at the Kunstgewerbe Schule in Lucerne, where she learned calligraphy (Roman Capitals and Gothic) from graphic artist Max von Moos, she moved to Israel. From 1950 to 1957, she worked for Rothschild and Lippmann in Tel Aviv, then lived in Chicago until her return to Israel in 1969. In 1980 she expanded her calligraphic repertoire to include Ashkenazi, her own versions of classic Sephardi and "Yerushalmi," semicursive, 11th–13th century Oriental which she studied from photographs, and Pauker's letter. Carl-Blumenkranz's current works, on parchment and hand-made paper, are Jerusalem landscapes, animal sketches, and figures, all drawn from nature and models, integrated with texts from the Bible or other Jewish writings. She has received commissions from universities, museums, organizations, publishers and the government of Israel.
Other calligraphers working in Israel today include Asher Oron, a Tel Aviv graphic designer; Yehudit Abinun; Kitty Toren Bauer; Ruth Bowman; Naomi Solomon; Ada Yardeni (a graphic artist who has done academic research on the Hebrew letter and is an expert in the reconstruction of the appearance of ancient manuscripts); Avraham Cohen, also a papercutter; Menahem Berman, silversmith; Janet Berg, a calligraphic goldsmith; and Yitẓḥak Pludwinski, who is a Jerusalem sofer setam and a calligrapher, a rare combination. With calligraphy training in the U.S., Sharon Binder and Debra Warburg Walk are active in Israel today. Métavel (Renée Koppel, b. Soukaras, Algeria), is a Tel Aviv miniaturist who has made several books of the Kabbalah in miniature on old book paper: in 1985 she wrote and illustrated a haggadah. Shoshana Walker has divided her time between Jerusalem and New York, and Edna Miron, who learned Hebrew calligraphy in Israel and was a founder of the Israel Calligraphy Society, now works in Los Angeles.
One of the pioneers of the ornamental Hebrew letter in the U.S. was Siegmund Forst (b. Vienna, 1904). He studied all styles of Latin calligraphy with Rudolph von Larisch at the Graphische Lehrund Versuchsanstalt in 1929 and at the Vienna State Academy of Art. His studies there were sponsored by Max Eisler, a lecturer at the University of Vienna, to whom he was introduced by the artist Arthur Weiss. Professor Eisler wrote two articles on Forst's work, in the Menorah Journal and the Jüdische Familienblatt, and arranged for his woodcuts to be exhibited with those of the Hajen Bund (Artists' Society), the only works to have a Jewish theme. It was Larisch who first suggested applying calligraphic principles to Hebrew lettering. Forst designed monumental inscriptions, gravestones, diplomas and other works on parchment until he left for the U.S. in 1939. Like Wolpe, his ornamental letter was based on classic Ashkenazi style. Forst's best known illustrated work is his Haggadah, first published in 1946, but his Hebrew script can be found in all media, with or without illustrations.
In the U.S., Ismar David (Breslau, 1910–New York 1996) was the acknowledged master of Hebrew calligraphy. He studied at the Arts and Crafts School in Breslau, then at the Kunstgewerbe und Handwerker Schule (Municipal Arts and Crafts School) of Berlin-Charlottenburg. The winning of a competition for the lettering of the Jewish National Fund's Golden Book sponsored his passage to Palestine in 1932. His typeface design, begun in the 1930s and redesigned in 1949/50, was cast by Intertype in 1952. "David" is the most calligraphic of
all modern type designs. Ismar David believed in going back to the historical source for letters, although he himself wrote them in his own style. He worked in New York as an architectural and graphic designer and illustrator, and was a key figure in Hebrew script workshops at calligraphy conventions.
Lili Cassel Wronker (b. Berlin, 1924) left Germany after Kristallnacht and came to the U.S. by way of London in 1940. In New York she attended the Washington Irving High School, where she was afforded the opportunity to study art for four hours a day. At fifteen, she had already read and absorbed Edward Johnston's works. After studying at the Art Students' League, she worked as assistant to calligrapher Arnold Banks, then art director of Time. Lili Wronker acknowledges that her greatest influence in the study of Hebrew calligraphy came through her friendship with Elly Gross, who introduced her to Franzisca Baruch, Jakob Steinhardt, Ismar David, Henri Friedlaender, and Emmanuel Grau when she visited Israel in 1948. Wronker often conducts workshops in Hebrew calligraphy, in addition to working as a children's book illustrator. She excels in integrating the Hebrew and Latin alphabets.
Maury Nemoy (b. Chicago, 1912–1985) studied at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and at San Fernando Valley State College. From 1932 he worked as a graphic designer and calligrapher, and taught calligraphy at UCLA. Although he never claimed to be a Hebrew calligrapher, his mastery of Hebrew script is obvious. Paul Freeman (1929–1980) was another renowned American calligrapher who at times wrote Hebrew letters. One of Nemoy's students of Latin script at UCLA was Ruth Newlander Merritt (b. Chicago, 1935), an artist who had been drawing Hebrew letters since childhood. Her career has been typical of many American calligraphers; she began by making greeting cards and ketubbot for family and friends, until enough commissions allowed her to produce her own line of calligraphic cards, prints, and lettering in fabric and metal sculpture. Merritt maintains the classic shapes of letters.
Jay Greenspan (b. Chicago, 1947) received his B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1969, his M.A. in Hebrew literature was from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1972. In 1970, when he was the roommate of David Moss, he became interested in Hebrew calligraphy. He has participated in many exhibitions and has taught Hebrew calligraphy at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA in New York. His book Hebrew Calligraphy, a Step by Step Guide is well known to aspiring and amateur Hebrew calligraphers. Jonathan Kremer (b. Staten Island, NY, 1953), who worked in Boston for several years before moving to Philadelphia, uses the Hebrew letter innovatively but does not believe in deviating from traditional form. After learning and practicing the basic letters from Toby's book, he improved them with the help of Jerusalem artist Likke Tov (sister of Hella Hartman). He now varies his script. His M.A. thesis at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University was the design of a Hebrew typeface, and his latest work is a hand-written, illustrated limited edition of Lamentations (1985), printed in gray and red on letterpress.
In Chicago, Rose Ann (Gelber) Chasman (b. Chicago, 1938-2007) was an active participant in the renaissance of Hebrew calligraphy, having made her first ketubbah in 1976. Her B.A. was in art education. Her lettering was used in embroidery and papercuts in addition to the standard ketubbot, invitations, Hebrew texts, certificates, and logos. Chasman taught calligraphy at the Spertus College of Judaica. Daryl (Rothman) Kuperstock (b. Chicago, 1951) was inspired to teach herself calligraphy after having met David Moss and Jay Greenspan in New York. She wrote her first ketubbah in 1975. A left-handed writer, she now favors biblical texts and modern Hebrew poetry.
In Detroit is Ilse (Hertz) Roberg (b. Beuel, 1915), who came to the U.S. in 1940, and studied Latin calligraphy in Detroit with Gil Hanna at the Center for Progressive Arts, and later continued with the writing master of the Detroit area, Lothar Hoffmann. As a Hebrew teacher, her desire for fine script motivated her to teach herself Hebrew calligraphy. In this, she received direction from Hugo (Haim) Mandelbaum, a mathematician now residing in Israel, who, when he was a professor at Wayne State University, designed many monumental Hebrew signs in Detroit in brass, copper, and stone. Lynne Avadenka is a book artist and printer who studied at Wayne State University (B.F.A., 1978, M.F.A., 1980). She established her own private press, Land Marks Press, in 1981. In addition to commissions, calligraphic and typographic Hebrew letters have found their way into her art, as in A Meditation (1976), for which she designed a dye that was cut for hand-printing. Avadenka has also curated exhibitions of the book arts at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Other calligraphers and lettering artists working in the U.S. include Cynthia Bell (Boston), Abigail Chapman Diamond (Englewood, New Jersey), Judith Lopes Cardozo (New York), Mordechai Rosenstein, a graphic artist (Philadelphia), Avraham Cohen, a scribe-calligrapher (Baltimore), Stan Brod (Cincinnati), Hermineh Miller (Ann Arbor, Michigan), Gershon Judkowsky, an architect, and Renana Vishny (Chicago), Merilyn Moss (Mill Valley, California). New York silversmiths such as Nissim Hizme, whose wedding rings and other jewelry are worn by hundreds of American Jews, and Moshe Zabari, whose ceremonial objects naturally display Hebrew script, are the outstanding practitioners of calligraphy in metal. Zabari's predecessor at the Jewish Museum in New York, Ludwig Wolpert, had been a pioneer in the use of modern Hebrew script in silver.
No single American Hebrew calligrapher has had the influence upon a generation of professional graphic designers and calligraphers in the U.S., as have such master teachers in Israel as Henri Friedlaender and Yerachmiel Schechter.
A few calligraphers are working in England today, although Hebrew calligraphy is not their full-time occupation. The making of books is of great concern to artist Ya'akov Boussidan (b. Port Said, Egypt, 1939), who arrived in Israel shortly after the establishment of the state. He first studied art in Tel Aviv with Joseph Schwartzman, then in
London at Goldsmith College, where his final project in 1969 was an etched Songs of Songs. He hand-lettered the Hebrew text for it ten years later, after he had already completed his Haggadah, an etched limited edition, in which Hebrew script was transferred to the etching plate photographically. Song of Songs has appeared in three different illustrated editions, the 1979 etched edition in black and white, where the script was lithographed; the offset-printed edition, where the script was rewritten and different illustrations were etched (printed in brown ink in Israel in 1982, with a limited number including an original etching), and a third silkscreen limited edition of 1986, with reworked etching plates and script from the 2nd edition, bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe in London. His Haggadah script combined Ashkenazi and Sephardi elements; his Song of Songs letters are more elongated.
Simon Prais of Birmingham, England (1962), is a freelance designer, typographic consultant and teacher who specializes in combining Hebrew and English types, the subject of his M.A. thesis at Manchester Polytechnic. He has recently designed a series of Jewish holiday posters, and in the fall of 1986, a cover for the Jewish Chronicle. Others who have taken up Hebrew calligraphy in England are Gordon Charaton (an architect), Beatrice Wober, and Ruth Bruckner, all of whom reside in London.
Hebrew calligraphy has numerous applications. In Israel, there are necessarily more and better-trained calligraphers because there is a natural, constant and practical need for script – for the interiors and exteriors of buildings, street and commercial signs and displays, for corporate identity design, book jackets, record covers, posters, garments, postage stamps and currency, degrees, awards and testimonials, gravestones, jewelry design, typography and the manifold visual aspects of everyday life. Even Letraset and Transfertech letters must ultimately come from someone's hand. For professional designers involved in this graphic work, calligraphy for its own sake is often a pleasurable diversion or a special commission. For other calligraphers in the U.S. and England, their full-time occupation is lettering: the ketubbah, haggadah, scroll of Esther, biblical and other Jewish quotations, holiday pieces (such as ushpizin for the sukkah), Songs of Songs and the Seven Blessings for weddings, blessings on the New Moon, the physician's oath or Maimonides's prayer, greeting cards, or whatever text a patron may choose for hand-lettering on paper or vellum. Hebrew letters are found in fabric design (weaving, embroidery, appliqué), in papercuts, in ceramics, metal, jewelry, glass and stone. A few Jewish artists have made script an integral part of their works:
(whose Ashkenazi script was well suited to the engraved Haggadah he first published in 1941),
, and Mark Podwal.
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