BET (Heb. ב; בֵּית), second letter of the Hebrew alphabet: a voiced bilabial plosive [b] and voiced labiodental fricative [v] (a positional variant); its numerical value is 2.
The earliest form of bet – in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions – is the acrophonic pictograph of a house (bayit) While in South Arabic its shape is and in Ethiopic , in the Proto-Canaanite script the main stages of development are → → → . Variants of the latter form survive in the Phoenician (, ), Hebrew (,), and Samaritan () as well as in the Greek ( →) and Latin scripts.
The Aramaic bet like the dalet, resh, and ʿayin has an open top already in the seventh century B.C.E. While in the fifth century B.C.E. the downstroke has a diagonal flourish , from the fourth century B.C.E. onward the downstroke is vertical curving into a horizontal base; at the same time there is a tendency to straighten the top of the letter: . In the early Jewish script the tick on the left side of the top is the only remnant of the half-circled head. Already in the Herodian period, the base of the Jewish bet is written occasionally with a separate left-to-right stroke . This fashion prevails, becomes common in the Jewish bookhand, and the bet does not change its basic shape during the ages: In some cursive trends, as in the period of Bar Kokhba and today, the bet is written without lifting the pen: . However, the Ashkenazi cursive developed as follows: → → → .
Palmyrene bet follows the third-century B.C.E. Aramaic and develops through into Syriac . The Nabatean bet loses its top ; this form is adopted for Arabic ba, which later is distinguished by a diacritic sign from (ta), (nun), and (ya). See *Alphabet, Hebrew.