DATE: 1998-05-09

DOC TYPE:Expert contribution
TITLE:Title: Proposal to add the Hebrew Tetragrammaton to ISO/IEC 10646
SOURCE:Mark E. Shoulson; Michael Everson
MEDIUM:Paper and web

A. Administrative

1. Title Proposal to add the Hebrew Tetragrammaton to ISO/IEC 10646
2. Requester's name Mark E. Shoulson; Michael Everson
3. Requester type Expert contribution
4. Submission date 1998-05-09
5. Requester's reference  
6a. Completion This is a complete proposal.
6b. More information to be provided? No

B. Technical -- General

1a. New character? Name? Yes. HEBREW TETRAGRAMMATON.
1b. Addition of characters to existing block? Name? Yes. Hebrew.
2. Number of characters 1
3. Proposed category Category A
4. Proposed level of implementation and rationale Level 1. The proposed character is a single non-combining character with many glyph variants.
5a. Character names included in proposal? Yes
5b. Character names in accordance with guidelines? Yes
5c. Character shapes reviewable? Yes
6a. Who will provide computerized font? Michael Everson, Everson Typography.
6b. Font currently available? Yes: Michael Everson, Everson Typography.
6c. Font format? TrueType
7a. Are references (to other character sets, dictionaries, descriptive texts, etc.) provided? Yes.
7b. Are published examples (such as samples from newspapers, magazines, or other sources) of use of proposed characters attached? Yes.
8. Does the proposal address other aspects of character data processing? No

C. Technical -- Justification

1. Has this proposal for addition of character(s) been submitted before? No
2. Contact with the user community? Yes. Hebrew Language Mailing List (, Rabbi Jeff Bienenfeld, Rabbi Ronald Schwarzberg, Rabbi David J. Schnall, Rabbi Neil N. Winkler.
3. Information on the user community? Jews, students of Judaism and Jewish literature, students of religion, publishers of Bibles and biblical literature.
4a. The context of use for the proposed characters? High frequency character in religious texts, including prayer books, Bibles, etc.
4b. Reference  
5a. Proposed characters in current use? Yes
5b. Where? The HEBREW TETRAGRAMMATON is a unique sign used to represent the name of God. We have not found it to date in a coded character set. However, the coding of this character solves a serious lexical problem with regard to Hebrew texts which cannot be solved in any other way. See below for further justification.
6a. Characters should be encoded entirely in BMP? Yes. Position U+05FF is proposed.
6b. Rationale All Hebrew characters are in the BMP.
7. Should characters be kept in a continuous range? Not applicable; single character
8a. Can the characters be considered a presentation form of an existing character or character sequence? Yes, in principle, but it can be considered a presentation form of about twenty different strings of characters.
8b. Where? 05D9+05B0+05D4+05B9+05D5+05B8+05D4, or 05D9+05D4+05D5+05D4, or 05D3+05F3, or 05D4+05F3, or 05D9+05D9, or 05D9+05B0+05D9+05B8, or 05D9+05D9+05D9, or 05D9+05D0+05D4+05D3+05D5+05E0+05D4+05D9, et al....
8c. Reference Attached proposal and rationale explains why a new code position is required, and why the particular sequences given above are not adequate to represent this entity-in-text.
9a. Can any of the characters be considered to be similar (in appearance or function) to an existing character? Only to U+FDF2, ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM, with which it would not be possible to unify this character as the two belong to different scripts.
9b. Where? N/A
9c. Reference Attached proposal and rationale as to why a new code position is required.
10a. Combining characters or use of composite sequences included? No
10b. List of composite sequences and their corresponding glyph images provided? No
11. Characters with any special properties such as control function, etc. included? No

D. SC2/WG2 Administrative

To be completed by SC2/WG2

1. Relevant SC 2/WG 2 document numbers:  
2. Status (list of meeting number and corresponding action or disposition)  
3. Additional contact to user communities, liaison organizations etc.  
4. Assigned category and assigned priority/time frame  
Other Comments  

E. Proposal

The four-letter Hebrew name of God is afforded a very special status in Jewish texts. As with certain other names of the Deity, it is forbidden to erase the Explicit Name once is it written, out of respect for its sanctity. However, the four-letter name, the Tetragrammaton, has unique properties which qualify it as a symbol unto itself, not simply a concatenation of the letters which comprise it.

The Tetragrammaton may be represented with its usual vocalization:

HEBREW LETTER YOD (U+05D9) pointed with HEBREW POINT SHEVA (U+05B0) followed by HEBREW LETTER HE (U+05D4) pointed with HEBREW POINT HOLAM (U+05B9) followed by HEBREW LETTER VAV (U+05D5) pointed with HEBREW POINT QAMATS (U+05B8) followed by another HE. This vocalization is conventional, based on the vocalization of another name of God ( Adonai), and does not represent its pronunciation. The Tetragrammaton is never pronounced as written, but always read using an epithet for God, usually Adonai in sacred contexts and sometimes ha-Shem 'the Name' in mundane contexts (since Adonai, though only an epithet, is still considered too holy to use for ordinary purposes).

On a few occasions the Name is pointed as shown here, with HEBREW POINT HATAF SEGOL (U+05B1) (or HEBREW POINT SHEVA [U+05B0]), HOLAM, and HEBREW POINT HIRIQ (U+05B4), which is based on the vocalization of the word Elohim. This pointing only occurs in a few places in the Bible, and always is preceded by another name of God.

Because the vocalization doesn't indicate the pronunciation of the Explicit Name itself, some texts present only the letters YOD-HE-VAV-HE without vowels (even when the rest of the text is pointed).

Owing to the sanctity which the Tetragrammaton imparts to texts in which it appears, it is sometimes printed in other forms which do not have the same property, for example:


HE followed by GERESH. Similarly, different texts represent the Tetragrammaton with other slightly varying conventions. In some texts, a pair of letters may be used:

YOD pointed with SHEVA and YOD pointed with QAMATS (note that this is distinct from HEBREW LIGATURE YIDDISH DOUBLE YOD (U+05F2) in that here, each letter is pointed individually). In addition, the same two letters may be used unpointed even when the rest of the text is pointed.

In some medieval rabbinic manuscripts (which are not pointed), the Tetragrammaton is represented by three YODs in succession:

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Tetragrammaton was considered so sacred that a distinction was made for it from plain text by writing it in an entirely different script. The text of the scrolls is written in a form of usual "square" Hebrew script, closely related to modern Hebrew writing, but the Tetragrammaton is written using the very different Old Hebrew script.
From the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Library. (

From the Habakuk Roll (Haarmann 1990:311)

Some books, particularly Sephardic prayer books, write the Tetragrammaton in a unique fashion derived from Cabbalistic sources, with the word Adonai actually inside the final HE of the word. (It is unknown how this combination could be represented in either plain or fancy text.) Often this is followed by YOD-HE-VAV-HE interspersed with ALEF-DALET-NUN-YOD ().
Both of these should be considered to be examples of glyph variants of the Tetragrammaton. The whole string cannot be considered to be a single Tetragrammaton, because the two parts (the YOD-HE-VAV-HE with the internal Adonai, and the YOD-ALEF-HE-DALET-VAV-NUN-HE-YOD) can be separated at line breaks (see example 1 below).

For various Cabbalistic reasons, the vowels are changed in some contexts, though of course the pronunciation is unaffected:

These are pointed with HEBREW POINTs SHEVA, HIRIQ, TSERE, SEGOL, PATAH, QAMATS, HOLAM, QUBUTS, and VAV WITH SHURUQ respectively. These unusual pointings are not the only ones found, however: pointings with HOLAM-TSERE-QAMATS-TSERE and HOLAM-SHEVA-QAMATS are also found:

Note that in all cases the text being represented is the same: it is the Explicit Name. All of these are examples of glyph variants of the Tetragrammaton.

F. Justification

All of the possible representations of the Tetragrammaton can in principle be achieved in ISO/IEC 10646 encoding by strings of characters, such as 05D9+05B0+05D4+05B9+05D5+05B8+05D4, or 05D9+05D4+05D5+05D4, or 05D3+05F3, or 05D4+05F3, or 05D9+05D9, or 05D9+05B0+05D9+05B8, or 05D9+05D0+05D4+05D3+05D5+05E0+05D4+05D9, et al.... However, UCS cannot represent the Cabbalistic formulae in plain text -- and indeed a fancy text protocol for their representation is hard to imagine. The final letter in is not a glyph variant of the letter HE -- rather, is a glyph variant of , as is , , and .

The point is, the word which is represented in each of the texts is always understood to be the same word, regardless of the glyphs used to represent it. Encoding it as an entity and leaving the representation to the font is the best way of representing this entity-in-text.

Consider the following sentences:

These mean "Blessed be the name of the Lord". No one can claim that they are not identical but for the glyphic representation of the Tetragrammaton. In fact the sanctity and uniqueness of the Name is enhanced by recognizing the unique traditional glyphic treatment of this entity. It is not a string of letters. DALET-GERESH can mean 'four', and HE-GERESH can mean 'five': a phrase like can mean either 'the day of God' or 'Thursday'!

Consider the following text, as an example (Psalm 117):

A text such as this could be made available electronically -- but the best and most reliable way to represent the text is by coding the "ligature" as a unique entity with glyphic variants. The verb 'praise' in this text has the same encoding in every version of this Psalm, and can be searched for electronically by a unique string of characters without fail in any corpus of Hebrew literature. A plain text search for the Tetragrammaton must be retrievable in the same fashion. The Name is the Name, but if 10 different possible strings can be used to represent it, it is not one thing.

UCS should treat the Tetragrammaton as a unique Hebrew ligature analogous to the ARABIC LIGATURE ALLAH ISOLATED FORM, leaving the glyph representation to a choice of font vis à vis this character.

G. Recommendation

Due to the sacred treatment made of the Tetragrammaton by its users, it is strongly suggested that the glyph used to represent it in UCS (that is, in both ISO/IEC 10646 and Unicode) be HE with GERESH:

In this way the choice to use the full and explicit glyph representation of the Tetragrammaton would be the responsibility of the printer, font implementor, etc.


(On the online version of this document, clicking on the picture will load a larger version. The print version of this document contains photocopies of the hard copy.)

From Prayers based on Psalm 84:1, Psalm 144:1, and Psalm 145

1. From the Sidur Sucath David, p. 127. 1986. New York: American Friends of Sucath David.

2. From the Mincha Service, in 5758 Calendar Diary, p. 1. 1997. New York: Orthodox Union.

3. From the Siddur ha-Shalem (Ashkenaz), p. 36. 1986. New York: Areret Publishing.

4. From the Siddur Rinat Yisrael (Ashkenaz), p. 141. 1977. Jerusalem: Moreshet Publishing.

5. From Five books of the Torah, Hafrarot, with Sabbath Prayers (Ashkenaz), p. 83. 1995. Jerusalem: Koren Publishing. (Note the use of two different fonts, with YOD-HE-VAV-HE in one font and YOD-YOD in the other.)

From Prayers based on Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.

6. From the Sidur Sucath David, p. 68. 1986. New York: American Friends of Sucath David.

7. From the Mincha Service, in 5758 Calendar Diary, p. 4. 1997. New York: Orthodox Union.

8. From the Siddur ha-Shalem (Ashkenaz), p. 50. 1986. New York: Areret Publishing.

9. From the Siddur Rinat Yisrael (Ashkenaz), p. 62. 1977. Jerusalem: Moreshet Publishing. (Note the use of YOD-HE-VAV-HE in the main text and HE-GERESH in the note.)

10. From Five books of the Torah, Hafrarot, with Sabbath Prayers (Ashkenaz), p. 83. 1995. Jerusalem: Koren Publishing. (Note the use of two different fonts, with YOD-HE-VAV-HE in one font and YOD-YOD in the other.)

Michael Everson, Evertype, Dublin, 2001-09-21