The 29th of Tammuz marks the 914th yahrzeit of one of the most prolific commentators in Jewish history, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, more commonly known as Rashi.
In honor of the yahrzeit we decided to take a look at how Rashi font has evolved and what how Koren Publishers is restoring the original Rashi font in the 21st century. modern ways.
Traditional Rashi script is a distinct, cursive-esque Hebrew letter. The typeface (which was not used by Rashi himself) is based on a 15th century Sephardic semi-cursive typeface. In the case of the Hebrew press, Ashkenazi tradition prevailed and square or block letters were used for Biblical works. Secondary religious texts, such as rabbinic commentaries, were, however, commonly set with a semi-cursive form of Sephardic origin, ultimately standardized as the Rashi typeface that we know today.
How does this relate to Koren font? As noted in a previous post, Eliyahu Koren was a master graphic designer and typographer in his own right. In order to develop a unique font for the Tanakh, Koren consulted with other typographers, Hebrew grammarians, and even optometrists. The goal was to develop the most easy-to-read and accurate Hebrew font available. After his edition of Tanakh was published in 1962, Eliyahu Koren went on to develop a unique font for the siddur as well. As with the Bible, Jewish prayer, should have its own distinct font.
The newly digitized Rashi font as seen in Koren’s editions of Tanakh and even the Noé Edition Koren Talmud Bavli has slightly different versions of each and every letter depending on the position of the letter and which nikkud [vowels] are being used. Let’s look at the word “HaMahaneh” – do you see any differences in the letters?
Now have a look at the “hey” at the beginning and the end of the word. The front ‘leg’ of the hey is shorter than the last letter. This makes room for the ‘nun’ that comes before it, and at the same time resembles the authentic look of the Rashi script in original medieval manuscripts:
As in handwriting today, letters can look different depending on their positioning in a word. Take the letter ‘tav’ for which Eliyahu Koren created four different types:
The reasoning behind these different versions was to allow for adjacent letters to fit together in an aesthetic sense, and, so it would look more like natural handwriting. Our graphic designers incorporated this guiding principles into the digitized font, which can be seen here in the word “Nitpayasta” (‘you reconciled [with me]’, as seen in Rashi on Genesis 33:10):
The tav at the end swings around, resembling how one might write a letter at the end of a script word. The result is a Rashi font that is easier on the eyes, facilitates one’s ability to read the text, and restores a more accurate presentation of how Rashi script looked when it was first published in the 15th century.
There are many more examples of the nuances in the Koren Rashi font, but you’ll have to search for yourself! For one day only (Thursday August 1st …mark you calendars!) , get 40% off all editions of the Koren Humash Rashi and the Humash HaMevoar, an all-Hebrew edition on the Humash with Rabbi Steinsaltz’s commentary.