We frequently engage with Jewish texts in books and ritual items but rarely stop to consider their history as objects, as well as the history of Hebrew as a written language. From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the latest Talmud editions and smartphone prayer apps, the physical manifestation of Jewish texts has changed much in the last two millennia. In describing the development of our sacred texts and how Jewish text production fits into the greater story of Western civilization, we are reminded of how Jewish craft has evolved over time, how much we have absorbed from the world around us, and how things we take for granted can have deep and rich histories.
I am Hillel Smith, a graphic designer and artist based in Los Angeles. See some of my work here and here. I’ve been interested in art, language, and the culture of communication for as long as I can remember. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Visual Studies, an interdisciplinary program exploring how humans interact with the visual world, only after dropping a major in linguistic anthropology.
My Jewish work in particular tries to enlarge the boundaries of Jewish art by using contemporary media techniques and influences—among them spray paint and street art, paper craft, and digital design—to create new manifestations of traditional forms. I’ve lectured on Hebrew typography at Limmud LA, Asylum Arts, and elsewhere, and I teach a street art-style spray paint stenciling class at a growing number of schools, youth groups, and camps. I am also currently working on a large-scale mural project called Illuminated Streets in LA and Tel Aviv.
Aiming to be useful to the non-academic, I will follow the more common, if non-scholarly, convention of transliterating both the Hebrew letters ח and כ as CH rather than as Ḥ (H with a dot) and KH respectively. Similarly, I’ll use the modern phonetic names for the letters, even when that disagrees with the official convention (like vav versus waw), or when the letters are in a pre-Hebrew language. I’ll use the common phonetic spelling of Hebrew names for people and books and such and include Latinized names when those are more well-known.
I use BC/AD for dates due to its widespread usage, and because I find BCE/CE confusing. Do not ascribe any religious ideology to that decision.
I also plan to update old entries regularly as I discover new information or simply rewrite passages. I’ll try to note larger changes but will not note everything.
Please leave comments! I want to learn from you, too!
And if you want to publish this all in an actual, physical book, get in touch and let’s fell some trees!
See the copyright notice here.
I’d like to thank Jackie Ben-Efraim at the Ostrow Library at American Jewish University and Mark Barbour at the International Printing Museum for their generosity and expertise. I’d like to thank the friends who’ve secured me resources from their institutions of higher learning, the designers and scholars who have shared their expertise with me, and everyone who has encouraged me in this project. And I’d like to thank my parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents for instilling in me a love of learning and adventure, and indulging my passion for art and craft.