Missing the fun.

I subscribe to a list devoted to Hebrew computing. Even though in the work that I do I generally don't encounter the sort of problems dealt with on this list, problems related to representing Hebrew correctly both in word-processed documents and on the web are fascinating, and I like to be aware of what's happening in the field, including the problems that others encounter. Because this is a low volume list it hardly intrudes into my other, more urgent, activities. I usually read whatever messages arrive before downloading them to my computer, and even throw them off the server before they get to me. Only if something relates to a problem I've encountered, or sparks a particular interest, will I download it to my mail.

One reader recently asked if there was a sentence in Hebrew that contained all the letters of the alphabet, including in their final forms. He'd apparently designed a new font, and he wanted to be able to see the alphabet in that font. A single, catchy, sentence, is a good way of being able to do this. This generated an interesting discussion - a discussion that wasn't limited to word processing in Hebrew, but to a number of other issues. One participant on the list posted a transliterated translation of a well-known English sentence:
HaShual haHum vZariz qofetz m'al haKelev haAtzlan
In English this would be "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog". This writer noted that:
In hebrew this sentence doesn't use all the letters of the alephbet.
and asked:
1) Is there a simple sentence that does?
2) Is there a simple sentence that uses all the nikud?
A couple of days later someone responded:
There is a sentence that uses all the Hebrew letters; sorry I don't remember it at the moment. I don't know about nikud.
Another member of the group then responded:
If I remember correctly, there is one Bible verse, in Zephaniah I think, which uses all the Hebrew letters including final forms. Someone tried to use it as an argument that, because this feature must be deliberate, separate final forms were known in Zephaniah's time. But I think this is more likely to be accidental.
As noted, I would usually only browse the messages that arrived in my mail and throw them out. But now my interest had been aroused. I was looking forward to new messages, like the next:
The gemara discusses this in Megilah (3B, 3 lines from the bottom, "amar R' Yermiyah"). The final forms were known as early as Matan Torah (ibid. "Mem and Samech on the Tables were held up with a miracle.") The conclusion of the gemara is that the common people began using the two forms of the letters (Mem, Nun, Tzade, Peh, Kaf) interchangeably and the prophets reintroduced the correct usage.
And of course someone soon replied:
This is interesting. I think most script historians date the distinct final forms to early stages of the Aramaic square script, so at some time in the Second Temple period. If the prophets in fact reintroduced a distinction, at least if this was before the exile, it implies that the distinction was made also in the palaeo-Hebrew script. And if so, to bring this back on subject, this has the computing-related consequence that distinct final form letters need to be encoded in Unicode as part of the proposed Phoenician script, which is intended for use for palaeo-Hebrew. (Let me know if you have any comments on that intention.) But is there in fact any epigraphic etc evidence of distinct final forms in palaeo-Hebrew?
With such an interesting discussion going on, I suppose that I shouldn't have been surprised that the next message came from the moderator:
After this message, I'd like to bring our discussion back to the topic of Hebrew Computing.
Thank you.
And so just as a rather placid forum was coming to life, asking interesting questions, offering information on unexpected but appetizing issues, the moderator had to remind us that the purpose of the list lay somewhere else. The chances of this sort of discussion deteriorating into name calling and getting anywhere close to Godwin's law territory were miniscule, but I suppose you can't be too careful.

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