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Letters Lost and Found

Type designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky explains the creation of Le Bé, his new digitization of a beautiful 16th-century Hebrew typeface. It debuts in The Selected Poems of Yehuda Halevi, a Nextbook Press e-book published this week.

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When type designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky set out to create a new digital typeface of Hebrew characters, he and type legend Matthew Carter reached far back into history. The result is Le Bé, and it’s based on one of the first Hebrew movable types, a famously beautiful typeface—Kosofsky calls it exuberant and confident—that first appeared in 1569 in the Plantin Polyglot Bible. Its newly digitized version, still in development, will debut in The Selected Poems of Yehuda Halevi, an original e-book from Nextbook Press with translations and commentary by Hillel Halkin. Tablet Magazine visited Kosofsky’s workshop in Lexington, Mass., to see how he adapted a 16th-century calligraphic type for the digital age. In this audio slideshow, Kosofsky shows off his work and explains what drew him to the font, the particular challenges the Hebrew alphabet poses to typographers, and why he sees Le Bé as Hebrew’s equivalent to the elegant and ubiquitous Garamond.

The Selected Poems of Yehuda Halevi is available from Nextbook Press here.


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It was fascinating to watch how a font is born, when up until now, choosing a font was as mindless and picking one from the pull-down menu. It was interesting to learn that Hebrew, with the chanting and vowel symbols, was the most complex alphabet that Matthew Carter worked with. This was a beautiful video that gave me appreciation of typography, as well as the deep history of the Hebrew language.

dani levi says:

speaking of fonts. Here is a Pecha Kucha presentation in Tel Aviv last week. how Hebrew font has changed from the Torah to today.

This is pretty rad – I’ve looked for good typefaces in Hebrew and they’re much harder to find than for the Roman alphabet.

Congratulation to Scott-Martin Kosofsky, one of the worlds greatest designers and producers of Jewish books on the release of the Le Be typeface, and the beautiful edition of The Selected Poems of Yehuda Halevi.
The work is a credit both to my friend Scott-Martin, whose work I greatly admire, and a credit also to Nextbook Press.
It’s a great Jewish contribution to the digital age.

I am deeply moved by what I have seen and heard in this brief presentation of what I am sure is a highly challenging and rewarding project, as beautiful as creating a wonderful piece of new music. Kol HaKavod. I look forward to being able to use the Le Bé typeface.

With Great Appreciation … to Scott-Martin for returning to the history and tradition of Hebrew alphabet in its most artistic form. The effort put into this work by Messers Kosofsky and Carter should garner them each an award, if there was an award for movable type.
My Hebrew library is extensive and the transitions in typeface makes you feel as though you are walking through a time warp. LeBe is among the most beautiful.

Stunning achievement. Kudos to all involved!

Although I freehand all the Hebrew I paint on the tallitot I design, I covet this font!

As Tablet readers know well, there are hundreds and hundreds of modern and traditional Hebrew fonts which have been developed in Israel over the last century. It is a little odd to see that century-long rich tradition skated over. Nothing against Le Bé–it’s a charming font. I wonder, though, whether there isn’t some extant Israeli font that isn’t pretty close.

There seems to already be ; it doesn’t look like the same one, as it is attributed to someone else. Searching on myfonts for “hebrew” will find a *huge* selection of Hebrew fonts, many (but not all) distributed by Masterfont.

This is such beautiful work. Is it possible that Kosofsky’s work might be put into the form of an exhibition? I would love to put it in my gallery next year for the entire community to see.

This is a beautiful font, and a lovely story. I like what Matthew Carter did with the font (particulary with the Gimel, it makes it much more readable), but like others, I find it odd that all the typographical work in Hebrew that took place over the last century is glossed over, perhaps even slighted.

There are beautiful modern fonts out there (Narkisim, Ada, New Peninim, Koren, to name but a few), and many beautiful older ones too.
As for the complexity of the font, yes, Hebrew typography is complex, but there’s so is Arabic (hundreds of letter forms and ligatures), Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai… Ignoring all those – far more complex – writing systems appears rather arrogant. I’m sure that was not the intention.

Mark, Scott-Martin and Mathew Carter joint efforts to create LeBe is a first and rare event.

Masterfont digitizes fonts, and sells them very cheaply. About $56 a font. You pay for what you get.

Uncrafted fonts are a dime a dozen, as they say. Shareware is even cheaper!

Scott-Martin Kosofsky’s works are flawless masterpieces.

Interesting decision to shorten the lamed. The lamed was drawn high in many typefaces because it is created by a yod/vav on top which represents God. Therefore since God is always above us the lamed is tall and never bent.

Of course it makes it a nightmare to typeset with a tall lamed since it collides with the nikud on the line before.

dani levi says:

where can one acquire Le Be, please ?


You made a good point about the top of the lamed being a special kind of yud, and representing G-d in kabbalah.

Actually, this is not diminished by shortening the height of the lammed, for the right upper part of the aleph too represents a yud, and G-d in kabballah.

The height of the lamed, like a lamdan or talmid chacham, stands tall and proud. For this reason, the height of the lamed is tall.

Historically, an alternative form of the lamed was invented, so typesetting with a tall lamed was possible. This was achieved by the “curled lamed”, where the ascending segment was wrapped to parallel the upper horizontal stroke.

This was first done successfully with the Romm family version of the classic Vilna font in the Talmud.

This posed a problem for Biblical diacritic text for upper taamim that needed to occupy that space. To address this, the lamed ascender was not bent or curled, but rather truncated. This is what Scott-Martin has done.

Le Be is indeed a beautiful font and this video presentation was delightful. I appreciate the many knowledgeable comments by other readers who understand both the uniqueness of fonts and the particulars of the intricacies of the Hebrew alephbet. Soferim (scribes) also make the point that the free-standing minor part of the Hey is also a yud, as an earlier comment referred to the top of the lamed.

Rebecca Rubin says:

A wonderful story wonderfully presented about a beautiful typeface, which I hope will soon be available for general use. Also enjoyed all the previous comments. Think I will share this with my second graders who struggle to get their ordinary aleph-bets recognizable sometimes.

Baruch says:

Scott-Martin Kosofsky helped design MILON, the font used in Machzor Lev Shalem (new machzor of the Conservative movement). It makes the Machzor easy to read

Fantastic. So glad poetry is involved. Cannot wait for the new Halevi translations.

…I have to admit, though, that I do wish I could have the chapbook as you know, like a real book. An analog book as well.

Either way, Nextbook and Tablet, you both rock my socks off. Thanks for doing what you do.

Marek Vesely says:

This is a great font with an unfortunately chosen name. It is preoccupied by “LeBe MF” by Zvika Rosenberg of Masterfont, 2004.

What a beautiful string of commentary on the aleph-bet. My interest and knowledge about the Hebrew letters has gone from a purely applied typographic concern (as a graphic designer) to the spiritual implications of each of these otot u’moftim. The latter has been significantly enriched by studying with Gilla Nissan from deep sources, including the mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, ZT”L.

Scott is absolutely correct in saying that there are several historic Hebrew letterforms–this one being a prime example–that are not available to modern typographers. Others that would be wonderful to see done as quality revivals might include the Bomberg font, Nicolas Kis’ Hebrew, a selection of Yiddish-taytsh….

The Masterfont fonts are often very well done. There are also loads of fantabulous modern Hebrew fonts. What Scott and Matthew have done is to make some of our past available to current typographers. It’s a real wonderful achievement.

I’m planning on heading down to NYC on Mar 10th for Scott’s talk at the type director’s club (co-sponsored by Tablet) – . He says he plans to speak about his work in complex books with on-the-page commentaries and annotations, multiple languages (combining left-to-right with right-to-left), making special types to suit specific purposes, how all these things relate to the future of print and of electronic forms, and their relationship to the printed Talmud and glossed texts of the past. He’ll show numerous drafts, breakouts, and final examples from Mahzor Lev Shalem, the forthcoming Reform mahzor (in progress), the new Halevi e-book, and more.

I’ve said that least 2131448 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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Letters Lost and Found

Type designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky explains the creation of Le Bé, his new digitization of a beautiful 16th-century Hebrew typeface. It debuts in The Selected Poems of Yehuda Halevi, a Nextbook Press e-book published this week.

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