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The abbreviation of words originated in antiquity, probably soon after the alphabet developed from ideographic pictures. While originally rare, their use increased with the general growth in the transmission of ideas by writing. They relieved the shortage of space and precious writing materials, served the convenience of the scribe, and preserved a certain degree of secrecy. An abbreviation also obviated the constant repetition of the full Divine Name. Various methods of abbreviating evolved in the course of time and, when extensively used, they economized in space and materials, although occasionally causing confusion and misunderstandings.


The expression notarikon (derived from the Greek term for stenography) occurs in the Mishnah (Shab. 12:5) and refers to the use of initial letters, dots, and dashes to indicate abbreviation. It is used in the Talmud to indicate memory devices and is one of the 32 *hermeneutics rules of the aggadah (H.G. Enelow (ed.), Mishnat R. Eliezer (1933), 39) and one of the most popular and frequently used. By the third century the terms siman (Heb. סִימָן Gr. sēmeion) and alef bet (אָלֶף בֵּית) were current and applied to mnemonics, as in "Torah can only be acquired with [the aid of] mnemonic signs" (Er. 54b), while the Talmud also refers to serugin (סֵרוּגִין; Yoma 38a, etc.), a system of abbreviation called trellis-writing, whereby only the initial word or letter is used when quoting a biblical verse. This system has been found in Bible fragments recovered from the Cairo *Genizah. The term rashei otiyyot is found only in Tanḥuma (B., Ex. 54); rashei tevot first in Tanḥuma Ha'azinu 5; while the expression sofei tevot occurs in the post-talmudic masorah. The grammarian Elijah Levita (1468–1549) speaks of "… abbreviated, broken words, expressions written in notarikon and initials…."


As the Hebrews wrote at an early stage of their history, the early invention of abbreviations could be assumed. They appear on sixth-century Semitic inscriptions, fifth-century Aramaic documents, and on Samarian jar handles. To mark ownership, for Temple and other sacred purposes, such abbreviations were used well into talmudic times. Although not usually found in official manuscripts of the Bible, abbreviations appear in masoretic writings, Midrash, Mishnah, and Talmud, and they abound in post-tannaitic literature. It has been suggested that the translators of the Septuagint used a Hebrew text with abbreviations. It became one of the main concerns of the masoretic scholars to eliminate ambiguities caused by abbreviations, so that in printed Bibles there are generally no abbreviations; modern Bible commentators, however, while seeking to explain obscure passages, offer emendations suggesting that certain words are actually abbreviations (e.g., J.H. Greenstone in his commentary on Num. 23:3).

Abbreviations appear on Jewish *coins of the Jewish War (66–70) and the Bar Kokhba War (132–135; e.g., ,לְחֵרוּת – לחר שָׁנָה ב׳ – שב׳); on documents recovered from the Dead Sea Caves and Masada; and on ossuaries of the talmudic period (e.g., יְחֶזְקִיָּה – יחזק). The Mishnah regularly uses them (e.g., רַבִּי – ר׳), as does the Talmud (see Pes. 102b–103a) in a discussion on the order of the blessings known as yaknehaz (יַקְנְהַ״ז). Rashi, commenting on Numbers 5:11 ff. in Gittin 60a and Yoma 37b–38a, discusses various forms of abbreviations mentioned in the Talmuds. The mnemonic simanim were used to group together different halakhot with a common denominator such as authorship (e.g., halakhot, all by Abbaye, known as יעל קג״ם; bk 73a). Abbreviations were used extensively as formulas of the calendar system (e.g., לא אד״ו ראש, "Rosh Ha-Shanah cannot fall on Sundays, Wednesdays, or Fridays"). In the Middle Ages, the names of frequently quoted scholars and/or their works were abbreviated and made pronounceable, e.g., Rashi (R. Shelomo YiẓḤaki), Rambam (R. Moses b. Maimon), Rosh (Rabbenu Asher). It was also the practice in the medieval and post-medieval periods to append eulogistic terms in abbreviated forms (e.g., נוֹחוֹ עֵדֶן – נ״ע, "he rests in paradise") or for martyrs (ה׳ יִקּוֹם דָּמוֹ – הי״ד, "may God avenge his blood"); among Sephardim ס״ט was used meaning סוֹפוֹ טוֹב ("may his end be good") and is applied to the living as well, standing for סְפָרַדִּי טָהוֹר, "of pure Sephardi descent." Current also were abbreviated eulogistic phrases in Spanish and Portuguese on tombstones, supplementing or replacing the traditional Hebrew. Abbreviations were also known in the communities of the Marrano Diaspora, e.g., Amsterdam, where there were transliterations into the Latin alphabet of accepted Hebrew abbreviations (e.g., k.k.t.t. – קָהָל קָדוֹשׁ תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה, "Holy Congregation Talmud Torah–" as an abbreviation for the Amsterdam Sephardi congregation). The use of abbreviations has continued to grow, particularly in all fields of Jewish scholarship. It has been estimated, for example, that in the siddur of Jacob *Emden there are approximately 1,700 abbreviations. Famous personalities continued to be called by an abbreviation such as the Ba'al Shem Tov (Besht, בֶּעשְׁ״ט) and Elijah of Vilna (הַגּאוֹן ר׳ אֵלִיָּהוּ – הַגְרָ״א).

Since the 19th century some authors' initials have almost superseded their actual names (e.g., the poet Judah Leib *Gordon is commonly known as יַלַ״ג). The initials with which the historian and journalist Shneur Zalman Rubashov (later president of the State of Israel) signed his articles eventually became his Hebrew name (שַׁזַ״ר, *Shazar).

Many 19th- and 20th-century Jewish organizations and institutions have become known by their abbreviated titles, e.g., *Alliance Israélite Universelle (כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲבֵרִים – כִּיַ״ח); or the *Bilu pioneers (בִּיל״וּ for בֵּית יַעֳקׁב לְכוּ וְנֵלְכָה). The Ḥasidic movement emanating from Lubavitch is known by the initials of their motto Ḥabad (חָכְמָה, בִּינָה, דַּעַת – חַבַּ״ד, "wisdom, understanding, knowledge"). Jewish organizations have also taken names from non-Hebrew initials, such as hias and *wizo. The habit of calling international bodies by their initials (e.g., un, unesco, unscop) has found an echo in the Hebrew אוּ״ם for אֻמּוֹת מְאֻחָדוֹת (United Nations). In Israel constant use is made of abbreviations (e.g., *Mapai, מִפְלֶגֶת פּוֹעֲלֵי אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל – מַפּא״י, "the Israel Labor Party"; Ẓahal, צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל – צַהַ״ל, "Israel Defense Forces"). These groups have adopted abbreviations which have virtually become independent words. Military ranks, units, and equipment are expressed almost exclusively by abbreviations, and so are most public enterprises (e.g., *Tahal, תִּכְנוּן הַמַּיִּם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל – תַּהַ״ל, "Water Planning for Israel"). A member of the Israeli parliament is abbreviated חֲבֵר כְּנֶסֶת – חַ״כּ; a publisher מוֹצִיא לָאוֹר – מוֹ״ל; Land of Israel, אֶרֶץ יִשְׂראֵל – א״י; the rest of the world is חוּץ לָאָרֶץ – חוּ״ל. Cities with a compound name are often abbreviated (e.g., תֵּל אָבִיב – ת״א, Tel Aviv). Various methods have been used to indicate abbreviations and several types are distinguishable. By the Middle Ages various systems of dots and strokes were known. The modern method uses a single stroke if one word is abbreviated (e.g., מַסֶּכֶת – מס׳) and double strokes before the final letter of the abbreviation if there are more (e.g., בָּרוּךְ הוּא – הקב״ה הַקָּדושׁ).

Types of Abbreviations

Two types of abbreviations are distinguishable. The first type is when one word is abbreviated: (1) tevot mogzarot: the end of the word is dropped (e.g., שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר – שנ׳); (2) tevot nishbarot: the middle of the word is dropped (e.g., אֶלָּא – אא); (3) emza'eitevot: the middle letter represents a word (e.g., ה׳ for the Tetragrammaton); (4) sofei tevot: the beginning of the word is dropped (e.g., אֶבֶן – ׳ן). The second type is when a group of words is abbreviated: (1) rashei tevot: the initial letters are used (e.g., אִם יִרְצֶה הַשֵׁם – אי״ה); (2) two letters are used of one or several words (e.g., שְׁאֵלוֹת וּתְשׁוּבוֹת – שו״ת׃ אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן – אדה״ר); (3) when one of the words is very short, it is retained (e.g., שְׁוָא נָח – שנ״ח); (4) when an abbreviation is formed of a group of words, it may itself be divided (e.g., הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוׂתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ – בא״י אמ״ה אקב״ו בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה׳ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ). Such groups with the addition of vowels have often been rendered pronounceable (e.g., קוֹלִי, רֹאשׁ, עָרוֹב, שָׂשׂ, טוֹב, נִדְבוֹת – קְרַ״ע שָׂטָ״ן, initial letters of verses recited before the shofar is blown); (5) such abbreviations are really *acrostics. In large groups, words may be left unrepresented (e.g., in the abbreviation for the Ten Plagues, דְּצַ״ךְ עֲדַ״שׁ בְּאַחַ״ב, the Passover Haggadah omits the word מַכַּת before the ב standing for 6); (בְּכוֹרוֹת) sofei tevot: the abbreviation is formed by a combination of final letters (e.g., בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת – אמ״ת, see also no. 10); (7) serugin (trellis-writing): where only the initial word or letter is used when quoting a biblical verse; (8) ẓeruf: mystic combination of letters (see below); (9) combination of middle letters (e.g., תְּקִיעָה תְּרוּעָה תְּקִיעָה – קר״ק); (10) initial letters in reverse order (e.g., תְּהִלִּים מִשְׁלֵי אִיּוֹב – אמ״ת); (11) occasionally vernacular proper nouns and other words have been accepted and abbreviated in Hebrew (e.g., Yahrzeit, יאָהרצייט – י״צ).

Abbreviation of the Name of God

The name of God is probably the most often abbreviated word, due to its frequent appearance in Jewish writing and the reverence which is accorded it. It was abbreviated in antiquity, mishnaic, and talmudic times as ה׳ or י׳; in Targum Onkelos as ה׳ and ד׳; and in the Middle Ages it was represented by ה׳ and varying numbers of yod's, vav's, strokes, and dots, from which developed the use of yod's. It has been estimated that there are over 80 substitutes for the Divine Name.

Abbreviation of Names

These are found in connection with euphemisms for the living and eulogies for the dead, in prayers, letters, etc. The Talmud (Git. 36a) reports that the amoraim Ḥisda and Hoshaya signed themselves ס׳ and ע׳, respectively, and other names were abbreviated in talmudic times (e.g, Resh Lakish for R. Simeon b. Lakish). In medieval times the names of famous rabbis were abbreviated, vowels added, and the resultant abbreviation pronounced (e.g., רַבִּי לֵוִי בֶּן גֵּרְשׁוֹם – רַלְבַּ״ג), a practice also adopted by and for later scholars and their families (e.g., בֶּן רַבִּי יְהוּדָה לֵוִי – בְּרִי״ל; רַבִּי מֹשֶׁה חַיִּים לוּצַטּוֹ – רַמְחַ״ל). The general term for the talmudic sages was חֲכָמֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה – חז״ל. In the emancipation period, when the Jews had to adopt surnames, Hebrew abbreviations often formed the basis of "secular" names (e.g., Baeck, בַּעַל קוֹרֵא – ב״ק or בְּנֵי קֹדֶשׁ). Ḥasidic leaders were referred to as אֲדוֹנֵנוּ מוֹרֵנוּ וְרַבֵּנוּ – אַדְמוֹ״ר. The name Katz (כֹּהֵן צֶדֶק – כַּ״ץ) stood for families of priestly descent, and Segal (סְגַן לְוִיָּה – סֶגַ״ל) for those of levite origin. On talmudic ossuaries the letters אָמֵן – א׳ and שָׁלוֹם – ש׳ appear after the name of the deceased, while on later tomb-stones תְּהִי נַפְשׁוֹ צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים – תנצב״ה (see i Sam. 25:29), פֹּה נִקְבַּר – פ״נ, and פֹּה טָמוּן – פ״ט (meaning "here lies buried") are common. When referring in letters to deceased persons, it is customary to attach eulogistic abbreviations, such as הֲרֵינִי כַּפָּרַת מִשְׁכָּבוֹ – הכ״מ, used by children during the year of mourning (Kid. 31b; Sh. Ar., yd 240:9); זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה – זצ״ל, זִכְרוֹנוֹ לִבְרָכָה – ז״ל (Prov. 10:7); עָלָיו הַשָׁלוֹם – ע״ה; in correspondence it became usual to prefix *letters and occasionally also printed matter and books with בְּעֶזְרַת ה׳ – בעז״ה, בע״ה, ב״ה("With the help of God") or שִׁוִּיתִי ה׳ לְנֶגְדִּי תָּמִיד – שיל״ת ("I have set the Lord always before me"; Ps. 16:8). The addressee may be greeted with יִשְׁמְרֵהוּ צוּרוֹ וְגוֹאֲלוֹ – יצ״ו or נַטְרֵיה רַחֲמָנָא וּפַרְקֵיה – נר״ו, both meaning "May God protect him." The formula בְּחֵרֶם דְרַבֵּנוּ גֵרְשׁוֹם – בְּחַדְרַ״ג was used to affirm the secrecy of letters. The final greeting in the modern idiom is דְּרִישַׁת שָׁלוֹם – ד״ש and כ״ט or כָּל טוּב – כט״ס or כָּל טוּב סֶלָה.

Names of Towns

The letters יִבְנֶה עִיר אֱלֹהִים – יע״א ("May God's city be rebuilt," referring to Jerusalem) are appended after the name of any city; after the name of a city in Israel (תִּבָּנֶה וְתִכּוֹנֵן – ת״ו); and after mentioning Jerusalem (עִיר קָדְשֵׁנוּ תִּבָּנֶה וְתִכּוֹנֵן בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ אָמֵן – עיקת״ו בב״א or תִּבָּנֶה וְתִּכּוֹנֵן בִּמְהֵרָה בְּיָמֵינוּ – תובב״א). The names of Diaspora towns mentioned in Hebrew writing are also abbreviated, e.g., שׁוּ״ם for Speyer, Worms, and Mainz; נַ״ש for Nikolsburg; פַּפַּדַ״ם for Frankfurt on the Main; and אַה״וֹfor the triple community of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck.

Book Titles

The best-known abbreviations for *book titles are those for the Hebrew Bible, תַּנַ״ךְ, composed of the initial letters of תּוֹרָה נְבִיאִים כְּתוּבִים, and שִׁשָׁה סְדָרִים – ש״ס for the Babylonian Talmud. Some Jewish classics have become known by the abbreviated form of their titles, thus almost completely obscuring the author's name and book title; thus the שְׁנֵי לוּחוֹת הַבְּרִית of Isaiah b. Abraham *Horowitz is invariably referred to as the שְׁלָ״ה, as is its author. At the beginning of books frequently appear abbreviations such as ה׳ צְבָאוֹת עִמָּנוּ מִשְׂגָּב לָנוּ אֳלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב סֶלָה – הצעמלאי״ס or עֶזְרִי מֵעִם ה׳ עוֹשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ – עמ״י עש״ו, while the Ashkenazi Jews often end with תַּם וְנִשְׁלַם שֶׁבַח לְאֵל בּוֹרֵא עוֹלָם – תושלב״ע. In the Middle Ages manuscripts were often completed with בָּרוּךְ נוֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף כֹּחַ – בנל״כ, derived from lsa. 40:29 (see *Hebrew Book Titles; *Manuscripts).

In Kabbalah

In medieval kabbalistic literature a combination of letters was termed ẓeruf otiyyot (cf. Ber. 55a, etc.), while the term gilgul was introduced later. Abbreviations were used for frequently recurring concepts (e.g., אֵשׁ רוּחַ מַיִם עָפָר – ארמ״ע, "fire, wind, water, earth") and the notarikon פְּשַׁט רֶמֶז דְּרַשׁ סוֹד – פרד״ס("plain, symbolic, homiletic, esoteric"), describing the four types of biblical hermeneutics. The spread of mysticism led to an increasing use of abbreviation similar to the talmudic simanim (e.g., בָּרָא רָקִיעַ שָׁמַיִם יָם תְּהוֹם – בְּרֵאשִׁית); such terms are considered as possessing particularly profound and secret qualities (see *Magic). Abbreviations also appear on *amulets.

Misunderstandings and Misinterpretations

The increasing and inconsistent use of abbreviations has inevitably led to occasional confusion and made the study of Hebrew texts more difficult, a fact recognized in the 16th century by Solomon Luria (Yam shel Shelomo, Hul. 6:6). Misinterpretations have occurred when ambiguous abbreviations were printed in full. In any case, difficulties arise when an abbreviation can be read in more than one way, so that, e.g., in a bibliographical context ד״ו could be read as דְּפוּס וִינִיצֵיאָה ("Printed in Venice"), or דְּפוּס וָורְשָׁה ("Printed in Warsaw"), or דְּפוּס וִילְנָה("Printed in Vilna"), or דְּפוּס וִינָה ("Printed in Vienna"). Because of the risk of misrepresentation, no abbreviations may be used in a bill of divorce (Git. 36a and Sh. Ar., eh 126) or other religious documents. Misrepresentations have also occurred in the work of censors and Christian scholars (e.g., three yod's have been taken to denote the trinity). Hebrew abbreviations have been found on Christian amulets, and Christian writers have used kabbalistic methods, such as regarding a complete word as notarikon (e.g., בָּרָא as בֶּן רוּחַ אָב). Because of the many obscurities in Hebrew writings, which Christian scholars were anxious to study, a guide to abbreviations was needed and it was a non-Jew, Johannes *Buxtorf the Elder, who produced the pioneer work De Abbreviaturis Hebraicis (1613). The first Jewish work of this kind, by Elijah *Levita, concentrated mainly on the masoretic ambiguities; lists of abbreviations were eventually added to Hebrew works and were followed by independent, comprehensive compilations. Of these, the following are the most important: J. Ezekiel, Kethonet Yoseph: A Handbook of Hebrew Abbreviations (Heb.–Eng., 1887); G.H. Haendler, Erkhei ha-Notarikon (1897); M. Heilprin, Ha-Notarikon … (1872, 1930); A. Stern, Sefer Rashei Tevot (1926); S. Chajes, Ozar Beduyei ha-Shem (pseudonyms; 1933); S. Ashke-nazi and D. Jarden, Oẓar Rashei Tevot … (1965; 1978); S. Ashkenazi, Mefa'ne'aḥ Ne'lamim (1969); A. Steinsalz, Rashei Tevot ve-Kizzurim be-Sifrut ha-Hasidut ve-ha-Kabbalah (1968); U. Tadmor, Ha-Notarikin ba-Ivrit ha-Yisre'elit, Leshonenu La-Am 39, 225–57; Y. Ben-Tolila, Ha-Iivrit ha-Medubberet, Leshonenu L-Aam 40–41 (1990), 266–78.

[Ruth P. Lehmann]

Abbreviations in Jewish Folklore

Many abbreviations were misinterpreted (often quite intentionally) and caused misunderstandings which became part of the Jewish folklore. For example, the Yaknehaz abbreviation in the Passover Haggadah, denoting the order of the benedictions (yayin, kiddush, ner, havdalah, zeman), was understood as the German jag'n Has ("hunt the hare") and pictures of a hare hunt accompany the relevant passage in the printed Haggadah. Many folk etymologies are based upon the notion that the obscure word is an abbreviation; so, e.g., the word afikoman is explained by the Yemenite Haggadah as an abbreviation of egozim ("nuts"), perot ("fruits"), yayin ("wine"), keliyyot ("parched grain"), u-vasar ("and meat"), mayim ("water"), nerd ("spices"). The abbreviation of Akum for Oved Kokhavim u-Mazzalot ("worshiper of the stars and constellations") was interpreted by antisemitic propaganda (Rohling) as Oved Christum u-Miryam ("Worshiper of Christ and Mary").

[Dov Noy]

Abbreviations in Learning

Many abbreviations were set up to help students memorize rules such as in Hebrew grammar or in Halakhah. Of this type are bg"d kf "t, lmn"r, in classifying Hebrew characters which show the same phonetic behavior, or shemelakhto bina to mark the group of 11 servile letters as against the other 11 letters that only appear as radicals. These are well known. Here and there can be found local acronyms, as in Tetouan (Morocco), where the word romaḥ based on "wayiqqaḥ romaḤ beyado" (Num. 25:7) was adapted to summarize the halakhot that deal with the conditions under which a shofar's hole can be repaired: rubbo (if the greater part of the shofar was kept untouched), mino (the hole can only be filled with a material of the shofar's type), hazar (the original sound of the shofar did not change after the repair).

[Aharon Maman (2nd ed.)]


Simonsen, in: zhb, 4 (1900), 87–92; Loewenstein, in: Festschrift … A. Berliner (1903), 255–64; J.R. Marcus, in: Jubilee Volume … A. Marx (Eng. vol., 1950), 447–80; Elijah Levitas, Masoret ha-Masoret, ed. by C.D. Ginsburg (1867), 3, 244–68; Steinschneider, in: Archiv fuer Stenographie (1887), nos. 466, 467; Neubauer, in: jqr, 7 (1894/95), 361–4; F. Perles, Analekten …, 1 (1895), 4–35; S. Schechter and S. Singer (ed.), Talmudical Fragments in the Bodleian Library (1896); W. Bacher, Exegetische Terminologie …, 1 (1899), 125–8; 2 (1905), 124; G.R. Driver, in: Textus, 1 (1960), 112–31; 4 (1964), 76–94; idem, Judaean Scrolls (1965), 335–46; Yeda-Am, 2, no. 30 (1966), index, 189, s.v. Notarikon.

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Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.