Friday, October 7, 2011

How Do You Spell Yom Kippur?

Note: This is the first post in a series discussing how to "properly" transliterate common Hebrew words and phrases. Whatever your philosophy is regarding using Hebrew in the Shul, the reality is that most people in the States (and I'm sure this could also be expanded to include most other English speaking countries as well) don't write these phrases in Hebrew, they write them in transliterated Hebrew (i.e., Hebrew words in English letters). This will hopefully serve as a guide to those who want to spell these phrases of greetings and the names of the holidays in "proper" transliteration. I also put "proper" in quotations, because I will be using one system for transliteration, but I know there are many different systems out there. This is the one I have become most familiar with and, in my opinion, makes the most sense.


יום כפור is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, outside of Shabbat. It's a day when we ask for God's forgiveness and request that we be sealed for good in the year to come. Accordingly, there are a few phrases that we say relating to this holiday.



  • יום כפור - Proper spelling: Yom Kippur
    • Rationale:
      • Yud, vav, mem sofit gives us Y-Oh-M, hence, Yom.
      • Kaf, peh, vav, reish should give us (with vowels) Ki-Pu-r. So why do we spell this word with two p's? The reason is that there is, what is called, a dagesh chazak, or a hard dagesh. Since the peh is preceded by a letter with a vowel, it receives the hard "peh" sound instead of the normal, easy "peh" sound. Ergo, Kippur
      • Lastly, all transliterations, unless the word is already in the English dictionary (such as "Shalom") should be in italics. That's not a transliteration thing, that's a grammar thing from 9th grade. Also, both words should be capitalized. 
  • גמר חתימה טובה - Proper spelling: Gamar chatimah tovah.
    • Meaning: literally, "A good final sealing." In more natural language, "May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for good."
    • Other usage: You can also just say "Chatimah tovah."
    • Rationale:
      • Gimel, mem, reish gives us Ga-Ma-r, hence, Gamar.
      • Chaf, taf, yud, mem, hei gives us Cha-ti-mah, hence, Chatimah. The important thing to remember here is the hei at the end of the word. This should not be lost in the transliteration. While it does not make much of a sound in modern Hebrew, it is important to include it in the transliteration.
        • Some transliterate the chaf as "kh." I prefer "ch" in this system. To me, it looks less archaic.
      • Tet, vav, vet, hei gives us To-vah, hence, Tovah. Again, hei at the end means we transliterate it with an "h" at the end as well.
  • צום קל - Proper spelling: Tzom kal.
    • Meaning: "Easy fast."
    • Rationale:
      • Tzadi, vav, mem sofit gives us Tzom. Some transliterate the tzadi as "ts" like "Tsar." I prefer "tz" because I think it more clearly describes the hard sound of the tzadi
      • Koof, lamed gives us Kal. Some transliterate the koof as a "q." While historically that may be more accurate, in modern usage, it sounds like a "k." Ergo, Kal.
Gamar chatimah tovah and Tzom kal on this Yom Kippur!

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