More About Fonts

Sefardi

The writing style for STAM1 that is used by Sefardim is sometimes called “Velish”, probably based on the old German word Welsch – meaning “Romanic”2. The Yiddish form of the word originally referred to the Jews of Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and particularly to the lettering style they used. Eventually, Velish came to denote all Sefardi-style writing3.

Beis Yosef

Non-Chasidic Ashkenazim write in a script called “Beis Yosef”. The Beis Yosef – Rav Yosef Karo – was himself a Sefardi, but in his commentary on the Tur he described the writing style used in his time by Ashkenazi communities. There are several theories as to why he didn’t codify the writing style used by Sefardim. The simplest explanation is that he wanted to stay true to the sources, and the only source material from the Rishonim that discussed the shapes of the letters was written by Ashkenazim.

Ari

Ksav Ari is a slightly modified version of Beis Yosef lettering used by Chasidim. Some chasidic groups (most notably Chabad-Lubavitch) have their own variants of Ari writing. Ashkenazim who have Chasidic roots but do not have a strong Chasidic affiliation (i.e. they daven nusach sefard but don’t wear a bekishe and shtreimel) should purchase STAM with Beis Yosef writing, since it is the only writing style which is kosher according to all halachic opinions.

Until very recently there were many different sub-styles of writing, with each of the major Jewish population centers having their own uniquely identifiable style. This was true both for the Ashkenazi (Russia, Poland, Germany, etc.), and Sefardi (Spain, Syria, Iraq, etc.) communities. Within each larger community, there were also small internal variations based on the particular region and era4. In the last 60 years or so, Beis Yosef and Ari writing styles have each become (more or less) uniform. There is still some variation in Sefardi lettering, but it is much less pronounced than it used to be, and the differences that exist can not necessarily be attributed to specific communal styles.

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  1. For a basic introduction to the different writing styles see STAM bits: Fonts. ↩

  2. Originally a reference to the French and Italians, welsch could also mean strange or foreign. ↩

  3. Along the same lines, the word “Sefardi” (literally “Spanish”) is often used to refer to Jews from North Africa and the Middle East as well. ↩

  4. An expert can tell (within a margin of error) where and when a particular piece of STAM was written, based on nuances in the shapes of the letters. ↩