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Pirkei Avot written in the Ashurit script, with Babylonian vocalization according to Yemenite scribal custom

Ashuri or Ashurit, usually translated as "Assyrian," refers to the Aramaic alphabet used in Judaism. Although called Ashurit, it is the now known widely by philologists as the Aramaic alphabet.[1][2] It is believed that during the period of Assyrian dominion that Aramaic script and language received official status.[1]

Ashurit is the Hebrew alphabet now used in writing the Torah.[3]

Ktav Ashuri (Assyrian script)[edit]

Assyrian script with Tiberian vocalization

Ktav Ashuri (Hebrew: כְּתָב אַשּׁוּרִי, ktav ashurí), or Assyrian script, is a traditional calligraphic form of the alphabet shared between Hebrew and Aramaic. Over some centuries, certain ornaments were simplified or removed for use outside traditional religious calligraphy, to become the modern print form of the Hebrew alphabet, which it most closely resembles.

Ezra was the first to enact that the sefer Torah be written in the Assyrian alphabet rather than in the Paleo-Hebrew script used formerly and permitted that the Book of Daniel be composed in Aramaic.[4] The term "Ashurit" is often used in the Babylonian Talmud to refer to the modern-Hebrew writing script.[5]

According to the Babylonian Talmud, the Torah was given by Moses in the Assyrian alphabet, later changed to the Paleo-Hebrew script, and, again, the Ashurit script during the time of Ezra.[6] The matter, however, remains disputed, some Sages holding the view that the Torah was originally inscribed in the Old Hebrew (Paleo-Hebrew) script.[7]

Mention of the Ashuri script first appears in rabbinic writings of the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, referring to the formal script used in certain Jewish ceremonial items, such as sifrei Torah, tefillin, mezuzot and the Five Megillot.[8] Also sometimes called the "square" script, the term is used to distinguish the Ashuri script from the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet.

The Talmud gives two opinions for why the script is called "Ashuri": either because the Jews brought it back with them when they returned from exile in Assyria;[9] or alternatively, this script was given at Sinai and then forgotten and eventually revived, and received its name because it is "meusheret" (beautiful/praiseworthy or authorized).[10]

This is a sample of the Ashuri alphabet written according to the Ashkenaz scribal custom on parchment (klaf)

Ritual use of the script[edit]

In Jewish halachic law, tefillin (phylacteries) and mezuzot (door-post scripts) can only be written in Ashurit.[3]

There are many rules concerning the proper formation of letters if the written text is to be valid for religious purposes.

Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, and Yemenite Jews each have their own calligraphic tradition regarding certain details of how each letter is formed, although the overall shape is similar. Generally, while each tradition favors their own calligraphic style, none consider the other traditions passul (invalid) for Torah scrolls or any other ritually used scroll or parchment.

Samaritans maintain a calligraphic tradition different from the Ashuri script, using instead the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet they employ for their scriptures.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Steiner, R.C. (1993). "Why the Aramaic Script Was Called "Assyrian" in Hebrew, Greek, and Demotic". Orientalia. 62 (2): 80. JSTOR 43076090.
  2. ^ Cook, Stanley A. (1915). "The Significance of the Elephantine Papyri for the History of Hebrew Religion". The American Journal of Theology. University of Chicago Press. 19 (3): 348. JSTOR 3155577.
  3. ^ a b Danby, H., ed. (1964), "Tractate Megillah 1:8", Mishnah, London: Oxford University Press, OCLC 977686730, s.v. Megillah 1:8, p. 202 (note 20); Yadayim 4:5-6, (note 6)
  4. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 10a); Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 21b [end]); cf. Tractate Soferim 1:6
  5. ^ Megillah 17a, Megillah 18a
  6. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 2b; Shabbat 104a; Zevahim 62a; Sanhedrin 22a)
  7. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 10a)
  8. ^ Rich, Tracey R. "Judaism 101: Hebrew Alphabet". Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  9. ^ Sanhedrin 22a
  10. ^ Sanhedrin 22a