There’s a hyphen in Hebrew, which doesn’t look like the regular hyphen. It is called “maqaf” (מקף) and it is aligned with the top of the line like this: ־.

It appears in Torah scrolls and in most printed books and newspapers, however it doesn’t appear on keyboards, so most Israelis just write a minus instead when they type. So בית־ספר (beit-sefer, school, lit. book-house) becomes בית-ספר or even בית ספר. The rules for using the maqaf are not taught in schools, so many people – me too – use it inconsistently and often omit it altogether.

Apparently it has issues with Unicode – according to the Unicode standard, maqaf should be used as the hyphen for Hebrew, and proper implementation of Unicode will process it as a right-to-left character unlike the minus, which is a left-to-right character and should be used only with numbers. However, most popular implementations of Unicode (read: Microsoft Word and probably most web browsers, including Firefox) are not really correct. They make life easy for Israelis and treat the minus as the right-to-left hyphen, so it is easy to write this:

החנות פתוחה בשעות 09:00 – 16:00

(The shop is open 09:00 – 16:00)

The problem is that it disregards traditional Hebrew typography and few people seem to care. is correct as far as Unicode goes, but most Israelis think that it is just stupid that they can’t write the usual way and throw centuries of our printing tradition to garbage.

On my laptop i made a keyboard mapping that includes the maqaf and i try to use it whenever i can in email and documents. I use it in handwriting too. Some people on the Hebrew Wikipedia use it, although it is controversial. Some free-thinking Hebrew bloggers use it in their blogs (see Digital Words). And that’s about it.

But today i was pleasantly surprised. The maqaf appeared in an article about American junk-food on YNet (i wrote talkback 25). YNet is Israel’s number one online news source. I don’t think that all the articles use it – probably the author of this article was a crazy type like me, or maybe he used some auto-conversion software. I think that i’ll send an email to YNet asking them to use it everywhere.

Please tell me if you want the keyboard mapping with maqaf that i made. It is for Windows. If you use Linux, BSD or Mac, you are probably clever enough to find it on your system by yourself. If you have a server on which i can host it so the public will be able to download it, you’ll make me joyous.


5 thoughts on “Maqaf

  1. well, i think you’re right, but that’s partly a problem of the people who created the Hebrew keyboard layout – It’s a problem of Israeli Humanistic education (which does not exist altogether) – most people could not tell the difference between the two hyphens even before the keyboard layout was put…

    recommended your talkback in why-net. The worst Hebrew news source ever, including Haredi newspapers….

    and on a personal note – Mazal tov for your new place, my the gods bestow favor upon you.

  2. I totally agree about the Israeli Humanistic education.

    Your comment was identified as spam. Please consider opening an account here, to make moderating easier for me.

  3. I have never been, up until now, aware of the existence of the “upper” hyphen.

    Please send me the keyboard map! I’ll advocate it!

  4. Please tell me if you want the keyboard mapping with maqaf that i made.
    how can i tell you ?

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