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8.2  Hebrew Letters as Numbers

Hebrew Letters used as Numbers

In some cases, especially in dates and in Bible references, Hebrew letters can function as numbers. For example, Aleph can stand for the number 1, Bet for 2, and so on. For a review of the numeric values for letters, click here.

I created the following matrix to help you easily identify numbers when expressed using Hebrew letters:







Yod (10) and Tet (9)


Tsade (90) and Gimmel (3)


Qof (100), Tet (9) and Vav (6)


Tav (400), Resh (200), Yod (10), and Gimmel (3)


Tav (400), Shin (300), Nun (50), and Zayin (7)

The numbers 15 and 16 are not written as you might expect (i.e., as Yod + Hey and Yod + Vav, but rather as Tet + Vav and Tet + Zayin) in order to avoid irreverently writing the sacred Name of God. This includes larger numbers such as 115, 216, and so on.

Sacred Name

The Hebrew sofit letters are also assigned numeric values: Kaf (500), Mem (600), Nun (700), Fey (800), and Tsade (900) as part of mispar gadol gematria..

To avoid confusion with words, letters meant as numbers are sometimes marked with geresh (single quote mark) if a single letter is used, or gerashayim (double quote mark) if more than one. These marks mean "not a word" and are also used for acronyms and abbreviations:

For example, the number 613 is sometimes referred to as "taryag," and the complete set of commandments is referred to as "taryag mitzvot," or the 613 commandments. This would be referred to as:

Tary''g Mitzvot

The Hebrew year
The Hebrew year begins on Rosh Hashanah (which occurs on the Gregorian calendar in September / October). When a Hebrew year is written using letters, you simply add the values of the letters. Often the year is written with an implied addition of 5,000, so, for instance, the year 5765 is written as 765 rather than 5765:

Chapters and Verses in the Tanakh
In some Jewish reference works, Hebrew letters are used to express numbers. For example, in modern editions of the Chumash (the Torah in codex form), chapters (perekim) and verses (pesukim) are indicated by means of Hebrew letters:

The page header indicates that Bereshit chapter 1 (perek Aleph) verses 1-4 (pesukim Aleph-Dalet) are displayed on this page. In addition, the weekly Torah portion (parashah) is listed as a header above the running text. The right margin indicates the pesuk(im) for each line of the text (for example, the first line shows pesukim (Aleph-Bet), or verses 1-2). Each verse ends with a sof pasuk (:) mark. Many Tanakhs include a running commentary at the bottom of the page that include comments from various Jewish sages such as Rashi and Ramban.

In order to recognize chapters and verses you will need to recall how Hebrew letters can be used as numbers and compute the values accordingly. Here are some examples:

The Psalms
The Psalms (Tehillim) are referenced by citing Mizmor number. For example, Mizmor Aleph is Psalm 1, Mizmor Bet, Psalm 2, and so on.

Section Exercises

  • Understand how to convert numbers to Hebrew letters (and vice-versa). Use the matrix at the top of the page, if necessary.
  • Write the current Hebrew year using Hebrew letters.
  • Find a chumash or Tanakh and locate various passages. Write down the perek and pesukim for some of your favorite Scripture passages.
  • Explain the use of the geresh / gerashayim.  When is it used?  Provide an example or two.

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