In the Middle Ages Hebrew existed only as a written language. In daily life Jews spoke the languages of the places where they lived, while Hebrew was reserved as their language of culture and religion. But the modes of writing Hebrew and the making of Hebrew manuscripts were unmistakably shaped by the practices of the surrounding cultures.Indeed the scripts they used often bear more resemblance to those of non-Hebrew codices produced in the same region than to Hebrew manuscripts written in other lands.
Hebrew medieval manuscripts may be classified by script into five main types: Ashkenazic, Italian, Sephardic, Oriental and Byzantine. The Ashkenazic (Franco-German) and Italian Hebrew scripts were influenced by different forms of Latin script. Sephardic (Spanish and North African) and Oriental Hebrew scripts were influenced by Arabic script. Byzantine Hebrew script was influenced by Greek script.
The different types of Hebrew script can be further divided into different modes of writing – square, semi-cursive, and cursive – which differ in the number of strokes required to produce the shapes of the letters. The manuscripts displayed here illustrate the Hebrew scripts of three geo-cultural areas in western Europe: Ashkenazic, Italian and Sephardic.
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