Hebrew Numerals Explained
Stephen P. Morse, San Francisco


The dates of death found on Jewish tombstones are encoded using a Hebrew equivalent of Roman numerals. The encoding is not restricted to tombstone dates but can apply to any set of positive integers.

Each letter is assigned a value and the number represented by a sequence of letters is the sum of the corresponding values. Although a number can be represented by any set of letters that add up to that number, usually the choice of letters follow these two rules:

1. The letters are assigned as a decimal number with one letter from the units column, one from the tens column, etc.
2. The letters are arranged in numeric order. And since Hebrew is written from right to left, the arangement of these letters is also from right to left.
But even if the above rules are not followed, any arbitrary sequence of letters will have an associated numeric value.

The number assignment of each letter is as follows:  

1 א (aleph)          10 י (yud)          100 ק (kuf)
2 ב (bet)          20 כ (kaf)          200 ר (resh)
3 ג (gimel)          30 ל (lamed)          300 ש (shin)
4 ד (dalet)          40 מ (mem)          400 ת (tav)
5 ה (heh)          50 נ (nun)          500 תק (tav kuf: 400+100)
6 ו (vav)          60 ס (samekh)          600 תר (tav resh: 400+200)
7 ז (zayin)          70 ע (ayin)          700 תש (tav shin: 400+300)
8 ח (khet)          80 פ (peh)          800 תת (tav tav: 400+400)
9 ט (tet)          90 צ (tsadi)          900 תתק (tav tav kuf: 400+400+100)

An alternate encoding from 500 to 900 involves the final (sufit) letters as follows.  This is not commonly used.

500 ך   (final khaf)
600 ם  (final mem)
700 ן  (final nun)
800 ף  (final feh)
900 ץ  (final tsadi)

Starting at 1000, numbers are broken into two parts separated by an apostrophe.  To the right of the apostrophe is the number of thousands and to the left is the number of units, both using the encoding shown above.  Sometimes the thousands part is omitted completely.

5,699 תרצט ‘ה   (heh apostrophe tav resh tsadi tet)

5,761 תשסא ‘ה  (heh apostrophe tav shin samekh aleph)

This use of apostrophe can be extended to millions, billions, etc.  Some examples are

1,000 ‘א   (aleph apostrophe )

1,010 י ‘א   (aleph apostrophe yud )

1,100 ק ‘א   (aleph apostrophe kuf )

10,000 ‘י   (yud apostrophe )

100,000 ‘ק   (kuf apostrophe )

1,000,000 ‘‘א   (aleph apostrophe apostrophe )

1,002,003 ג ‘ב‘א   (aleph apostrophe bet apostrophe gimel )

10,000,001 א ‘‘י   (yud apostrophe apostrophe aleph )

Usually a quotation mark is inserted just before the last (leftmost) character to make it clear that this is a number and not a Hebrew word.  So 5,699 would be written as:

5,699 תרצ"ט ‘ה  (heh apostrophe tav resh tsadi quote tet)

The quotation mark is not used if the number consists of a single character

Although numbers are usually written in a decimal notation (that is, one character representing the units column, another the tens column, etc.), this rule is sometimes violated just as long as the sum of the characters represents the desired result.  For example, 15 would be written as yud (10) heh (5) in decimal notation.  But these two letters are contained in the name of God, so the equivalent tet (9) vav (6) is usually used instead.  Same goes for 16 which is usually written as tet (9) zayin (7) instead of yud vav.

15 טו (tet vav)

16 טז (tet zayin)

© Stephen P. Morse, 2018