Transcribing Hebrew Headstones

ViewMate 18623  is used as the example because of differing opinions on the dates and  many transcribers may find helpful. Readers can refer to it to see the explanation; ViewMate 18623 has been archived.

There are four letters in the year  -  Taf Resh Nun Daled 5654. “died the day of the Holy Sabbath, 17 Tamuz, and buried the day of 19  Tamuz 5654”


  1. When the year is "hidden" in a word you will always find dots or  marks above each letter.
  2. Here are 4 letters in the year. (ViewMate 18623)  As written they  appear to be Taf Resh Ca  Resh. 

Graphically, the Hebrew letters Daled and Resh are very similar. Also the letters Bet, Caf and Nun are very similar. We could have a fair number of possibilities for the year if we make these substitutions among the letters. There are rules for encoding the year with letters:

  1. Compose the number using letters with the highest possible numeric values
  2. Put the letters in descending order of value
  3. We are also guided by the statement that the woman died on Shabbat. The internet Hebrew calendar http://rotter.net/luach.php was used to check that 17 Tamuz falls on Shabbat for the given year. This is a great calender, but it is in Hebrew.  Two excellent sites in English are:     http://www.calendarhome.com/converter/    http://www.stevemorse.org/jcal/jcal.html 

Working backwards in time with these substitutions, we get: 

  • Taf Resh Nun Resh - (5850) in the future, does not follow rules 1 and 2.
  • Taf Resh Caf Resh - (5820) in the future, does not follow rules 1 and 2.
  • Taf Resh Bet Resh - (5802) in the future, does not follow rules 1 and 2.
  • Taf Resh Nun Daled (5654 - 21 July 1894) - is Shabbat, follows rules 1  and 2.
  • Taf Resh Caf Daled (5624 - 21 July 1864) - not Shabbat.
  • Taf Resh Bet Daled (5606 - 11 July 1846) - is Shabbat, but does not  follow rules 1 and 2.
  • Taf Daled Bet Resh (5606 - 11 July 1846) - is Shabbat, forms a  meaningful word, but does not follow rules 1 and 2. 

With all these considerations, 21 July 1894 seems to be the best  choice. The writing on the stone is remarkably well preserved, giving  added weight to the most recent date.

Notes on the Hebrew year values with letters.

  1. Read Hebrew dates from right to left.
  2. There may be 5 letters!  The rightmost letter designates thousands and can be Heh or Daled [5000 4000].
  3. The next set is the Hundreds - Kof Resh Shin Tav [100 200 300 400]. These are combined to get the desired value up to 900. Always the higher values first,. i.e Tav Shin is 400+300p0.Tav Tav Kof is 400+400+1000.[This special case results in even more letters to the date]
  4. Then comes the decade - ONE of Kaf Lamed Mem Nun... Zadi. [20 30 40 50 .. 90]
  5. And last the digits 1-9 - ONE of Alef Bet... Tet

Iit is useful to translate a series of stones from one community. Each Jewish community has its own style of  writing epitaphs. By looking at a series of stones and learning the  style of the community, you can sometimesbe able to figure out what is written even when the writing is hard to read. 

Thanks to Fran Luebke for posting this information in the GerSIG discussion group.