Jonathan Orr-Stav, SimHebrew: Preserving Hebrew Scriptures for electronic posterity

The Hebrew Scriptures are a well-established canon in print form-but their electronic versions sit on a surprisingly shaky foundation. While the Unicode standard has finally provided the Hebrew character set a permanent home after decades of repeated shifts down the binary encoding tables, Hebrew text entry or manipulation is still either unavailable or problematic on many devices, platforms, and software. Even when it is available and useable, common operations such as copy-and-pasting; text styling; inserting punctuation or Latin characters; opening the file in another application; or simply transmitting it electronically, often result in textual corruption-in the form of disrupted order of characters, words, or clauses; indecipherable hexadecimal codes; or gibberish. Moreover, such structural deficiencies are unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future, due to its bi-directional nature and a 'baked-in' conflict between the two competing standards of encoding electronic Hebrew ('Visual' and 'Logical'). This essentially unresolved fragility of electronic Square Hebrew means that it cannot be relied upon to provide the robust infrastructure needed to preserve the critical corpus of Hebrew Scriptures in electronic form. Like the Tower of Pisa, to ensure its integrity, electronic Hebrew needs a solid foundation that is anchored to the bedrock-which in computing terms, means the ASCII character set. SimHebrew (simulated Hebrew)-coupled with a freely available app that reliably converts it to and from traditional ('Square') Hebrew-does just that. This paper describes the SimHebrew method, its background and historical antecedents, the problems it resolves, and its principal applications-such as analysis of Hebrew corpora with standard text-mining software; compact and intelligible Hebrew URLs; consistency in citations of Hebrew sources, and-last but not least-the SimHebrew Bible.

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