Free/Libre and Open Source Licensed Unicode Hebrew Fonts
SHARED BY THE HIEROPHANT ON י״ב באב ה׳תש״ע (JULY 23, 2010)
“Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world’s writing systems.” The importance of sharing documents with Unicode 4.0+ compliant Hebrew fonts was underlined for us in early 2010, after the liturgy of a popular siddur was contributed to the Open Siddur Project with a public domain declaration. The format of the file shared was a PDF, and unfortunately, most of the text rendered in the PDF was encoded with old proprietary Hebrew fonts made by a commercial font foundry, Elsner+Flake. These fonts were developed prior to the standardization of Hebrew in Unicode. Efraim and I made some progress in attempting to convert the documents but so far we have not been successful. (Perhaps you can help convert them.) The contributor had no other copies of the liturgy except for what was contained in the PDF shared. The entire sad episode indicated the need for publishers of digital documents to prepare their documents in open standard formats, with text encoded with open standard fonts. (You are free to try your hand at converting the two documents (1, 2) which were shared by the Avi Chai Foundation. )
Given the twenty year history (at least) of digital Hebrew font development, there are quite a few pre-Unicode Hebrew fonts floating around the Internet and locally, on folk’s home computers. On the Internet, they sometimes show up on font download websites with a note that they are shareware or freeware with some restriction or another. Documents prepared with non-Unicode fonts are destined to be unreadable.
Even if a Hebrew font is Unicode it might 1) not support the full range of diacritical marks (nikkud/vowels and ta’amim/trope/cantillation) and 2) not be licensed in such a way that it does not conflict with free/libre and open source licenses. Currently, there are three popular sources of open source licensed and Unicode compliant Hebrew fonts that support the full range of Hebrew diacritical marks (vowels and cantillation).
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