Unicode compliant Open Source licensed Hebrew Fonts

By my count there are now three Hebrew fonts that are licensed with open source licenses:

  • The SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) Ezra SIL font
  • David Perry's Cardo (using SIL's Open Font License version 1.1)
  • and the Culmus Project's Ancient Semitic Scripts family of fonts including Keter YG (using GPL v2 with the font exception clause).

The willingness of these projects to open source the development, modification, and adaptation of their fonts is, I think, both noteworthy and laudable. I would love to see SBL follow the lead of SIL in opening up their font, currently restricted to scholarly and educational use only.

Given the twenty year history (at least) of Hebrew font development, I'm concerned that there are some abandoned or orphaned Hebrew fonts. Some of these were made "free" prior to the formulation of any of the popular open source licenses (or GPL's font exception clause). Others were developed prior to Unicode 4+. Any contribution of these older fonts to the cultural commons would be a great boon for open source projects committed to providing freely licensed resources for wide adoption and adaptation.

If anyone here knows of some fonts that would be good targets for open source licensing, I'd like to hear from them.

Thank you.

Aharon Varady
Founder & Director
The Open Siddur Project
An open source (Print-to-Digital-to-Print) Design Your Own Siddur Project

John Hudson's picture

I would love to see SBL follow the lead of SIL in opening up their font, currently restricted to scholarly and educational use only.

This isn't SBL's decision to make. The terms of the license agreement are part of a contract between SBL and Tiro Typeworks (me), and I retain the intellectual property rights to the SBL fonts. The SBL license can't be changed without re-negotiation of that contract. I'm not in principle opposed to open sourcing fonts, but I'm not in favour of just giving away things that I own.

The SBL Hebrew font isn't restricted to scholarly and educational use only, it is restricted to non-commercial use by those who have not contributed to the cost of its development. Anyone who wants to use the font in a commercial project or product can do so by becoming a member of the SBL Font Foundation or by making an appropriately sized contribution to the foundation. This funds further font development, and obviously SBL are interested in recouping some of their previous investment from commercial use of the fonts.

It should also be noted that the Biblical Hebrew layout intelligence that is implemented in the SBL Hebrew OpenType Layout tables is open source, and is freely available to and usable by anyone who wants to incorporate it into their own Hebrew fonts. What's not open source is the particular typeface design embodied in the SBL Hebrew font. Ralph Hancock and I collaborated on the development of this layout intelligence, and we made it open source under the MIT license with the intention of encouraging the development of more Unicode and OpenType compliant fonts for Biblical Hebrew. We chose the MIT license because we didn't want to put any restriction on the use of that layout intelligence, but to give commercial, open source and free font development the same encouragement.

Aharonium's picture

Thanks for the clarification. The language on SBL's webpage is the following:

Commercial uses of SBL Fonts
SBL fonts are made available without cost to individual scholars for non-profit use. Commercial use requires the purchase of a license or membership is the SBL Font Foundation. Please download this form for information on obtaining a license to use the SBL Fonts for commercial purposes.


There's a great deal of additional language in an End User License Agreement (EULA) in the manual for the font (Appendix A). The manual is a separate download from the font on this page, so an end-user downloading the font wouldn't necessarily know what they had agreed to in using the font without having also downloading the license. I'd recommend that the manual or EULA be bundled with the font in a common zip.

I realize this isn't SBL's forum, but I really like the idea of a non-profit font foundation funding the development of open source licensed fonts. Similarly, I'd like a foundation to help fund the development of an open source OCR engine like hOCR that can recognize different typefaces of Hebrew with or without nikkud. Perhaps if there is interest, SBL could take the lead or partner with another project on getting this going.

John Hudson's picture

The full EULA text is embedded in the font itself, and will be displayed in any font properties interface that exposes this information. I agree that putting the EULA as a text file in the zip download is a good idea, though.

gohebrew's picture

GoHebrew at www.GoHebrew.com (active in January of 2011) is pleased to announces free downloadable PDF sections of the Hebrew/English prayerbook (siddur) according to various rites:
1. Arizal
2. Sephardi
3. Ashkenaz
and other popular rites.

The Arizal sections will replicate the standard Kehos page layout.

The Sephardi and the Ashkenaz sections will replicate the standard Tikkun Meir page layout. Other popular page layouts will become available.

The Arizal sections also feature the page layout of the new Chabad House prayerbook, with English translation, transliteration, English explanations and instructions, and Chassidic stories about those prayers.

The Morning Prayers section, the Blessings After The Meal sections, and the Recital Of Shmah Before Going To Bed section, will be available for free download.

After January 1st, 2011, please go to www.GoHebrew.com, to the Books area, and click on Prayerbooks.

Aharonium's picture

Just to announce we've released our version 1.4 of our Open Siddur open source and unicode Hebrew font pack. 56 fonts shared under the GPL, GPL+FE, or OFL font licenses. (These are fonts that are both free-without-fee, free for publishing without restrictive terms compatible with other licenses in the free/libre licensing ecosystem, and free for adoption, adaptation, and redistribution.) The font pack includes updated and new fonts from Yoram Gnat and Maxim Iorsh of the Culmus Project, the latest iteration of David Perry's Cardo font, and other fonts by SIL. Six fonts supporting the full range of niqud and ta'amim. See this chart (PDF) for a full list of the Hebrew fonts included in the font pack.

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