Using Nikud (Vowels) in Hebrew on a Mac

I’ve written a couple of articles in the past about using Hebrew on your computer, specifically Finding Hebrew Fonts and the more niche Trick to use Hebrew and Yiddish in Adobe InDesign. Although using Hebrew on one’s computer is fairly simple, one thing that is not so simple is adding Hebrew nikud (vowels) to your text. In Hebrew, unlike in English, vowels are written as a series of marks, generally below the other letters. An example from my article on fonts:


In the above text, the blue marks are nikud. In general nikud are not needed for advanced readers of Hebrew, and if you were to buy a Hebrew-Language newspaper or a book in a bookstore, none of them would have nikud, except for when the meaning of the word could not be determined otherwise.

Recently, I had reason to add nikud to a document, and I decided to finally figure out how to add them. Keep in mind, I use a Mac, so these are Mac-specific instructions. For general information on nikud, and codes that can be used on Windows, see the Wikipedia article Niqqud.

On the Mac, there are two keyboard layouts you can use for Hebrew.

First, there is the standard Hebrew layout that is what is used in Israel on all computers.

Second, there is something called Hebrew QWERTY, which maps the Hebrew letters to the closest sounding letters in English, so for example Reish (ר) is mapped to the R and Nun (נ) is mapped to the N. There are some useful shortcuts, like end-letters (in Hebrew some letters change form at the end of a word) simply being Shift and the standard key. For someone who works mostly in English and only occasionally needs Hebrew, Hebrew QWERTY is much quicker to learn.

Adding nikud to text can be done with either layout, although there are some differences. In both cases most nikud are added by using a special key combination, usually using Option (Alt) and a second key. In the standard Hebrew layout, most of the nikud map to Option and a number. For example, adding a kubbutz (which looks like three diagonally arranged dots – as in אֻ) is done by typing a letter and then the key combination Option-8. Just like Hebrew QWERTY tries to map the sounds of letters, it also tries to map the sounds of the nikud, so for the example above of the kubbutz, the key combination is Option-U (the kubbutz sounds like a U).

Hebrew QWERTY can use most of the key combinations from the standard Hebrew layout as well, although not all. All the Option-Number combination (i.e. 0-9) can be used on both layouts.

In order to make it easy to learn, I’ve created a chart that lets you figure out which key combination to use for each nikud. You can download it as a PDF and print it out for easy reference. The first ten combinations are shown using the letter Aleph (א) as an example, with the nikud added. When I write Opt-Sh I mean Option-Shift together with the key shown after it. The next two use a vav (ו) as the example, and the last two are specific to the sin/shin (ש). Most of these nikud can be used on many different letters. I have only added the most common nikud, although there are some more rare ones. For those, I suggest taking a look at the Wikipedia article Niqqud.

The chart is below. You can also download a PDF version if you want.


2015 IAJGS Int’l Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Jerusalem


The next IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be taking place July 6-10, 2015 in Jerusalem, Israel. It is the 35th conference, the first having been held in 1981 in New York City, and it is the 4th conference to be held in Jerusalem.

The conference will be taking place in the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel, not far from the entrance to the city (the same location as the 2004 conference). Before the conference, there will be a program on Shabbat (starting Friday July 3 and Saturday July 4) for those interested, and a travel day on Sunday (July 5) before the conference starts (on Monday).

The conference website is now up, and they are accepting registrations for those outside of Israel (registration for residents of Israel is coming soon). There is an early-bird discount for those who register up until April 14, 2015.

For those interested in speaking, they are now accepting proposals. You can propose a lecture (45 minutes), workshop (105 minutes in the computer lab), or panel discussion (105 minutes with up to 5 people on a single topic). Proposals must be submitted via the web site. Note that in my experience the system for submitting papers does not work in Safari on a Mac – use Chrome or Firefox instead. You can submit your proposal by going to the Speaker Service Center page on the web site, and filling out the form. Lectures can be in English, Hebrew or French.

The information you need to provide when filling out the form includes:

  • Full name, mailing address, email address, and telephone number of presenter(s)(If a panel proposal, details for each panelist are required)
  • Brief biographical sketch – (up to 50 words)
  • Summary of recent presentation experience (up to 150 words)
  • Title of presentation (up to 15 words)
  • Presentation type (lecture, workshop, or panel)
  • Brief description of the presentation (up to 150 words)
  • Audience skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced or all)
  • Preferred language of delivery (English, Hebrew, French)

For some reason, it seems you must finish your proposal within about 20 minutes of starting it, or it will log you out, and your submission will be lost. As such I suggest figuring out what you’re going to write for each of the above entries in advance, and just paste each entry in when you open up the form.

Each speaker can submit up to five proposals, and a maximum of three proposals will be accepted per speaker. For more details on speaking, see the Call for Papers on the conference web site.

Free access to 23andMe – if you have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease

While researching my previous post about MyHeritage’s new integration with 23andMe, I came across a new study being done by 23andMe on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBD) and its related diseases – Ulcerative Colitis and  Crohn’s Disease (two very common diseases, particularly among Ashkenazi Jews). The study is being sponsored by drug company Pfizer, and it seeking 10,000 participants.


To join the study you must have been diagnosed with either UC or Crohn’s by a doctor, live in the US, have access to the Internet, and be at least six years old (from 6 to 17 you must have parental consent). If you qualify, they send you a saliva collection kit with a return envelope, and you must send back a saliva sample and fill out some online surveys related to your condition.

There’s actually one more qualification for the study, or rather a disqualification – if you are already a customer of 23andMe, you cannot participate in this study. If you are already a customer you can fill out some surveys, but it’s not clear if your DNA data will be included in the study.

Interestingly, both Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease are significantly more common among Ashkenazi Jews than the general population. This probably means that Jewish participants in this study will outnumber their percentage of the general population. It also might mean that if you have the genetic markers that predispose you to these diseases, joining this study might connect you to a large number of potential relatives, since the group is self-selecting, and if the genetic markers are familial, then you’re more likely to find genetic relatives than on average when there are 10,000 other people with the same condition as you.

So what do you get for joining the study, besides knowledge that you are helping further scientific research that might one day benefit you personally?

Well, for one you get lifetime access to 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service. For the moment that only deals with genetic genealogy, not the health information that 23andMe previously offered (and still offers to customers who signed up before the ban), but that might return in the future. However, if you’re reading this post, chances are you are interested in genealogy, and if you have one of the very common diseases they are researching, and have not yet signed up for 23andMe, this will save you a $99 sign up fee for their service.

The only thing different about the account on 23andMe you receive compared to a regular 23andMe customer who would sign up at the same time, is that it seems you cannot participate in the customer forums. The other difference is of course that you know your DNA is being contributed to a specific study on a disease you have.

So if you have Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, and have not yet signed up for 23andMe, this is a good opportunity to further science and to get access to 23andMe for free. Go check out the 23andMe IBD Study page for further information.