How do Hebrew numbers work

Today’s question I am going to explain how the Hebrew numbering system works even tho the core of the question is about converting something into Hebrew – something I don’t do on this website or it will be the only type of question that gets published.

How do you spell 5782 in Hebrew… I have found three different spellings: תשפ״ב היתשפב היןפב – Also how do you spell 5783? Thank you

Question from Sherry

So to answer it real quickly: 5782 = ה׳תשפ”ב and 5783 = ה׳תשפ”ג. With the Hebrew translation aside let’s go into how we got to this number and into why it is written as it is. As of when I published this answer the Hebrew layout was correct but WordPress being WordPress it may flip the text later on so leave a comment if it has and I will fix it.

The first two things to understand is with Hebrew numbers there is no way to put a “zero” but you can do ten, twenty and so on. I won’t go into why it doesn’t have a zero and why it isn’t used but just know it doesn’t. The second is that with everything written in Hebrew you are reading from right to left.

Each number is a Hebrew letter that is assigned to it so let’s do the first ten and keep it simple.

12345678910
אבגדהוזחטי

So far so simple right? So to get the number twelve we just add them up (not put them together like Arabic numbers) and to do this we do the following. When we break the number down twelve is 10 + 2. In Hebrew, this becomes י + ב and thus יב.

To an eagle-eyed reader, you may have noticed that this is very similar to Roman Numerals and it is very similar. You may have also noticed that surely there is a chance some numbers will also be a word and you are correct. To get around this problem should the number not be a single letter we put quotation marks just before the final number

In our example above as twelve (יב) has two letters we write it as י”ב so we know it is a number. If we were to write let’s say twenty we don’t need quotation marks as it is a single letter that is כ. We always put the quotation mark just before the final letter. You may have noticed that twenty is a different letter and that is because each Hebrew letter means something and the table below now goes into the rest.

2030405060708090100200300400
כלמנסעפצקרשת

You may have noticed we are now out of Hebrew letters as tav is the final letter in the Hebrew alphabet. What happens now every hundred above four hundred is written as four hundred + a hundred. It is worth pointing out sometimes the Hebrew final letters are used (these are five letters that only look different when used at the end of a word but otherwise is the same letter).

So to write five hundred we do the following. 500 = 400 + 100. So this becomes ת + ק. Remember as it is two different Hebrew letters we add a quotation mark so it becomes ת”ק.

In the table below I have listed everything to nine hundred as things change slightly.

500600700800900
תק or ךתר or םתש or ןתת or ףתתק or ץ

With this in mind, we can now start working out the answer to the question. Ignore the five thousand, for now, let’s work out what 782 is. Using the table I have made above we break the number down to 700 + 80 + 2. So in Hebrew, this is תש (700) + פ (80) + ב (2) which is תשפב and then let’s not forget the quotation mark before the final letter which gives us תשפ”ב.

Phew, so far not so bad right? Thankfully we are done with the complex part and going into the thousands is simple as we only need to add a quote mark ( ‘ ) into the mix. As you know by now the first number is א so all we do is add a quote mark to make it א׳.

Using the question above we can now answer it quite easily. As the first is five thousand we take the number ה (5) and add a quote to turn it into ה׳ (5000). All we now have to do is add it together and we get the following.

5000ה׳
700תש
80פ
2ב
5782ה׳תשפ”ב

There we go that is how we read Hebrew numbers. You can use the above to go into the millions and as far as you need to do so. Because you go do you remember when I said earlier that Hebrew numbers can look like words? Two numbers are written differently and they are fifteen and sixteen.

So rather than writing 15 as 10 + 5, it is written as 9 + 6. The same happens for 16 so rather than writing it as 10 + 6 it is written as 9 + 7. The reason for this is the numbers would be the same “word” as the name of G’d.

Reference Me

Kyle ben Avraham Avinu (קייל בן אברהם אבינו) (2021) How do Hebrew numbers work. [online] Ask a Jew. Available at: https://askajew.co.uk/question/how-do-hebrew-numbers-work/ [Accessed 11 Jan 2022]