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Using Hebrew letters to understand Bible passages is a fascinating topic. I have heard of it in Bible school, on this site, where it's been called "notarikon", and elsewhere.

Wikipedia explains that Notarikon arose in Jewish Kabbalistic schools, and says that its methods

were used in order to derive the esoteric substratum and deeper spiritual meaning of the words in the Bible.

So I am looking for:

  • the meaning of the name Notarikon,
  • an explanation of the method,
  • who the major figures are in its history,
  • whether the method has any variants, perhaps as it is distinctively applied by Jews or Christians in more recent times,
  • as well as some examples, from those ancient mystics, through to modern uses.
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  • If I understand you question correctly, this is a very intriguing topic and I’m keen to see the answers! There are so many vids out there explaining the most incredible “prophecies” associated with mere words.. but as I said to a friend, if A=king and B=thorn and C=substitute… Can’t really go wrong, can you?! I’m not writing it off entirely, I’m just saying it seems loaded to “work”. If A was cat and B was horse and C was flower… it’s less likely we’d be having this conversation 😆 Nov 4 '21 at 4:41
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    Perhaps an extra question is whether the methodology teaches that the original authors intended these hidden meanings, or whether the methodology is followed as a creative reading of scripture, as some analogists do.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 4 '21 at 4:45
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    Just to clarify, Notarikon is not a kabbalistic method, neither is Kabbala its origin. The Jewish Rabbis already used this method 2,000 years ago, and is used in the talmud extensively. The wikipedia page is extremely misleading. There's actually an excellent book on this subject by Professor & Rabbi Saul Lieberman in his book "Greek in Jewish Palestine: Hellenism in Jewish Palestine". It's actually an excellent resource. In order to be able to appreciate it fully you would need to know Hebrew and Greek well.
    – Bach
    Nov 4 '21 at 19:44
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The meaning of Notarikon

Notarikon | Klein Dictionary, נוֹטַרְיוֹן 1 נוֹטַרְיוֹן m.n. PBH 1 clerk. NH 2 notary. [A loan word from L. notārius (= clerk, secretary; shorthand writer), from notāre (= to mark, make a note, note), from nota (= mark, sign, note; character, letter), which is perhaps related to nōtus, p. part. of nōscere, from Old L. gnōscere (= to know). See ‘know’ in my CEDEL and cp. ‘notary’ ibid. cp. also נוֹטָרִיקוֹן and the second element in בַּנְקְנוֹט.] Derivative: נוֹטַרְיוֹנִי.

Notarikon נוטריקון (νοταρικόν; Latin, "notaricum," from "notarius" = "a shorthand-writer") uses letters of the Hebrew Alef-Beyt to define or abbreviate the meaning of words from verses in Tanakh.

Explanation of the method:

A system of shorthand consisting in either simply abbreviating the words or in writing only one letter of each word. This system, used by the Romans in their courts of justice for recording the proceedingsof the court (comp. Benjamin Mussafia in his additions to the "'Aruk," s.v.), was said by the Talmudists to have existed as early as the time of Moses; and they held that the latter used it in the composition of the Pentateuch. The law concerning noṭariḳon is the thirtieth of the thirty-two hermeneutic rules laid down by Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili for the interpretation of the Bible. Still, as Samson of Chinon remarks ("Sefer Keritut," Preface), it was used in haggadic interpretation only, not in halakic matters. | [Source] https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11602-notarikon

Early Examples of Notarikon in Talmud : "Shekhinah" - שכינה

Prior to Kabbalah's Zohar, we see the Notarikon term : "שכינה" referenced in [Sukkah 5a.3] , with the Notarikon expert Rashi commentary : God separated Himself from the splendor of His shekhina - [The word] parshaz he interprets as a notarikon. (שפירש שדי מזיו שכינתו - פרשז נוטריקון קא דריש). | The notarikon can be found Pirkei Avot 3:2, Shabbat 30b:5, Tzava'at Harivash 8, Tzava'at Harivash 68.

"Shakhanti" וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י was technically the Notarikon of Exodus 25:8, based on commentary of Rabbeinu Bahya : " The numerical value of the letters in the word ושכנתי alludes to the 410 years the first Temple stood, i.e. the word לשכני בתוכם in Exodus 29,46. When we break up the word ושכנתי into ושכן ת’י we get the same result, i.e. “He will reside for 410 (years).” By re-arranging the letters to read ושני ת’כ “and the second (Temple) 420,” you get an allusion to the length of time the second Temple remained standing. ( ויש במלת ושכנתי רמז למנין השנים שעמד בית ראשון ובית שני, בית ראשון עמד ת"י שנים כמנין לשכנ"י בתוכם, וזהו ושכנתי ושכן ת"י, ובית שני עמד ת"כ שנים וזה ושכנתי ושני ת"כ וזהו מבואר. )" Source

The term shekhinah does not appear in the Hebrew Bible. The closest reference is two verses in [Exodus 25:8] [ And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell [Shakhanti] among them. וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם ], in which God promises to dwell [v’Shakhanti] among the Israelites once they have built the tabernacle. (The Zohar, the core work of Jewish mysticism, would later associate the tabernacle, in Hebrew mishkan, with the shekhinah, both of which derive from the same Hebrew root.) The term shows up in a handful of places in the Mishnah, perhaps most famously in Pirkei Avot 3:2, which states that if two people sit together and share words of Torah, the shekhinah abides among them. | [Source] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-divine-feminine-in-kabbalah-an-example-of-jewish-renewal/

Who the major figures are in its history?

  • Around 1313 BCE, Moshe prophetically documents the Notarikon(s) in [Shemot] like : וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י , אָֽנֹכִ֨י , יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל , יְהֹוָ֣ה

  • Controversy of Notarikon & the Name אַבְרָהָ֣ם 'Avraham' - during early church (50-140CE), when Rabbi Yehoshua ben Beteira argues against hidden meanings of Abbreviated Words (supported by Akiva ben Yosef), specifically the Notarikon of אַבְרָהָ֣ם "Avraham". [https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.105a.2?with=all&lang=bi]

Controversial Notarikon of אַבְרָהָ֣ם in [Shabbat 105a.2]

"We learned in the mishna If one wrote one letter as an abbreviation [notarikon] representing an entire word, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Beteira deems him liable to bring a sin-offering, and the Rabbis deem him exempt. | Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yosei ben Zimra: From where is it derived that the language of abbreviation is employed in the Torah? As it is stated: “Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for the "father of a multitude of nations" [av hamon goyim] have I made you” (Genesis 17:5). - The verse itself contracts "av hamon" into Abraham [Avraham]. The words "av hamon" themselves are interpreted as an abbreviation.

BACKWARDS Notarikon?

Commentaries on the word "אָֽנֹכִ֨י" from [Exodus 20:2] include an example of Backwards Notarikon in [Shabbat 105a.3]: "Rabbi Yoḥanan himself said that the word anokhi that begins the Ten Commandments is an abbreviation for: I myself wrote and gave [ana nafshi ketivat yehavit]. The Rabbis said it is an abbreviation for: A pleasant statement was written and given [amira ne’ima ketiva yehiva]. Some say the word "anokhi" can be interpreted backwards: It was written, it was given, its statements are faithful [yehiva ketiva ne’emanim amareha]. (רבי יוחנן דידיה אמר אנכי נוטריקון אנא נפשי כתיבת יהבית רבנן אמרי אמירה נעימה כתיבה יהיבה איכא דאמרי אנכי למפרע יהיבה כתיבה נאמנין אמריה)"

Kabbalah (based on the Zohar 2:161b.1) claims the world is literally built on Hebrew letters, as stated : "The Holy One (blessed be He) gazed into the Torah and created the world." ( קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא אִסְתָּכַּל בְּאוֹרַיְיתָא, וּבָרָא עָלְמָא).

  • The letter א (Alef) could be strong like an Ox , because אלפ is "Ox" in Tehillim (Psalms) 8:8.

The kabbalistic [Zohar 1:3b] claims א (Alef) represents designation, uniqueness or 'Yichud' as stated : "קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא אָלֶ''ף אָלֶ''ף אַף עַל גַּב דְּאָת בֵי''ת בַּהּ אִבְרֵי עָלְמָא, אַתְּ תְּהֵא רֵישׁ לְכָל אָתְוָון, לֵית בִּי יִחוּדָא אֶלָּא בָּךְ. בָּךְ יִשְׁרוּן כָּל חוּשְׁבָּנִין וְכָל עוֹבָדֵי דְעָלְמָא, וְכָל יִחוּדָא לָא הֲוֵי אֶלָּא בְּאָת אָלֶ''ף" ... However! If א (Alef) in Zohar represents יִחוּדָא (Yichud), then gematria disagrees since 1 is not != 29.

The Hebrew Notarikon & Gematria game goes like this : א (Alef) = 1, but one is אֶחָֽד (Echad) = 13. | Then Notarikon would have to explain how the letter א (Alef) is really an abbreviation for אֶחָֽד (Echad).

  • The letter ב (Beyt) is stable like a "House", because בית is "House" in Bereshit (Genesis) 12:1.

  • The letter ג (Gimel) is like a Camel carrying a message for us to "Glean", because גמל is "glean" in Mishlei (Proverbs) 11:17.

  • The letter ד (Dalet) is like a bent or hinged Door, because דלת is "door" in Proverbs 8:34.

  • The letter ו (Vav) is like a nail or Hook, because וו is "hook" in Exodus 38:28.

  • The letter י (Yod) is like a Hand, because יד is "hand" in Ezekiel 37:1.

  • The letter ל (Lamed) is shaped like a staff symbolic of leading, because למד is "teach" in Deuteronomy 4:1.

  • The letter נ (Nun) represents a descendant or Seed, because נון is "seed" in Numbers 13:16.

  • The letter ע (Ayin) represents an Eye, because עינ is "eye" in Proverbs 15:3.

  • The Ancient Ivrit + Cross or letter ת (Tav) represents a Sign, because תו is "sign" in Ezekiel 9:4.

Notarikon can be seen in the Hebrew name YiSRaEL (יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל) as an Acronym formed from letters of its Meaning (כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים) as stated in [Bereshit 32:29].** | The explanation would be Ki (כִּֽי) provides the [Yod], Sarit (שָׂרִ֧יתָ) provides the [Sin & Reish], Im-Elohim (עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים) provides the [Alef & Lamed] for the final word יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל YiSRaEL.

Besides the acronym of Yisrael : כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים, we sing the song Adon Olam which provides the Notarikon for YHVH stating : וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הֹוֶה וְהוּא יִהְיֶה (YihYe,Hoveh,Hayah).

For additional teachings on Hebrew Notarikon & Gematria, read the Zohar, along with The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet (by Rabbi Michael L. Munk).

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  • How do you determine which word a letter takes its meaning from? I notice that most of your letter meanings come from the original proto-Phonecian origin of the letters, but others (such as nun) have different meanings.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 4 '21 at 13:20
  • @curiousdannii - I have spent hours locating the occurrence of Hebrew words associated with the pronunciation of each letter in the alef-beyt, to confirm the kabbalistic meaning of letters actually originates in Tanakh. Nov 4 '21 at 13:25
  • But how do you identify which words? What is the methodology you have followed in your efforts?
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 4 '21 at 13:26
  • @curiousdannii - Read the Zohar, along with The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet (by Rabbi Michael L. Munk). Nov 4 '21 at 13:42
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    So, are you saying that your aleph beyt meanings are from that passage in Zohar 2? If not, is there a source for that list you can either name or link?
    – Jesse Steele
    Nov 4 '21 at 17:28

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