Five Minutes for Israel
wishes you a
Happy New Year
Eighteen is a Jewish lucky number
The year two-thousand and eighteen is the ‘year of life’. Isn’t that a great image?
In Israel today, the decimal system of Arabic numerals (ex. 0, 1, 2, 3, etc.) is used in almost all cases (money, age, date on the civil calendar). However the traditional system of Hebrew numerals uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in place of number symbols. The Hebrew numerals are used only in special cases, such as when using the Hebrew calendar, or numbering a list (similar to a, b, c, d, etc.), much as Roman numerals are used in the West.
Not surprisingly when letters are used instead of numerals words are sometimes formed. Gematria (Jewish numerology) uses these transformations extensively.
Perhaps the best known combination is Chet (ח) with a value of 8 and Yud (י) with a value of 10 written ‘Chai’ pronounced as in the English ‘hi’ or ‘high’. Together they add up to the number 18. The word Chai means ‘life,’ ‘alive’ or ‘living’.
Many Jews wear it as a medallion around the neck, similarly to other Jewish symbols, such as the Star of David and the Hamsa. Of course, one doesn’t have to be Jewish to wear it.
Jews often give gifts and donations in multiples of 18, which is called “giving chai”.
According to Jewish traditions and scriptures there are prayers, including the Amidah, commonly called “Shmoneh Esreh” (which translates to “the 18”) and refers to the eighteen individual prayers.
It appears in the slogan “ʿAm Yisrael Chai!” (עַם יִשְרָאֵל חַי, “The people of Israel live!”) which also has a popular melody.
Navigating Hebrew numerals
In the Hebrew system, there is no notation for zero, and the numeric values for individual letters are added together. Each unit (1, 2, …, 9) is assigned a separate letter, each tens (10, 20, …, 90) a separate letter, and the first four hundreds (100, 200, 300, 400) a separate letter. The later hundreds (500, 600, 700, 800 and 900) are represented by the sum of two or three letters representing the first four hundreds. To represent numbers from 1,000 to 999,999, the same letters are reused to serve as thousands, tens of thousands, and hundreds of thousands.
Card photograph credits
Vocals and piano by Sam Glaser