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What is Gematria?

Zachary K. Hubbard: Gematria

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GEMATRIA

Gematria /ɡəˈmeɪ.tri.ə/ originated as an Assyro-Babylonian-Greek system of alphanumeric code/cipher later adopted into Jewish culture that assigns numerical value to a word/name/phrase in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to Nature, a person's age, the calendar year, or the like.

Similar systems, some of which were derived from or inspired by Hebrew gematria, have been used in other languages and cultures, i.e. Greek isopsephy, Arabic abjad numerals, and English gematria.

The best-known example of Hebrew gematria is the word Chai ("Alive"), which is composed of two letters that (using the assignments in the Mispar gadol table shown below) add up to 18. This has made 18 a "lucky number" among the Jewish people. Gifts of money / donations given in multiples of 18 are very popular.

HISTORY

Some identify two forms of gematria: the "revealed" form, which is prevalent in many hermeneutic methods found throughout Rabbinic literature, and the "mystical" form, a largely Kabbalistic practice.

Though gematria is most often used to calculate the values of individual words, psukim (Biblical verses), Talmudical aphorisms, sentences from the standard Jewish prayers, personal, angelic and Godly names, and other religiously significant material, Kabbalists use them often for arbitrary phrases and, occasionally, for various languages. A few instances of gematria in Arabic, Spanish and Greek, spelled with the Hebrew letters, are mentioned in the works of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia; some Hasidic Rabbis also used it, though rarely, for Yiddish. However, the primary language for gematria calculations has always been and remains Hebrew and, to a lesser degree, Aramaic.

A classic Biblical commentary incorporating gematria is Baal ha-Turim by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher.

Gematria is often used by the Maharal of Prague and hasidic Torah commentators (such as the "Sefath Emmeth" from Gur).

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