Moses And Morse…

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Guest post by Prof. Shlomo Karni

Shlomo Karni was Professor of Electrical Engineering and Religious Studies at University of New Mexico until his retirement in 1999. His books include Dictionary of Basic Biblical Hebrew:Hebrew-English (Jerusalem: Carta, 2002).

Moses And Morse…

…the code for wireless transmissions, that is. The common practice used by wireless operators, especially in amateur radio communications, is to start a transmission with the letters “CQ” (“seek you”), as an invitation to any radio operator, listening on that particular frequency, to respond.

As far back as the mid 30’s, a group of Jewish (later –Israeli) radio operators, called ‘The Gideonites’, was helping the “illegal” immigration of Jews to Palestine. Their Hebrew “CQ” were the letters ש.נ., standing for שְמַע נָא.

When transmitting in Morse, the Hebrew code for those two letters is …-. (from left to right). In voice (not Morse) transmission, instead of saying “שִין נוּן”, the operator would say
the third word of Moses’ הַאֲזִינו (Deut. 32). When enunciated properly, this word sounds like
. . . – .
again from left to right, with the syllable בֵּ being the long one; in brief, the letters ש.נ.

Finally, the code …-. in English corresponds to the letters S-N, i.e., Shema Na.

(I acknowledge the personal notes from Ms. Tzvia Shachar, Jerusalem – a Gideonite in her time, and from Ms. Ruth Almagor, of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.)

About Shlomo Karni


  1. “Finally, the code …-. in English corresponds to the letters S-N, i.e., Shema Na.”

    Not coincidental- most Hebrew Morse follows Latin letter equivalents.

  2. I must be missing something because I don’t get how Shin Nun turns into Vadabarah

  3. Three short syllables, one long, one short. It doesn’t really “sound” like it.

  4. R’Zechariah Shtern, The Rav of Shavli, was convinced that Samuel Morse was a Jew..

  5. To Avi,

    va-a-da-BEH-rah, three short sounds, one long, one short.

    To Nachum,

    They are not exactly the syllables in this word, just the distinct sounds. There are only 4 syllables in the word: va-ada-beh-rah. And, I did not mention any “coincidence” in the Morse code English-Hebrew.

    Nachum: I did not mention “coincidence”

  6. A really interesting post! To respond to Prof. Karni’s last comment, the syllabic breakdown is actually va’-dab-be-rah. Not that it matters so much, but Hebrew syllables always start with a consonant (either Cv or CvC), and there’s a dagesh in the bet.

    Thanks again for the post – I look forward to passing this information on!

  7. To Simon Holloway:
    I beg to differ. The חטף פתח under the א, like every חטף, is treated always like a שווא נע (this is a cardinal rule about חטף).
    Try the 2nd person singular: va-teda-ber, or the 3rd: va-yeda-ber, etc. The א cannot get a שווא, unlike the other prefixes. Therefore, it gets a חטף פתח.

  8. Perhaps you are correct. Joüon and Muraoka, in their A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew suggest otherwise, but a lot of this is just terminological. If you have access to their book, they refer to this situation as anomalous, arguing in favour of it being a “semi-closed” syllable (§27c), and represent it as I did (§22a). Their example is different (יעמוד), but the principle is the same.

    In actual fact, I think a lot of these anomalous examples are the result of us imposing a rigid definition of syllable-structure over a language that might not have conceived of syllables as we do. O’Connor has a really interesting discussion of this in his Hebrew Verse Structure (particularly §1.3.1, pp29-37).

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