As other answers have mentioned, what is meant is simply what is said: many renderings of the Torah leave out the vowel markers (and punctuation). As several comments have offered, this is a common feature of a lot of Hebrew text, and more broadly, is found in quite a few languages (off the top of my head, I believe Arabic is also often written this way, and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were always written this way—that writing system doesn’t even have a way to indicate vowels). You sometimes see words from these languages rendered this way in the Roman alphabet, particularly 1. the names of deities, and 2. ancient words where the vowels used are uncertain.
Why are Hebrew and Arabic often written without their vowel markings? Because for a long time, they didn’t have any, the same as Egyptian hieroglyphics. These writing systems are known as abjads,1 after the first four letters of Arabic, just as “alphabets” (which have vowels) are named for the first two letters of Greek.
But what I think is the real impetus behind this question is something more like “How?” or perhaps “Why?” And the answer is simply because it works, and changing it makes things harder to read (for those who already know how to read it the other way), not easier. Fluent readers don’t read letter-by-letter, after all; they recognize words, or even phrases, and don’t check each individual letter. For a semi-infamous example in English, there’s the “Cmabrigde Uinervtisy” chain e-mail that seemed to end up in everyone’s inboxes around the turn of the millenium. Dictionary.com has a solid write-up of it, but as a demonstration, look at this:
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
The chain e-mail isn’t particularly accurate—and definitely leaves out a lot of details. But nonetheless, this is fairly readable for most English readers, and those mostly aren’t English words. There was another similar chain e-mail—that I can’t find now, so I suppose it was less famous—that had you counting the letter “o” in a fairly-long passage, and most readers got it wrong because they consistently skipped the word “of” even when they were looking for o’s. And that’s because the brain is lazy and skips work when it can—so if it can tell at a glance what a word probably is, it’s not going to carefully go through all the letters.
Same thing happens in every other language, and that includes those written in abjads. And since the reader’s brain is just recognizing words, it doesn’t need vowel marks—indeed, that might mess up your recognition of the word if you are used to it without.
Nd w cld d th sm n Nglsh f w wntd—ftr ll, cn y rd ths?
And we could do the same in English if we wanted—after all, can you read this?
(Not easily, I’d guess, but you probably more-or-less can—and if this was normal, it likely wouldn’t even be hard).
The other thing here, as TRiG and slebetman mentioned in comments, is that the languages themselves lend themselves to this kind of writing style. In the English example above, there are a fair few ambiguous entries, even only considering common words. Other languages could be worse—most Romance languages require vowels, because a word may well differ only in its vowels when it is declined and/or conjugated. Since those languages rely on those different forms to make a sentence intelligible, you really can’t leave the vowels out. But the abjads for Arabic and Hebrew are, well, designed with those languages in mind—they can handle the different words of those languages with limited ambiguity. Those languages don’t often rely on vowels as the only distinctions between words. If they did, their scripts would most likely have been alphabets instead of abjads, because they would have needed to indicate vowels to make it understood. But since they don’t, the abjad works fine.
- Technically, Egyptian hieroglyphics aren’t an abjad, or at least aren’t just an abjad, though particularly later in their history they were mostly used like one. Basically, this is what happens when you’re the first: you kind of have to figure it out as you go along. Hieroglyphics developed from simple pictograms/icons, which you’d just draw the thing you meant, into more abstract forms representing words (as in many Asian scripts, for example), then syllables (also found in several Asian scripts), and finally letters. The hundreds of pictograms and word-glyphs didn’t go away, though, so all told there are about a thousand hieroglyphics, even though the core abjad that eventually developed is a more reasonable number.