Cantillation

Cantillation

[kan-tl-eyt]
Cantillation is the ritual chanting of readings from the Bible in synagogue services.

The chants are rendered in accordance with the special signs or marks printed in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) to complement the letters and vowel points. These marks are known in English as accents and in Hebrew as טעמי המקרא ta`amei ha-mikra or just טעמים te`amim. (Some of these signs were also sometimes used in medieval manuscripts of the Mishnah.) The musical motifs associated with the signs are known in Hebrew as niggun and in Yiddish as טראָפ trop: the equivalent word trope is sometimes used in English with the same meaning. The act of reading a Biblical passage with the appropriate chant is known as "leyning".

A primary purpose of the cantillation signs is to guide the chanting of the sacred texts during public worship. Very roughly speaking, each word of text has a cantillation mark at its primary accent and associated with that mark is a musical phrase that tells how to sing that word. The reality is more complex, with some words having two or no marks and the musical meaning of some marks dependent upon context. There are different sets of musical phrases associated with different sections of the Bible. The music varies with different Jewish traditions and individual cantorial styles.

The cantillation signs also provide information on the syntactical structure of the text and some say they are a commentary on the text itself, highlighting important ideas musically. The tropes are not random strings but follow a set and describable grammar. The very word ta'am means "taste" or "sense", the point being that the pauses and intonation denoted by the accents (with or without formal musical rendition) bring out the sense of the passage.

There are two systems of cantillation marks in the Tanakh. One is used in the twenty-one prose books, while the other appears in the three poetical books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job. Except where otherwise stated, this article describes the "prose" system.

The current system of cantillation notes has its historical roots in the Tiberian masorah. The cantillation signs are included in Unicode as characters 0591 through 05AF in the Hebrew alphabet block.

Functions of cantillation signs

The cantillation signs serve three functions:

  • Syntax: They divide biblical verses into smaller units of meaning, a function which also gives them a limited but sometimes important role as a source for exegesis. This function is accomplished through the use of various conjunctive signs (which indicate that words should be connected in a single phrase) and especially a hierarchy of dividing signs of various strength which divide each verse into smaller phrases. The function of the disjunctive cantillation signs may be roughly compared to modern punctuation signs such as periods, commas, semicolons, etc.
  • Phonetics: Most of the cantillation signs indicate the specific syllable where the stress (accent) falls in the pronunciation of a word.
  • Music: The cantillation signs have musical value: reading the Hebrew Bible with cantillation becomes a musical chant, where the music itself serves as a tool to emphasise the proper accentuation and syntax (as mentioned previously).

The syntactical function

In general, each word in the Tanach has one cantillation sign. This may be either a disjunctive, showing a division between that and the following word, or a conjunctive, joining the two words (like a slur in music). Thus, disjunctives divide a verse into phrases, and within each phrase all the words except the last carry conjunctives.

The disjunctives are traditionally divided into four levels, with lower level disjunctives marking less important breaks.

  1. The first level, known as "Emperors", includes sof pasuq, marking the end of the verse, and atnach / etnachta, marking the middle.
  2. The second level is known as "Kings". The usual second level disjunctive is zaqef qaton (when on its own, this becomes zaqef gadol). This is replaced by tifcha when in the immediate neighbourhood of sof pasuq or atnach. A stronger second level disjunctive, used in very long verses, is segol: when it occurs on its own, this may be replaced by shalshelet.
  3. The third level is known as "Dukes". The usual third level disjunctive is revia. For musical reasons, this is replaced by zarqa when in the vicinity of segol, by pashta or yetiv when in the vicinity of zakef, and by tevir when in the vicinity of tifcha.
  4. The fourth level is known as "Counts". These are found mainly in longer verses, and tend to cluster near the beginning of a half-verse: for this reason their musical realisation is usually more elaborate than that of higher level disjunctives. They are pazer, geresh, gershayim, telishah gedolah, munach legarmeh and qarne farah.

The general conjunctive is munach. Depending on which disjunctive follows, this may be replaced by mercha, mahpach, darga, qadma, telisha qetannah or yerach ben yomo.

One other symbol is mercha kefulah, double mercha. There is some argument about whether this is another conjunctive or an occasional replacement for tevir.

Disjunctives have a function somewhat similar to punctuation in Western languages. Sof pasuq could be thought of as a full stop, atnach as a semi-colon, second level disjunctives as commas and third level disjunctives as commas or unmarked. Where two words are syntactically bound together (for example, pene ha-mayim, "the face of the waters"), the first invariably carries a conjunctive.

The cantillation signs are often an important aid in the interpretation of a passage. For example, the words qol qore bamidbar panu derekh Hashem (Isaiah 40-3) is translated in the Authorised Version as "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord". As the word qore takes the high-level disjunctive zaqef qaton this meaning is impossible. Accordingly the New Revised Standard Version translates "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord'," while the Jewish Publication Society Version has "Hark! one calleth: 'Clear ye in the wilderness the way of the LORD'."

The phonetic function

Most cantillation signs are written on the consonant of the stressed syllable of a word. This also shows where the most important note of the musical motif should go.

A few signs always go on the first or last consonant of a word. This may have been for musical reasons, or it may be to distinguish them from other accents of similar shape. For example pashta, which goes on the last consonant, otherwise looks like qadma, which goes on the stressed syllable.

Some signs are written (and sung) differently when the word is not stressed on its last syllable. Pashta on a word of this kind is doubled, one going on the stressed syllable and the other on the last consonant. Geresh is doubled unless it occurs on a non-finally-stressed word or follows qadma (to form the qadma ve-azla phrase).

The musical function

Cantillation signs guide the reader in applying a chant to Biblical readings. This chant is technically regarded as a ritualized form of speech intonation rather than as a musical exercise like the singing of metrical hymns: for this reason Jews always speak of saying or reading a passage rather than of singing it. (In Yiddish the word is leyen 'read', derived from Latin legere, giving rise to the Jewish English verb "to leyn". In Spanish and related languages it is decir 'say'.)

The musical value of the cantillation signs serves the same function for Jews worldwide, but the specific tunes vary between different communities. The most common tunes today are as follows.

  • Among Ashkenazi Jews:
    • The Polish-Lithuanian melody, used by Ashkenazic descendants of eastern European Jews, is the most common tune in the world today, both in Israel and the diaspora.
    • The Ashkenazic melodies from central and western European Jewry are used far less today than before the Holocaust, but still survive in some communities, especially in Great Britain. They are of interest because a very similar melody was notated by Johann Reuchlin as in use in Germany in his day (15th-16th century, C.E.).
  • Among Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews:
    • The "Jerusalem Sephardic" (Sepharadi-Yerushalmi) melody is the one most widely used today in Israel, and it is also used in some Sephardic communities in the diaspora.
    • The Moroccan melody is used widely by Jews of Moroccan descent, both in Israel and in the diaspora, especially France. It subdivides into the Spanish-Moroccan, heard in the northern coastal strip, and the Arab-Moroccan, heard in the rest of the country.
    • The Spanish/Portuguese melody is in common use in the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi communities of Gibraltar, the Netherlands, England, Canada, USA and other places in the Americas. It is closely related to the Spanish-Moroccan melody.
    • Other varieties, including the Greek/Turkish/Balkan, Iraqi, Syrian and Egyptian melodies, are more sparingly used in Israel today, but are still heard in the Diaspora, especially in America
  • The Italian melody is still used in Italy, as well as in one Italian synagogue in Jerusalem and one in Istanbul.
  • The Yemenite melody can also be heard in Israel today.

Traditional melodies

Ashkenazic melodies

In the Ashkenazic musical tradition for cantillation, each of the local geographical customs includes a total of six major and numerous minor separate melodies for cantillation:

  • Torah and Haftarot (3 melodies)
    • 1. Torah (general melody for the whole year)
    • 2. Torah - special melody for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. You may hear the reading at Torahplace This tune is also employed on Simhat Torah in various degrees (depending on the specific community). Echoes of it can also be heard for certain verses in the Torah reading for fast days in some communities.
      • There are a number of variants employed for special sections, such as those for the Aseret haDibrot (Ten Commandments) and Az Yashir (Song of the Sea).
      • In all Torah modes, there is a "coda" motif that is used for the last few words of each reading, irrespective of the cantillation signs.
      • There is a special coda used at the end of each of the five books of the Torah that leads to the traditional exclamation of "Hazak Hazak V'Nithazek!" (Be strong be strong so we are strengthened).
    • 3. Haftarot
      • In the haftarah mode, there is also a "coda" motif. In the Western Ashkenazic mode, this is applied to the end of every verse. A different coda is used at the end of the haftarah, modulating from minor to major to introduce the following blessing.
  • The Five Megillot (3 melodies are employed for these five scrolls)

The Ashkenazic tradition preserves no melody for the special cantillation notes of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, which were not publicly read in the synagogue by European Jews. However, the Ashkenazic yeshiva known as Aderet Eliyahu, or (more informally) Zilberman's, in the Old City of Jerusalem, uses an adaptation of the Syrian cantillation-melody for these books, and this is becoming more popular among other Ashkenazim as well.

Eastern melodies

The Jews of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and Yemen all had local musical traditions for cantillation. When these Jewish communities emigrated (mostly to Israel) during the twentieth century, they brought their musical traditions with them. But as the immigrants themselves grew older, many particular national melodies began to be forgotten, or to become assimilated into the "Jerusalem Sephardic" melting-pot.

As with the Ashkenazim, there is one tune for Torah readings and a different tune for haftarot. There is usually a special tune for the Ten Commandments, known as ta'am elyon or "High Na'um", but there is no special tune for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Also as with Ashkenazim, the normal musical value of cantillation signs is replaced by a "coda" motif at the end of each Torah reading and of each haftarah verse (though there is no special coda for the end of the haftarah), suggesting a common origin for the Sephardi and Ashkenazi chants.

In the Jerusalem Sephardic tradition, as in related traditions such as the Syrian and Baghdadi traditions, the Torah reading is always or almost always in maqam Sigah. This is also true in the Karaite tradition, but not among western Sephardim.

Unlike the Ashkenazic tradition, the eastern traditions, in particular that of the Syrian Jews, include melodies for the special cantillation of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. In many eastern communities, Proverbs is read on the six Sabbaths between Passover and Shavuot, Job on the Ninth of Av, and Psalms are read on a great many occasions. The cantillation melody for Psalms can also vary depending on the occasion. The Spanish and Portuguese Jews have no tradition for the rendering of the Psalms according to the cantillation marks, but the melody used for several psalms is noticeably similar to that of Syrian psalm cantillation, and may represent the remnants of such a tradition.

Eastern Jewish communities have no liturgical tradition of reading Ecclesiastes, and there is no public liturgical reading of Song of Songs on Passover. (Individuals may read it after the Passover Seder, and many communities recite it every Friday night.) There are tunes for Ruth, Esther and Lamentations. In some communities (e.g. the Syrian Jews) there is a special tune for Song of Songs; in others (e.g. the Spanish and Portuguese Jews) it is similar though not identical to that for Ruth. The Ruth tune is generally the "default" tune for any book of the Ketuvim (Hagiographa) that does not have a tune of its own, including the prose passages at the beginning and end of the book of Job.

Yemenite melodies

Yemenite cantillation has a total of eight distinctive motifs, falling within four main patterns:

  • molikh (‘moving’) used for the conjunctives and some minor disjunctives
  • mafsiq (‘dividing’) for most third level disjunctives
  • ma‘amid (‘pausing’) for most second degree disjunctives; and
  • the patterns of etnaħta and sof-pasuq.

This is true equally of the system used for the Torah and the systems used for the other books. It appears to be a relic of the Babylonian system (see History, below), which also recognised only eight types of disjunctive and no conjunctives.

Learning melodies

Some communities had a simplified melody for the Torah, used in teaching it to children, as distinct from the mode used in synagogue. (This should not be confused with the lernen steiger used for studying the Mishnah and Talmud.)

Conversely, the Syrian community knows two types of Torah cantillation, a simpler one for general use and a more elaborate one used by professional hazzanim. It is probable that the simpler melody was originally a teaching mode. Today however it is the mode in general use, and is also an ancestor of the "Jerusalem-Sephardic" melody.

The Yemenite community also teaches a simplified melody for children, to be used when they are called to read the sixth aliyah. The simplified melody is also used for the reading of the Targum, which is generally performed by a young boy.

Ashkenazim traditionally had a simplified melody for the Prophets, distinct from that used in reading the Haftarah.

Names and shapes of the ta'amim

Zarqa tables

For learning purposes, the ta'amim are arranged in a traditional order of recitation called a "zarqa table", showing both the names and the symbols themselves. These tables are often printed at the end of a Chumash (Hebrew Pentateuch).

The order of recitation bears some relation to the groups in which the signs are likely to occur in a typical Biblical verse, but differs in detail between different communities. Below are the traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardi orders.

Ashkenazi

Sephardi

Names with transliteration

Symbol in
Unicode
Anglicized name (Israeli Hebrew)
Hebrew name in Unicode
ב֑ב etnachta
אֶתְנַחְתָּא
ב֒ב segol
סֶגוֹל
ב֓ב shalshelet
שַׁלְשֶׁלֶת
ב֔ב zaqef qaton
זָקֵף־קָטוֹן
ב֕ב zaqef gadol
זָקֵף־גָדוֹל
ב֖ב tifha (tarcha)
טִפְּחָא
ב֗ב revia
רְבִיעַ
ב֘ב zarqa
זַרְקָא
ב֙ב pashta
פַּשְׁתָּא
ב֚ב yetiv
יְתִיב
ב֛ב tevir
תְּבִיר
ב֜ב geresh, azla
גֵרֵשׁ
ב֝ב geresh muqdam
גֵרֵשׁ מוּקְדָם
ב֞ב gershayim
גֶרְשַׁיִים
ב֟ב qarne farah
קַרְנֵי פָרָה
ב֠ב telisha gedolah
תְּלִשָׁא־גְדוֹלָה
ב֡ב pazer
פָּזֵר
ב֪ב atnach hafukh
אתנח הפוך
ב֣ב munach
מוּנַח
ב֤ב mahapakh
מַאְפַּךְ
ב֥ב merkha, yored
מֵרְכָא
ב֦ב merkha kefula
מֵרְכָא־כְפוּלָה
ב֧ב darga
דַּרְגָא
ב֨ב qadma
קַדְמָא
ב֩ב telisha qetanah
תּלִשָׁא־קְטַנָה
ב֪ב yerach ben yomo, galgal
יֶרח בֶּן יוֹמוֹ, גלגל
ב֫ב ole
עוֹלֶה
ב֬ב iluy
עִלוּי
ב֭ב dehi
דחי
ב֮ב tzinnor
צנור

Meanings of the names

Azla: "Going away", because it is often the end of the phrase 'Qadma ve'Azla'.

Darga: "Trill" from its sound, or "step" from its shape.

Etnachta: "Pause, rest" because it is the pause in the middle of a verse.

Geresh: "Before", because it is never marked on the last syllable of a word (unless it is with Azla).

Gershayim: Double Geresh, from its appearance.

Qadma: "To progress, advance." It always occurs at the beginning of a phrase (often before other conjunctives) and its shape is leaning forward.

Mahpach: "Turning round". In old manuscripts, it was written like a U on its side, hence like someone doing a U turn. In printed books, it has a V shape, possibly because that was easier for the early printers to make. In Eastern communities it is called shofar mehuppach, "reversed horn", because it faces the other way from shofar holech (munach)

Mercha: "Comma" from its shape, or "lengthener", because it prolongs the melody of the word that follows.

Mercha-kefulah: Kefulah means "double", because it looks like two merchas together. There are only five in the whole Torah: Gen. 27:25, Ex. 5:15, Lev. 10:1, Num. 14:3, Num. 32:42.

Munach: "Resting", because it may be followed by a short pause, or because the shape is a horn lying on its side. (In Eastern communities it is called shofar holech, horn going forward.) Munach legarmeh (munach on its own) is a disjunctive, used mainly before revia, but occasionally before a pazer. It may be distinguished from ordinary munach by the dividing line (pesiq) following the word.

Pashta: "Stretching out", because its shape is leaning forward (or in reference to a hand signal).

Pazer: "Lavish" or "scatter", because it has so many notes.

Revia: "A quarter", either because it has four short notes as well as the main one, or because it splits the half verse from the start to etnachta (or etnachta to the end) into quarters (as it ranks below zaqef, the main division within the half verse). The square or diamond shape of the symbol is coincidence: in most manuscripts, it is simply a point.

Segol: "Bunch of grapes" (from its shape, which looks like a bunch of grapes).

Shalshelet: "A chain." Either from its appearance or because it is a long chain of notes. There are only four in the whole Torah: Gen. 19:16, 24:12, 39:8; Lev. 8:23.

Sof Pasuq: "End of verse": it is the last note of every verse. It is sometimes called silluq (going away).

Telisha Qetannah/Gedolah: "Detached" because they are never linked to previous or following notes as one musical phrase; Qetannah = small (short); Gedolah = big (long).

Tevir: "Broken", because there is a big jump down in pitch between the first and second notes, or because it represents a break in reading.

Tifcha: "Diagonal", or "hand-breadth". In old manuscripts, it was written as a straight diagonal line. In printed books, it is curved, apparently to make it a mirror image of Mercha, with which it is usually paired. There may be an allusion to a hand signal.

Yetiv: "Resting" or "sitting", because it may be followed by a short pause, or maybe because the shape is of a horn sitting up.

Zarqa: "Scatterer", because it is like a scattering of notes.

Zaqef Qaton/Gadol: "Upright" (from their shape, or in allusion to a hand signal); Qaton = small (short); Gadol = big (long).

  • Numbers 35:5 (in Parshat Mas'ei) has two notes found nowhere else in the Torah:

Qarne Farah: "Horns of a cow" (from its shape), sometimes called pazer gadol.

Yerach ben Yomo: "Moon one day old" (because it looks like a crescent moon), sometimes called galgal (circle).

Sequences

The rules governing the sequence of cantillation marks are as follows.

  1. A verse is divided into two half verses, the first ending with, and governed by, etnachta, and the second ending with, and governed by, sof pasuq. A very short verse may have no etnachta and be governed by sof pasuq alone.
  2. A half verse may be divided into two or more phrases marked off by second-level disjunctives.
  3. A second-level phrase may be divided into two or more sub-phrases marked off by third-level disjunctives.
  4. A third-level phrase may be divided into two or more sub-phrases marked off by fourth-level disjunctives.
  5. The last subdivision within a phrase must always be constituted by a distinctive one level down, chosen to fit the disjunctive governing the phrase and called (in the Table below) its "near companion". Thus, a disjunctive may be preceded by a disjunctive of its own or a higher level, or by its near companion, but not by any other disjunctive of a lower level than its own.
  6. The other subdivisions within a phrase are constituted by the "default" disjunctive for the next lower level (the "remote companion").
  7. Any disjunctive may or may not be preceded by one or more conjunctives, varying with the disjunctive in question.
  8. A disjunctive constituting a phrase on its own (i.e. not preceded by either a near companion or a conjunctive) may be substituted by a stronger disjunctive of the same level, called in the Table the "equivalent isolated disjunctive".

Main disjunctive Preceding
conjunctive(s)
Nearest preceding lower level
disjunctive ("near companion")
Other lower level disjunctives
("remote companion")
Equivalent isolated
disjunctive
First level disjunctives
Sof pasuq Mercha Tifcha Zaqef qaton
Etnachta Munach Tifcha Zaqef qaton
Second level disjunctives
Segolta Munach Zarqa Revia Shalshelet
Zaqef qaton Munach Pashta Revia Zaqef gadol
Tifcha Mercha Tevir Revia
Third level disjunctives
Revia Munach;
Darga Munach
Munach legarmeh Geresh, Telishah gedolah, Pazer
Zarqa Munach
(occasionally Mercha)
Geresh/Azla/Gershayim Telisha gedolah, Pazer
Pashta Mahpach;
Qadma Mahpach
Geresh/Azla/Gershayim Telisha gedolah, Pazer Yetiv
Tevir Mercha or Darga;
Qadma Mercha or
Qadma Darga
Geresh/Azla/Gershayim Telisha gedolah, Pazer
Fourth level disjunctives
Geresh/Azla Qadma;
Telishah qetannah Qadma


Gershayim
Telisha gedolah Munach
Pazer Munach

Groups

The following sequences are commonly found.

First level phrases

(Mercha) Tifcha (Mercha) Sof-Passuk: The group that occurs at the end of each passuk, and always includes the Sof-Passuk at the very minimum. Either or both of the Mercha's may be omitted.

(Mercha) Tifcha (Munach) Etnachta: one of the most common groups, but can only appear once in each passuk (verse). Tifcha can appear without a Mercha, but Mercha cannot appear without a Tifcha (or other following disjunctive). Etnachta can appear without a Munach, but Munach cannot appear without an Etnachta (or other following disjunctive). Munach-Etnachta can appear without a Mercha-Tifcha, but a Mercha-Tifcha cannot appear without a Munach-Etnachta (or Etnachta on its own).

Second level phrases

(Mahpach) Pashta (Munach) Zakef Katon: one of the most common groups. Pashta can appear without a Mahpach, but a Mahpach cannot appear without a Pashta. Alternatively, Yetiv can appear on its own in place of Pashta. Zakef Katon can appear without a Munach, but a Munach cannot appear without a Katon (or other following disjunctive). The Munach-Zakef Katon sequence can appear without the Mahpach-Pashta, but the Mahpach-Pashta cannot appear without the Zakef Katon.

Zakef Gadol: Not a part of a group, as it replaces a Zakef Katon sequence.

(Munach) Zarka (Munach) Segol: Zarka is only ever found before Segol; a Munach may precede either one.

Shalshelet: Not a part of a group, as it replaces a Segol sequence. Occurs only four times in the Torah, and always at the beginning of a verse.

Third level phrases

Munach | Munach Revia: The Revia usually appears alone, and sometimes following a short Munach. Occasionally, a longer Munach with Pesik precedes a second Munach and then a Revia.

Darga Tevir: Tevir is found either alone or preceded by Darga or Mercha. Darga occasionally precedes other combinations (e.g. Darga Munach Revia).

Mercha Kefula: Occasionally preceded by Darga, but usually on its own. Occurs only five times in the Torah, and once in Haftarah. Its function appears to be similar to Tevir.

Fourth level phrases

Kadma V'Azla: This pair is known as such when found together, and may precede a Mahpach group, a Revia group or a Tevir group. A Kadma can also be found without an Azla before a Mahpach, and an Azla without a Kadma is known as Azla-Geresh or simply Geresh. Gershayim on its own fulfils the same function as Kadma v'Azla, in that it can precede either a Mahpach group, a Revia group or a Tevir group.

Pazer: Not considered part of a group, but usually followed by a Telisha Ketanah or a Telisha Gedolah. It may be preceded by one or more Munachs.

Telisha Ketana/Gedolah: Not considered a part of a group, usually appears individually, sometimes after a Pazer.

Yerach ben Yomo Karnei Farah: The rarest group of all. Occurs only once in the whole Torah, in the parsha Masey, on the words Alpayim B'Ama. It is equivalent to Munach Pazer.

History

Babylonian Biblical manuscripts from the Geonic period contain no cantillation marks in the current sense, but small Hebrew letters are used to mark significant divisions within a verse. Up to eight different letters are found, depending on the importance of the break and where it occurs in the verse: these correspond roughly to the disjunctives of the Tiberian system. For example, in some manuscripts the letter tav, for tevir (break), does duty for both Tiberian tevir and zaqef. Nothing is known of the musical realization of these marks, but it seems likely that, if any of these signs was associated with a musical motif, the motif was applied not to the individual word but to the whole phrase ending with that break. (A somewhat similar system is used in manuscripts of the Qur'an, to guide the reader in fitting the chant to the verse, see Qur'an reading.)

This system is reflected in the cantillation practices of both Yemenite Jews and Karaites: both communities now use the Tiberian symbols, but tend to have musical motifs only for the disjunctives and render the conjunctives in a monotone. To a lesser extent the same is true in Sephardic communities, where the conjunctives are rendered as flourishes leading into the motif of the following disjunctive rather than as motifs in their own right. It is notable that the Yemenites have only eight disjunctive motifs, thus clearly reflecting the Babylonian notation. The same is true of the Karaite mode for the haftarah; while in the Sephardi haftarah mode different disjunctives often have the same or closely similar motifs, reducing the total number of effective motifs to something like the same number.

By the time of the Tiberian Masoretes the system had become more complex, in that the realization of a phrase ending with a given type of break varied according to the number of words and syllables in the phrase. It was therefore necessary to invent conjunctive accents to show how to introduce and elaborate the main motif in longer phrases. (For example, tevir is preceded by mercha, a short flourish, in shorter phrases but by darga, a more elaborate run of notes, in longer phrases.) A treatise called Diqduqe ha-te'amim (precise rules of the accents) by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher survives, though both the names and the classification of the accents differ somewhat from those of the present day.

As the accents were (and are) not shown on a Torah scroll, it was found necessary to have a person making hand signals to the reader to show the tune, as in the Byzantine system of neumes. This system of cheironomy survives in some communities to the present day, notably in Italy. It is speculated that both the shapes and the names of some of the accents (e.g. tifcha, literally "hand-breadth") may refer to the hand signals rather than to the syntactical functions or melodies denoted by them. Today in most communities there is no system of hand signals and the reader learns the melody of each reading in advance.

The Tiberian system spread quickly and was accepted in all communities by the 13th century. Each community re-interpreted its reading tradition so as to allocate one short musical motif to each symbol: this process went furthest among the Ashkenazi Jews. Learning the accents and their musical rendition is now an important part of the preparations for a bar mitzvah, as this is the first occasion on which a person reads from the Torah in public.

In the early period of the Reform movement there was a move to abandon the system of cantillation and give Scriptural readings in normal speech (in Hebrew or in the vernacular). In recent decades, however, traditional cantillation has been restored in many communities.

Psalms, Proverbs and Job

The system of cantillation signs used throughout the Tanakh is replaced by a very different system for these three poetic books. Many of the signs may appear the same or similar at first glance, but most of them serve entirely different functions in these three books. (Only a few signs have functions similar to what they do in the rest of the Tanakh.) The short narratives at the beginning and end of Job use the "regular" system, but the bulk of the book (the poetry) uses the special system. For this reason, these three books are referred to as sifrei emet (Books of Truth), the word emet meaning "truth", but also being an acronym for the first letters of the three books (Iyov, Mishle, Tehillim).

Mishnah

Some old manuscripts of the Mishnah include cantillation marks similar to those in the Bible. There is no surviving system for the musical rendition of these.

Today most communities have a special tune for the Mishnaic passage "Bammeh madlikin" in the Friday night service. Otherwise, there is often a customary intonation used in the study of Mishnah or Talmud, somewhat similar to an Arabic maqam, but this is not reduced to a precise system like that for the Biblical books. Recordings have been made for Israeli national archives, and Frank Alvarez-Pereyre has published a book-length study of the Syrian tradition on the basis of these recordings.

References

Bibliography

  • Grove Dictionary of Music, article on "Jewish Music"
  • Dotan, Aaron (ed.), Sefer dikduke ha-teamim le-rabbi Aharon Ben-Moshe Ben-Asher: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1963
  • Wickes, William, A Treatise on the Accentuation of the Twenty-One so-called Prose Books of the Old Testament: Oxford, 1887
  • Ginsburg, C. D., Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible: Trinitarian Bible Society, 1897
  • Kahle, Paul, Masoreten des Ostens: Die Altesten Punktierten Handschriften des Alten Testaments und der Targume: 1913, repr. 1966
  • Kahle, Paul, Masoreten des Westens: 1927, repr. 1967 and 2005
  • Idelsohn, A. Z., Phonographierte Gesänge und Aussprachsproben des Hebräischen der jemenitischen, persischen und syrischen Juden: Vienna 1917
  • Idelsohn, A. Z., Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies, volume II: Songs of the Babylonian Jews: Jerusalem, Berlin and Vienna 1923
  • Idelsohn, A. Z., Jewish Music in its Historical Development: New York 1929, reprinted many times
  • Binder, A. W., Biblical Chant: New York 1959
  • Yeivin, Israel (trans. E J Revell), Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah: Scholars Press, 1980; ISBN 0-89130-373-1
  • Breuer, Mordechai, Ta'amei hammiqra be-21 sefarim uvesifrei emet: Jerusalem, 1981 (in Hebrew)
  • Sharvit, U., "The Musical Realization of Biblical Cantillation Symbols in the Jewish Yemenite Liturgy", Yuval, no.4 (1982), 179–210
  • Alvarez-Pereyre, Frank, La Transmission Orale de la Mishnah. Une methode d'analyse appliquee a la tradition d'Alep: Jerusalem 1990
  • Rodrigues Pereira, Martin, 'Hochmat Shelomoh (Wisdom of Solomon): Torah Cantillations according to the Spanish and Portuguese Custom: New York 1994, ISBN 0-933676-37-9
  • Jacobson, Joshua, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: the art of cantillation: 2002
  • Tunkel, Victor, The Music of the Hebrew Bible - The Western Ashkenazi Tradition: 2004; ISBN-10: 0953110486, ISBN-13: 978-0953110483

See also

External links

Wikimedia projects

Wikimedia Commons: Free content audio recordings of cantillation at the Wikimedia Commons are listed at category:Cantillation and/or category:Jewish cantillation.

The recordings held at the Commons are organized by the Vayavinu Bamikra Project at Wikisource in the following languages:

  • s:ויבינו במקרא (currently lists over 300 recordings of aliyot, haftarot, and megillot)
  • Vayavinu Bamikra (just starting)
  • Now that Wikisource subdomains have been created, contributors may set up Vayavinu Bamikra in other Wikisource languages as well.

General links

Endnotes

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