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Cantillation is the ritual chanting of readings from the Hebrew Bible in synagogue services. The chants are written and notated 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 or neginot (not to be confused with Hasidic nigun) and in Yiddish as טראָפ trop: the equivalent word trope is sometimes used in English with the same meaning.

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.

The names of the cantillation signs are not quite the same as between the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Italian and Yemenite traditions; for example Sephardim use qadma to mean what Ashkenazim call pashta, and azla to mean what Ashkenazim call qadma. In this article, as in almost all Hebrew grammars, the Ashkenazi terminology is used. The names in other traditions are shown in the table below.

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.[1] 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 / siluq, 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 YHWH (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 discouraged by the cantillation marks. Accordingly, the New Revised Standard Version translates "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord'," while the New Jewish Publication Society Version has "A voice rings out: 'Clear in the desert a road for 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.[2] (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 Greek/Turkish/Balkan, Syrian and Egyptian melodies are related to the Jerusalem Sephardic melody. They are more sparingly used in Israel today, but are still heard in the Diaspora, especially in America.
    • There are two Iraqi melodies, one close to the Syrian melody and traditionally used in Baghdad (and sometimes in Israel), and another more distinctive melody originating in Mosul and generally used in the Iraqi Jewish diaspora.[3]
    • 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 and Portuguese melody is in common use in the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi communities of Livorno, Gibraltar, the Netherlands, England, Canada, USA and other places in the Americas. It is closely related to the Spanish-Moroccan melody.
  • 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.
  • There has been an attempted reconstruction of the original melody by Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, on the basis of the shapes and positions of the marks and without any reference to existing melodies, as described in her book and LP's La musique de la Bible révélée (see here).

Traditional melodies

Ashkenazic melodies

This section includes inline links to audio files. If you have trouble playing the files, see Wikipedia Media help.

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) Example
    • 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 Example
      • 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)
    • 4. Esther - a light, joyous tune used for the Megillat Esther on Purim. There are also additional musical customs, such as saying the word סוס (horse) with a neighing sound, not indicated by the cantillation.
    • 5. Lamentations - a mournful tune. Echoes of it can also be heard for certain verses in Esther and in the Torah reading preceding the Ninth of Av. The Haftarot preceding and during the Ninth of Av also use this melody. Example
    • 6. The three remaining scrolls are publicly read within Ashkenazic communities during the Three pilgrimage festivals. All are read in the same melody, which may be considered the "general" melody for the megillot: The Song of Songs on Passover; Ruth on Shavuot; Ecclesiastes on Sukkot.

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.

Sephardic and Eastern melodies

At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a single Ottoman-Sephardic tradition covering Turkey, Syria, Palestine and Egypt.[4] Today the Jerusalem-Sephardic, Syrian, Egyptian and Baghdadi melodies recognisably belong to a single family. For example, in these traditions the Torah reading is always or almost always in maqam Sigah. There are some variations, among individual readers as well as among communities: for example the Egyptian melody is related to the more elaborate and cantorial form of the Syrian melody. The Karaite tradition, being based on the Egyptian, also forms part of this group.[5]

Another recognisable family consists of the Iraqi (Mosul and Iraqi diaspora), Spanish-Moroccan and Spanish and Portuguese melodies. The probable reason for the occurrence of similar melodies at opposite ends of the Arab world is that they represent the remains of an old Arab-Jewish tradition not overlaid by the later Ottoman-Sephardic tradition that spread to the countries in between. There may also have been some convergence between the London Spanish and Portuguese and Iraqi melodies during British rule in India and the British Mandate of Mesopotamia.

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. Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a special tune for the Ten Commandments when read according to the ta'am elyon, known as "High Na'um", which is also used for some other words and passages which it is desired to emphasize. Other communities, such as the Syrian Jews, observe the differences between the two sets of cantillation marks for the Ten Commandments but have no special melody for ta'am 'elyon. There is no special tune for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in any Sephardic tradition. 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.

Eastern Jewish communities have no liturgical tradition of reading Ecclesiastes, and there is no public liturgical reading of Song of Songs on Passover, though brief extracts may be read after the morning service during the first half of Nisan. (Individuals may read it after the Passover Seder, and many communities recite it every Friday night.) There are specialized tunes for Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther and Lamentations. The prose passages at the beginning and end of the book of Job may be read either to the tune of Song of Songs or to that of Ruth, depending on the community. The Ruth tune is generally the "default" tune for any book of the Ketuvim (Hagiographa) that does not have a tune of its own.

Unlike the Ashkenazic tradition, the eastern traditions, in particular that of the Syrian Jews, include melodies for the special cantillation of Psalms, Proverbs and the poetic parts of 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 in the evening service is noticeably similar to that of Syrian psalm cantillation, and may represent the remnants of such a tradition.

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 level disjunctives; and
  • the patterns of etnaḥa and silluq (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, 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.) For example, the Yemenite community teaches a simplified melody for children, to be used both in school and when they are called to read the sixth aliyah.[6] The simplified melody is also used for the reading of the Targum, which is generally performed by a young boy.

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.

Some communities had a simplified melody for the Prophets, distinct from that used in reading the Haftarah: the distinction is mentioned in one medieval Sephardic source.[7]

Names and shapes of the ta'amim

Names in different traditions

The following table shows the names of the ta'amim in the Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Italian and Yemenite traditions together with their Unicode symbols. The following points should be noted.

  • Cantillation marks are rarely supported in many default Hebrew fonts. They should display however on Windows with one of those fonts installed:
    Gisha, Times New Roman, Arial, Microsoft Sans Serif, Code2000, Courier New, Ezra SIL
  • The following default Hebrew fonts are not displaying these marks :
    David, Miriam, Rod, FrankRuehl (as well as serif, sans-serif, monospaced unless they are configured manually)
  • The following table attempts to locate the working Hebrew fonts (listed after some non-Hebrew fonts like: Segoe UI, Verdana) before using default Hebrew fonts.
  • The mark for U+05AA (yerach ben yomo or galgal) should not be drawn with the bottom vertical tick used in the mark drawn for U+05A2 (atnach hafukh), however some fonts draw these marks identically.
Ashkenazi Sephardi Italian Yemenite
סוֹף פָּסֽוּק
Sof pasuq/ silluq
סוֹף פָּסֽוּק
Sof pasuq
סוֹף פָּסֽוּק
Sof pasuq

זָקֵף קָטָ֔ן
Zaqef qatan
זָקֵף קָט֔וֹן
Zaqef qaton
זָקֵף קָט֔וֹן
Zaqef qaton
זָקֵף קָט֔וֹן
Zaqef qaton
זָקֵף גָּד֕וֹל
Zaqef gadol
זָקֵף גָּד֕וֹל
Zaqef gadol
זָקֵף גָּד֕וֹל
Zaqef gadol
זָקֵף גָּד֕וֹל
Zaqef gadol
U+0599 U+05A8
שְׁנֵ֨י פַּשְׁטִין֙
Shene pashtin/pashtayim
תּרֵ֨י קַדְמִין֙
Tere qadmin
שְׁנֵ֨י פַּשְׁטִין֙
(Shene) pashtin

שׁ֚וֹפָר יְתִיב
Shofar yetiv
פָּזֵר גָּד֡וֹל
Pazer gadol
פָּזֵר גָּד֡וֹל
Pazer gadol

קַרְנֵי פָרָ֟ה
Qarne farah/ pazer gadol
קַרְנֵי פָרָ֟ה
Qarne farah
קַרְנֵי פָרָ֟ה
Qarne farah
קַרְנֵי פָרָ֟ה
Qarne farah
תְּ֠לִישָא גְדוֹלָה
Telisha gedolah
תְּ֠לִישָא גְדוֹלָה
Telisha gedolah
שְׁנֵי גְרִישִׁ֞ין
Shene gerishin
שְׁנֵי גְרִישִׁ֞ין
Shene gerishin
מוּנַח לְגַרְמֵ֣הּ׀
Munach legarmeh

שׁוֹפָר הוֹלֵ֣ךְ
Shofar holech
שׁוֹפָר עִלּ֣וּי
Shofar illui

שׁוֹפָר) מְהֻפָּ֤ךְ)
(Shofar) mehuppach
שׁוֹפָר הָפ֤וּךְ
Shofar hafuch

תְּלִישָא קְטַנָּה֩
Telisha qetannah
תְּלִישָא קְטַנָּה֩
Telisha qetannah
מֵרְכָא כּפוּלָ֦ה
Mercha kefulah
תְּרֵי טַעֲמֵ֦י
Tere ta’ame
תְּרֵין חוּטְרִ֦ין
Teren ḥutrin

יֵרֶח בֶּן יוֹמ֪וֹ
Yerach ben yomo/ galgal
יֵרֶח בֶּן יוֹמ֪וֹ
Yeraḥ ben yomo
יֵרֶח בֶּן יוֹמ֪וֹ
Yerach ben yomo
יֵרֶח בֶּן יוֹמ֪וֹ
Yeraḥ ben yomo

The following additional symbols are found in the three poetical books: their names do not differ among the various traditions.

Symbol in
Hebrew name in Unicode
Anglicized name (Israeli Hebrew)
גֵרֵשׁ מוּקְדָם
geresh muqdam
אתנח הפוך
atnach hafukh
tzinor (zarqa above left)

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 traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardi orders, though variations are found in both communities.





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: "Expulsion, driving out". Reason not clear.

Gershayim: Double Geresh, from its appearance.

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: "Lengthener", because it prolongs the melody of the word that follows. In modern usage it sometimes means "comma", but this usage is taken from the cantillation sign.

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.

Qadma: "To progress, advance." It always occurs at the beginning of a phrase (often before other conjunctives) and its shape is leaning forward. In particular it is the first member of the Qadma ve-Azla pair.

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. Another possibility is that it was regarded as occupying the fourth level in the hierarchy.[8]

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

Shalshelet: "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 the following note as one musical phrase; Qetannah = small (short); Gedolah = big (long).[9]

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

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 (the two together could be regarded as forming a slur). The name "tifcha" may be an allusion to a hand signal.[10]

Yetiv: "Resting" or "sitting", because it may be followed by a short pause, or more probably because the shape is like a horn sitting up. (In the Italian tradition, it is called shofar yetiv, sitting horn.)

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

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

  • 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).


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 disjunctive 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
Nearest preceding lower level
disjunctive ("near companion")
Other lower level disjunctives
("remote companion")
Equivalent isolated
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;
Darga Mercha-kefulah
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

Telisha gedolah Munach
Pazer Munach
Qarne farah Yerach ben yomo


The following sequences are commonly found.

First level phrases

(Mercha) Tifcha (Mercha) Sof-Pasuq: The group that occurs at the end of each pasuq (verse), and always includes the Sof-Pasuq 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 pasuq. 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) Zaqef Qaton: 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. Zaqef Qaton can appear without a Munach, but a Munach cannot appear without a Qaton (or other following disjunctive). The Munach-Zaqef Katon sequence can appear without the Mahpach-Pashta, but the Mahpach-Pashta cannot appear without the Zaqef Katon.

Zaqef Gadol: Not a part of a group, as it replaces a Zaqef Qaton sequence.

(Munach) Zarqa (Munach) Segol: Zarqa 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.[11]

Third level phrases

Munach | Munach Revia: The following combinations occur: Revia on its own; Munach Revia; Darga Munach Revia; Munach-with-Pesiq Revia; Munach-with-Pesiq Munach Revia. (Munach with Pesiq is a disjunctive, separate from Munach proper, and also known as Munach legarmeh, munach on its own.)

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

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

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

Telisha Qetannah/Gedolah: Not considered a part of a group, usually appears individually, sometimes after a Pazer. It often precedes Qadma.

Yerach ben Yomo Qarnei Farah: The rarest group of all. Occurs only once in the whole Torah, in the parashah Masey, on the words alpayim b'ammah (two thousand cubits). It is equivalent to Munach Pazer.


Three systems of Hebrew punctuation (including vowels and cantillation symbols) have been used: the Babylonian, the Palestinian and the Tiberian, only the last of which is used today.

Babylonian system

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.[12] In general there are no symbols for the conjunctives, though some late manuscripts use the Tiberian symbols for these. There is also no equivalent for low-grade disjunctives such as telishah gedolah: these are generally replaced by the equivalent of zaqef or revia.

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 the Yemenite Jews, who now use the Tiberian symbols, but tend to have musical motifs only for the disjunctives and render the conjunctives in a monotone. 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 modes different disjunctives often have the same or closely similar motifs, reducing the total number of effective motifs to something like the same number.

Palestinian system

The Babylonian system, as mentioned above, is mainly concerned with showing breaks in the verse. Early Palestinian manuscripts, by contrast, are mainly concerned with showing phrases: for example the tifcha-etnachta, zarqa-segolta and pashta-zaqef sequences, with or without intervening unaccented words. These sequences are generally linked by a series of dots, beginning or ending with a dash or a dot in a different place to show which sequence is meant. Unaccented words (which in the Tiberian system carry conjunctives) are generally shown by a dot following the word, as if to link it to the following word. There are separate symbols for more elaborate tropes like pazer and telisha gedolah.

The manuscripts are extremely fragmentary, no two of them following quite the same conventions, and these marks may represent the individual reader's aide-memoire rather than a formal system of punctuation (for example, vowel signs are often used only where the word would otherwise be ambiguous). In one manuscript, presumably of somewhat later date than the others, there are separate marks for different conjunctives, actually outnumbering those in the Tiberian system (for example, munach before etnachta has a different sign from munach before zaqef), and the overall system approaches the Tiberian in comprehensiveness. In some other manuscripts, in particular those containing Targumim rather than original text, the Tiberian symbols have been added by a later hand. In general, it may be observed that the Palestinian and Tiberian systems are far more closely related to each other than either is to the Babylonian.

This system of phrasing is reflected in the Sephardic cantillation modes, in which the conjunctives (and to some extent the "near companions" such as tifcha, pashta and zarqa) are rendered as flourishes leading into the motif of the following disjunctive rather than as motifs in their own right.

The somewhat inconsistent use of dots above and below the words as disjunctives is closely similar to that found in Syriac texts.[13] Kahle[14] also notes some similarity with the punctuation of Samaritan Hebrew.

Tiberian system

By the tenth century C.E., the chant in use in Palestine had clearly become more complex, both because of the existence of pazer, geresh and telisha motifs in longer verses and because the realization of a phrase ending with a given type of break varied according to the number of words and syllables in the phrase. The Tiberian Masoretes therefore decided to invent a comprehensive notation with a symbol on each word, to replace the fragmentary systems previously in use. In particular it was necessary to invent a range of different 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.) The system they devised is the one in use today, and is found in Biblical manuscripts such as the Aleppo Codex. A Masoretic 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 has gone furthest in the Western Ashkenazi and Ottoman (Jerusalem-Sephardi, Syrian etc.) traditions. 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).

A verse may be divided into one, two or three stichs. A one-stich verse is divided by dehi, which looks like tifcha but is under the last letter of the word. In a two-stich verse, the first stich ends with atnach. In a three-stich verse, the first stich ends with oleh ve-yored, which looks like mahpach (above the word) followed by tifcha, on either the same word or two consecutive words, and the second stich ends with atnach.

Major disjunctives within a stich are revia qaton (immediately before oleh ve-yored), revia gadol (elsewhere) and tzinnor (which looks like zarqa). The last stich may be divided by revia megurash, which looks like geresh combined with revia.

Minor disjunctives are pazer gadol, shalshelet gedolah, azla legarmeh (looking like qadma) and mehuppach legarmeh (looking like mahpach): all of these except pazer are followed by a pesiq. Mehuppach without a pesiq sometimes occurs at the beginning of a stich.

All other accents are conjunctives.


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 many 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.



Grammar and masorah

  • Dotan, Aaron (ed.), Sefer diqduqe ha-te'amim le-rabbi Aharon Ben-Moshe Ben-Asher: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1963 (earlier edition Leipzig 1879)
  • Moshe ha-Naqdan, Darche ha-Niqqud ve-ha-neginot: Vilna 1822, Hanover 1847
  • Yosef bar Kalonymus, ed. A. Berliner, Ta'ame eme"t baḥaruzim: Berlin 1886 (Hebrew and German), a medieval poem setting out the rules for the three poetical books (original is in Maḥzor of Casal Maggiore, 1485)
  • Judah ben Bil'am, Sha'ar ta'ame sheloshah sifre eme"t: Paris 1556, repr. Amsterdam 1859
  • Heidenheim, Wolf, Sefer Mishpete ha-Ta'amim: Rödelheim 1808 (Hebrew)
  • 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 (2 vols): 1927, repr. 1967 and 2005
  • 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)

Music (general and comparative)

  • Grove Dictionary of Music, article on "Jewish Music"
  • 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 (links here (English) and here (Hebrew))
  • Idelsohn, A. Z., Jewish Music in its Historical Development: New York 1929, reprinted many times

Polish/Lithuanian melody

  • Neeman, J.L., The Tunes of the Bible - Musical Principles of the Biblical Accentuation: Tel Aviv, 1955 (Hebrew).
  • Binder, A. W., Biblical Chant: New York 1959
  • Jacobson, Joshua, Chanting the Hebrew Bible: the art of cantillation: 2002
  • Portnoy, Marshall, The Art of Torah Cantillation - A Step-by-step Guide to Chanting Torah: 2008, ASIN: B001JNWH4O (2nd edition, with CD)
  • Portnoy, Marshall, The Art of Torah Cantillation - A Step-by-step Guide to Chanting Haftarot and M'gillot: 2002, ISBN 0807407569, ISBN 978-0807407561
  • Kohn, S., Learn to Lein: A Step-by-Step Tutorial Program for Developing Requisite Torah-Reading Skills: ISBN: 1-58330-913-6

Other melodies

  • Book of Prayer of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, London (5 vols.): Oxford (Oxford Univ. Press, Vivian Ridler), 5725 - 1965 (since reprinted): the parashah and haftarah melodies are set out at the end of vol. 1
  • 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
  • Tunkel, Victor, The Music of the Hebrew Bible - The Western Ashkenazi Tradition: 2004; ISBN 0953110486, ISBN 978-0953110483
  • Smith, Chani, Learn to Leyn, The Cantillation of the Hebrew Bible: London 2004 (with CD: western Ashkenazic melody)
  • The Western Ashkenazi melody is also set out in the Hertz Chumash

See also

External links

Textual resources

Wikimedia cantillation projects (recordings)

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:

  • Hebrew (currently lists thousands of recordings of aliyot, haftarot, and megillot)
  • English (little content as of yet)
  • Contributors may set up Vayavinu Bamikra in other Wikisource languages as well.

Other cantillation recordings

Torah and Haftarah readings

  • Chant the Bible Interactive courses. Includes studio recording of the yearly cycle, and high holy day chants in Lita or Avery/Binder melodies (commercial products, available as CD but not as download).
  • Leining Master - MP3 recordings of the entire Torah, Haftarot, and Megillot on an MP3 CD by Rabbi Jeremy Wieder. Also available as individual parsha + haftara downloads or maftir + haftara downloads, or in a free streaming version at the YU Torah website. Choice of Ashkenazic or Sephardic pronunciation.
  • Navigating the Bible - Free listening to entire Torah and Haftarot (Polish-Lithuanian melody, Israeli pronunciation) along with text, translation, transliteration, and background information on the texts being read (for beginners and advanced). Available as CD or free downloads.
  • Kol Kore - The Torah and haftarot are available in this Israeli program in four different formats: Jerusalem Sephardic; Moroccan; and Polish-Lithuanian melody with Ashkenazic or Israeli pronunciation (commercial product, available as CD-ROM or as download for payment).
  • Darga (commercial products, available as CD or as download for payment).
  • Chadish Media (commercial products: CD, tape or download for payment).
  • Torah For Me - Free listening and download of MP3 recordings of Reading (with Polish-Lithuanian melody) - Torah, Prophets, and Writings (including Sephardic traditional reading of Tehilim and Iyov).
  • - Includes recordings of all Parashiyot and Haftarot, in Polish-Lithuanian, Sephardic, and Moroccan melodies (free download).
  • Shevile ha-Tanach - Text and commentaries of all Biblical books, with links to recordings in Jerusalem-Sephardic, Polish-Lithuanian, Moroccan and Syrian melodies (free downloads).
  • Dave Curtis Western Ashkenazic Torah and Haftarah melodies as chanted in British synagogues.
  • Esther Hugenholtz Dutch Ashkenazi melody
  • Chabad Melody read by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Torah Reader

Five Megillot

  • Leining Master (see above).
  • Cantor Rabinovicz (at bottom of list; missing Kohelet).
  • Virtual Cantor - contains MP3 recordings of all five megillot with Esther in two versions (normal tempo and slower learning speed). Free to listen, MP3 disk may be purchased.
  • "Potpourri for Purim" Melodies for Megillat Ester in several traditions

High Holidays Torah melody (Ashkenazic tradition)

Sephardic and eastern traditions

Italian tradition

Yemenite tradition

Mechanical Cantillation (computer speech synthesis)

  • Trope Trainer - Trainer for Torah, Haftarot, Megillot in a variety of digital voices, melodies, and pronunciations (commercial product).

Recordings of the cantillation notes

Samples from various traditions

  • Mafseek Publications (Helen Chuckrow)
  • Taamim Introduction and samples in Polish-Lithuanian, Baghdadi and Spanish/Portuguese styles

Cantillation in the Mishnah



  1. There are two types of exception. A group of words joined by hyphens is regarded as one word so they only have one accent between them. Conversely, a long word may have two, e.g. a disjunctive on the stressed syllable and the related conjunctive two syllables before in place of meteg.
  2. As do Muslims: see Qur'an reading.
  3. Specimens of both may be found on It is possible that the Mosul melody represents the older Iraqi tradition and that the Baghdad melody was imported from Syria following the appointment of Chief Rabbi Sadka Bekhor Hussein in 1743.
  4. The tables in the Jewish Encyclopedia article on cantillation sets out a single melody for "Syria and Egypt".
  5. and recordings by Moshe Dabbah on
  7. The article on "Cantillation" in the Jewish Encyclopedia shows tunes for "Prophets (other readings)" for both the Western Sephardi and the Baghdadi traditions.
  8. In the normal grammatical account it is a third-level disjunctive. But it would become fourth level if one regarded etnachta as occupying a separate level from sof pasuq, or segol/shalshelet as on a level of their own intermediate between etnachta and zaqef qaton.
  9. In the Sephardic tradition, both are equally referred to as talsha and the melodies are frequently confused. When it is desired to refer unambiguously to telisha qetannah (the conjunctive), terms such as talsa or tilsa are used, on the analogy with the distinction between the letters shin and sin (the sin has a dot on the left and telisha qetannah appears on the left of the word); another term used for both accents is tirtzah. Which term is used for which accent varies among communities and even among individuals.
  10. In Sephardic and Oriental communities it is called tarḥa, meaning "dragging" or "effort". Hence the proverbial phrase "after tarḥa, atnaḥ", after effort comes rest: see the series of puns in the poem on pp. 99-100, Shir u-Shbaḥah Hallel ve-Zimrah.
  11. Symbolic Interpretation of the Shalshelet
  12. In more than one tradition, the melodic outline of darga tevir is similar to that of (mahpach) pashta zaqef qaton, though their syntactical functions are not quite the same.
  13. Segal, J. B., The Diacritical Point and the Accents in Syriac: Oxford 1953, repr. 2003 ISBN 1593330324, ISBN 978-1593330323.
  14. Masoreten des Westens.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Cantillation. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.