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Cantillation (Hebrew: ta`amei ha-mikra or just te`amim; Yiddish trope is also commonly used in English) refers to special signs or marks in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) which complement the letters and vowel points. Some of these signs were also sometimes used in medieval manuscripts of the Mishnah.

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

Table of contents
1 Three Functions
2 The Musical Function
3 Syntax and Phonetics
4 History
5 See also:
6 External Links:

Three Functions

The cantillation signs serve three functions:

Psalms, Proverbs and Job: The system of cantillation notes used throughout the Tanakh is replaced by an entirely different system for these three poetic books. Many of the symbols 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.

The Musical Function

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

Ashkenazic Melodies

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

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 melodies began to be forgotten. Unlike the Ashkenazic tradition, the eastern traditions 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.

On the other hand, eastern Jewish communities have no tradition of reading the three megillot publicly on the three pilgrimage festivals, and therefore preserved no special tune for those three books.

Syntax and Phonetics

Should include names of the cantillation notes, hierarchies, special behaviors.

֔zaqef qatan
֕zaqef gadol
֝geresh muqdam
֟qarney para
֠telisha gedola
֦merkha kefula
֩telisha qetana
֪yerah ben yomo = galgal


See also:

Torah, Haftarah, Megillot, Bar Mitzvah

External Links: