Energy of the Hebrew Letters - Class 2

As was explained previously the letters have four levels. All of these levels are in the world of Atzilut. You do not know what that means yet. One aspect is the letters in the world of Atzilut can be seen as separate from each other. The first level that separation comes into existence is at this level of Atzilut.

The world of Keter of Atzilut of the letters is Trope or cantillation marks. These marks are metaphors for the Torah Reader telling him two things. One is the length and notes of his chanting and the other is where on a word to enunciate the syllable. This implies to the ignorant that there is only one trope per word. This is incorrect. Each letter has a Trope sign associated with it. There is a teaching by the GRA – the Gaon De Vilna that the Trope of a verse can assist in the understanding and the Kabbalah of that verse. He does this with the famous verse in the Parasha of Toldot Chapter 25 Verse 19. Once we have taught you more about Trope we can go back and truly explain the teaching of the Gra - just not here.

Here is information from the Wikipedia website about Trope which they refer to as Cantillation Marks.

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 theHebrew 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 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 callpashta, 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 tablebelow.

The cantillation signs serve three functions: Function Description and 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.


Most of the cantillation signs indicate the specific syllable where the stress (accent) falls in the pronunciation of a word.


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).


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. (There are two types of exception to the rule about words having only one sign. 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.)

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

The first level, known as "Emperors", includes sof pasuq / siluq, marking the end of the verse, and atnach / etnachta, marking the middle.

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.

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.

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'."


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).


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 leynen 'read', derived from Latin legere, giving rise to the Jewish English verb "to leyn".)

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 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.

The Moroccan melody is used widely by Jews of Moroccan descent, both in Israel and in the diaspora, especially France. It subdivides into a Spanish-Moroccan melody, used in the northern coastal strip, and an Arab-Moroccan melody, used in the interior of the country, with some local variations.

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.

Italian melodies are still used in Italy, as well as in one Italian synagogue in Jerusalem, one in Istanbul, and one in New York City. These vary greatly locally: for example the melody used in Rome resembles the Spanish and Portuguese melody rather than those used in northern Italy.

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.

For learning purposes, the t'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 means "Going away", because it is often the end of the phrase 'Qadma ve'Azla'.

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

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

Geresh means "Expulsion, driving out". The reason not clear.

Gershayim means Double Geresh, from its appearance.

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

Pazer means "Lavish" or "strew", because it has so many notes.

Qadma means "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 means "Quarter" or "fourth", probably 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). Other possibilities are that it came fourth in the zarqa table (in the current Ashkenazi table it comes fifth) or that it was regarded as occupying the fourth level in the hierarchy. Its apparent appropriateness to the square or diamond shape of the symbol is coincidence: in most manuscripts, it is simply a point.

Segol means "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 means "End of verse": it is the last note of every verse. It is sometimes called silluq (taking leave).

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

Tevir means "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.

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

Zarqa means "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 means "Horns of a cow" (from its shape), sometimes called pazer gadol.

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


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. 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. Kahle 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 of Mishnah reading on the basis of these recordings.

In Christian missionary uses

The Jewish born Christian convert Ezekiel Margoliouth has translated the New Testament to Hebrew in 1865 with cantillation marks added. It is the only completely cantillated translation of the New Testament. The translation was published by the London Jews' Society.

In our next class we will start to learn the vowels. It is recommended that our students start to memorize the basic root vowels of each letter. Each letter has a name. When that name is used the vowel used in the first letter of the name of the letter is to be the vowel used as the root vowel. ANY LETTER IN ANY NAME CAN BE PRONOUNCED USING THE ROOT VOWEL AT ANY TIME. The link below brings up an mp3 recording of root vowel sounds. It is highly recommended that this be practiced until it becomes second nature to the student. You will find it very useful in the future use of the Hebrew Letters.

The vowels