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Why do the Sifrei Eme"s (i.e. Job, Proverbs, Psalms) have cantillation marks?

Are they read to a tune or is it just punctuation for personal usage?

Have they ever been read publicly with the tune?

(See here for what inspired me to ask this.)

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  • Very related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/13949/…
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 14:54
  • The Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch was said to have taught his firstborn son, Reb Boruch Shalom the cantillation in the sifrei EME"S as they are referred to, which was distinctly different to the tune of the rest of Tanach. Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 11:35
  • Short answer: All of Tanach comes with trope, whether we read it in synagogue or not.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 17:45

8 Answers 8

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Many sephardim still have a tradition as to the melody of the ta'amei emet. You can buy recordings of the Moroccan tradition from http://www.tht.co.il/default.asp. If you've visited sepharadi synagogues before, you may recognize the melody -- we use it for Kabbalat Shabbat.

As for the question of why they have ta'amim: the books of the Tanach need some sort of Masoretic punctuation so that we can understand the proper grammatical reading of the text. Whether we have a melody for those ta'amim is really a separate issue. It pays great dividends to take some time to read about the functions of the different ta'amim.

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    All 150 Tehillim audio files - read by Tzion Palach and with musical accompaniment (Yerushalmi/Syrian)- are available here: torahreading.dafyomireview.com/cd.php?cdall=tehilim-sfardi2 // I have the cassette tape set of this and R' Ovadia placed his approbation on it that R' Palach has read them with the correct pronunciation, taamim, etc., all the ma'alot. Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 14:34
  • "so that we can understand the proper grammatical reading of the text" I believe Rav Breuer in Taamei Hamikra disagrees with this. The trope are primarily musical, though they also help divide up the verses.
    – MichoelR
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 17:44
  • @NissimNanach that link of yours is great and it's definitely great in terms of pronunciation. Having learned with Syrians though I'm not sure they would identify this as their melody for the te'amim
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 19:20
  • @Aaron You're right idk if his work was of the Syrian tradition I just assumed. So that's Baghdadi maybe, anyone know? Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 1:48
  • @NissimNanach Unfortunately I don't know what tradition it is, Iraqi makes sense because of the use of Waw instead of Vav.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 16:17
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Indeed, in a number of places here in Israel, Tehillim are read publicly on a daily basis from Tehillim scrolls written on parchment. According to many authorities, there is also a special bracha that is to be recited prior to reading material from Ketuvim out of a parchment scroll: ברוך אתה ה' א-להינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וציונו לקרוא בכתבי הקודש (see for instance Masechet Soferim, chapter 14).

For a video of a public reading of Tehillim, with cantillation according to the taamei emet (Zilberman style), and with the aforementioned bracha, see here.

R' Mordechai Perlman, during his time at the Zilberman Kollel in Jerusalem, produced an instructional CD in which he teaches the cantillation of sifrei emet (according to the Zilberman style). R' Perlman has released his CD into the public domain; here is a download link for his CD.

EDIT: The link doesn't work anymore, here is a new one: https://www.dropbox.com/s/mk3pjswfc7nie8o/TaameiEmet.zip?dl=0

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  • That tune for the beracha in the video sounds similar to what I usually hear on the berachot on Megillat Esther. Is there a known provenance to this tune? (If the answer's involved, let me know, and I'll post this as a real question.)
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 3:03
  • Does the Zilberman trup vary among Tehillim, Iyov and Mishlei? My understanding is the Syrian trup does. The CD you linked to only seems to discuss Tehillim.
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 16:02
  • The tune they use for Mishlei is exactly the same; and, in fact, one of the sample chapters presented at the end of the CD is a chapter from Mishlei. Theoretically the trup works for Iyov, too; however, there are those who have a slightly different trup for Iyov. Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 19:19
  • @AviShmidman Interesting. Do you know of any recordings of that Iyov trup? (And in the future try and remember to ping me @DoubleAA when replying to my comments.)
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 5:11
  • @DoubleAA Rav Dan Beeri has made a recording of the Iyov trup. Commented Oct 31, 2013 at 8:59
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They had a tune. The Yemenites still have a tradition for how to sing Tehillim.

In Eretz Yisrael you can pass by Yemenite Batei Kinasiyoth ("th" intentional) and still hear the children singing Tehillim with the trop.

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Also, there's a widespread Sephardic custom to read the Book of Iyov publicly on Tisha BeAv. I don't know whether they use the trop, but I would assume that they do, like any other public reading.

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I believe the Syrian community has a tradition of reciting the Sifrei Emet with trope.

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The GRA yeshiva in Lakewood and Israel still teach the Kids with the TRUP for Thillim.

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  • They use the Yemenite trop.
    – Yahu
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 3:31
  • Even though it no longer exists in Lakewood Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 4:37
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    And I believe the Merkaz haRav uses a variant on the Syrian melody. (In its Nawa variant, as opposed to Syrian Nahawand)
    – B.BarNavi
    Commented Aug 10, 2011 at 2:46
  • There was a new trop created that is used by the Zilberman's school in Yerushalayim and the kids use that. It is more Ashkenaz-friendly. Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 19:26
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All the answers here do a great job of answering the question. The te'amim of Sifrei Emet are still sung with melody across many traditions of Sepharadim and Eastern Jews. Thankfully some of these traditions have been willing to publicize their tradition like the Syrians who have an entire website dedicated to learning their music. They even have lessons for learning/chanting the entire book of Tehillim, and learning the melodies of each ta'am. You can find it here: https://pizmonim.org/section.php?maqam=Tehillim

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The poetry of the TaNaKh requires cantillation primarily for rhythmic reasons. In the introduction to the Westminster Leningrad Codex, the scribe wrote that the scroll's text was completed

with Niqqudōt (vowels and syllabification),

Mūssrōt (marginal notes),

and Mōnæh yafæh bimyadda'at miççraym (the beautiful Metre of Egypt).

מקרא שׁלם נכתב ונגמר בנקדות ובמוסרות ומונה יפה במדעת מצרים

Why did he refer to the te 'amim as 'metre'? Because the te 'amim regulate syllable length together with the niqqudot such that non-final accented syllables are lengthened, and the last syllables of disjoint words are lengthened also. The result is a rhythm of one sort of regularity or another! But more than the scribe of the Lengingrad Codex called it metre. Jerome did also in the 4th Century! This, he said, allowed the Jews to recite the Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and other poetic books of the TaNaKh, in unison, as do the Yemenite Jews and also the Syrian Jews today.

Here is an example of me reciting the start of Proverbs 4 in Ashkenazi trope for Feasts and then Holy Days after the introduction. However, I use the Yemenite interpretation of the te 'amim for the time aspect, and reconstructed rules of syllabification and vowel length, which sometimes results in rhythm very close to some Sephardi recitations. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tcBPaIdg6MCnTds_xoP0rFflisMwxIdy/view?usp=drivesdk

Here is the explanation: there are 3 classes of te 'amim, to speak only of the temporal aspect. These are (in the Yemenite vocabulary translated) Walkers, Pausers, and Stoppers.

The Stoppers of the Sifrei Emet are:

Silluq (Cessation),

Atnaht (Rest),

Ole weYored (Rise and Fall)

Revi'a Gadol (Great Resting-Seat)

Stoppers will not only prolong the final syllable of the word, but will allow a 'stop' for breath. As a rule, the prolongation will double the duration of a syllable; then the stop must be the same duration of that prolonged syllable or longer. But some people further prolong instead of making silence for as much time.

The Pausers are:

Pazer (Whip)

Tsinnor (Threading-Needle) a.k.a Zarqa

Revi'a QaTon (Small Resting-Seat)

^ this is typically a Revi 'a that is followed by a Ole we Yoredh or an Atnahta (with Walkers inbetween optionally). If there is a Pauser inbetween, it is likely Revi 'a Gadol.

DeHi (Thrust)

Geresh (Expelled)

Revi'a muGrash (Expelled Resting-Seat)

(Pausers will prolong the duration of the final syllable: as a rule, double.)

The others are Walkers.

A Pasiq after a Walker turns it into a Pauser.

Metheg/Gaoya ~doubles the duration of a syllable. But watch out: these wildly vary by manuscript tradition! Miqra 'al pi HaMasora is a good conservative reference for these.

(Otherwise, Quantitative Vowels must be respected:

-Long Vowels are are 2x the length of

-Short Vowels (which are Patach, Saegol, Qubuts, Qamats Qaton, and Chiriq without Jod.

-Shwas and Chataf vowels have no duration of their own as well as conjunctive U.)

Gemminations also have some time added.

Sources:

-for the Yemenite interpretation of the te 'ame ha miqra, see Boris Kleiner's work

-for an comparison and analogy between the two systems of cantillation, see the 2011 posthumous book by Jeffrey Burns (who programmed a precursor of Trope Trainer in the early 2000s), called The Music of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. He also has some of the quotes from Jerome about metre, though those can be found elsewhere.

-for a translation of the introduction to the WLC, see Danny J. Crowther's 2017 dissertation on the te 'amim amd a comparison of 2nd Samuel 22 with Psalm 18.

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