Most תקון לקוראים (study "guide used by Torah reader to prepare for reading weekly Torah portion) that I have seen have a special trope for the reading of the 10 Commandments called טעם עליון (loosely translated as "upper" notes or trope.)

From what I can tell, the difference of this special trope is that it groups all the verses of each commandment (except for the 1st two which are together) as if they were a single verse, with regards to the trope.

As I understand, the trope notes are Masoretic, and I assume that the "original" version, what we call טעם תחתון ("lower trope) is the Masoretic version, and that טעם עליון was created later. Was this Masoretic, as well?

Who (if someone else) created it? What is the purpose for doing this? I understand what it accomplishes, as I explained, above, but what significance does reading the 10 Commandments one way or the other have?

  • 1
    The first two are separate in traditional taam elyon
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 19:53
  • @DoubleAA I think I may have seen this somewhere, a while ago. Offhand, would you know who / which siddur or sefer does this?
    – DanF
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 19:56
  • Mechon Mamre for instance has it the traditional way mechon-mamre.org/c/ct/cupper10.htm You may have seen many old texts overlay the two sets of Trop on the same words. That's why a lot of errors crept into later printings who sought to divide the two.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 20:26
  • @DoubleAA Yes, I do see the overlay of the 2 sets of trope, which makes things extremely confusing to decipher. I didn't think that was the origin of the error. I figured that it should be consistent and that the 1st two should be separate as the rest of them are.
    – DanF
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 21:10
  • Well now you know.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 21:44

2 Answers 2


This short article (Hebrew) by Prof Yosef Ofer explains that the two sets of trope are essentially the products of two different mesorot:

The set known as ta'am tachton, which breaks the Decalogue into twelve verses, is the Israeli mesorah.

The set known as ta'am elyon, which breaks the Decalogue into ten verses (one per commandment), is based on the Babylonian mesorah, which broke the verses up in this way. This alternative version of breaking up the text made its way to the Tiberian Masoretes in Israel, who then annotated the text with their own system of vowels and trope, in order to be able to read the Decalogue as ten verses of wildly differing lengths, becoming what we now see as ta'am elyon. They then presented this version alongside their original twelve-verse version (ta'am tachton).

Regarding how the two sets are used today, there are a number of customs:

Biur Halacha 494 records two practices: One that reserves ta'am elyon for reading the Decalogue on shavu'ot morning only, and another which uses ta'am elyon for all public reading (shavu'ot, shabbat parashat yitro and shabbat parashat va'etchanan), whereas ta'am tachton is used only by an individual reading the verses.

Yemenite Jews only use ta'am elyon, even for individual learning. In fact, Yemenite printings of the text only contain ta'am elyon. (See footnote 16 here.) Incidentally, this is consistent with ta'am elyon having a Babylonian origin, as Yemenite tradition is heavily based on original Babylonian practice.

In contrast, it is recorded in Reshimot Shi'urim Berachot 12a in the name of R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, that R. Chaim Soloveitchik only ever used ta'am tachton, even on shavu'ot, as he did not want to break up verses in a different way to (what he believed was) the authentic mesorah.


From http://www.dailyhalacha.com/m/halacha.aspx?id=284:

One who looks at the text of the Ten Commandments in a Torah scroll will notice that the Torah assigns a separate paragraph for each commandment. Even the very short commandments, such as “Lo Tirsah” and “Lo Tinaf,” comprise an independent paragraph, as do the longer commandments, such as “Lo Yihiye” and “Zachor.” The “Ta’am Elyon” system of cantillation notes follows this arrangement, and makes each commandment no more and no less than a single verse. This means that the longer commandments are made into a single verse despite their length, and the short commandments, such as “Lo Tirsah” and “Lo Tinaf,” are assigned a brief, two-word verse. The exception to this rule is the first two commandments, which are combined into a single verse in the “Ta’am Elyon.” The reason for this exception is that, according to tradition, when God proclaimed the Ten Commandments, He uttered the first two commandments as a single statement. Therefore, even in the “Ta’am Elyon,” which reflects the manner in which the commandments were heard at Sinai, the first two commandments are combined.

We refer to this system at the “Ta’am Elyon” (literally, “upper cantillaton”) because generally speaking, the Te’amim that are used to extend a verse are the notes positioned on top of the word, such as the Pazer Gadol and Azla Geresh.

This system is used for the public Torah reading, whenever the Ten Commandments are read. Namely, on Shabuot, on Shabbat Parashat Yitro and on Shabbat Parashat Vaethanan, the Ten Commandments are read using the “Ta’am Elyon,” so that they are read the way they were heard by the Jewish people at Sinai.

Although there is a tradition that a verse cannot be shorter than three words, we allow separate verses for the two-word commandments in the public reading, because this is how the Jews heard the proclamation of the Ten Commandments at Sinai.

The “Ta’am Tahton” system is used when a person reads the Ten Commandments privately, such as for the weekly “Shenayim Mikra Ve’ehad Targum” reading or for general individual learning. This system breaks up the text of the Ten Commandments according to the common, conventional length of verses. This means that the longer commandments, such as “Lo Yihiye” and “Zachor,” are each divided in several verses, and the short commandments – “Lo Tirsah,” “Lo Tinaf,” “Lo Tignob” and “Lo Ta’ane” – are merged into a single verse.

Also, from http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2008/06/standing-up-for-ten-commandments.html:

The reason for this is the following Halacha: ‘Kol Pesuka D’ Lo Paskiah Moshe, Anan Lo Paskinan’ - we are not permitted to divide Pesukim when reading the Torah - which is a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of learning Torah - differently than the way Moshe did. Sentences read for that purpose must be read whole. The Taam Tachton accomplishes this. Reading the Ten Commandments, however, is more than just a fulfillment of the public learning of Torah. It is a remembrance of receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai. So we read it with the Taam Elyon to signify that.

The sense, I think, is that while the written Torah has one basic breakup originating at Sinai of the pesukim (hard stops/sof pasuk)*, the ten commandments have an additional breakup in the way in which they were originally presented at Sinai. These two breakups are the taam tachton and taam elyon respectively. (The other trop notes that were a later addition [by Ezra?] follow the convention that is generated when the breaks are far between.)

*I believe Rav Moshe Feinstein, z"l, suggests that the soft stop ethnachta might also be Sinaitic in origin.

  • 2
    There are places with minhag to read with taam tachton during shabbat yitro
    – andrewmh20
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 7:08

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