Cantillation notes (aka trope) is called טעמי המקרא in Hebrew.

I have seen the Hebrew word טעם used to mean:

  • taste as in:

Numbers 11:8:

שָׁטוּ֩ הָעָ֨ם וְלָֽקְט֜וּ וְטָחֲנ֣וּ בָרֵחַ֗יִם א֤וֹ דָכוּ֙ בַּמְּדֹכָ֔ה וּבִשְּׁלוּ֙ בַּפָּר֔וּר וְעָשׂ֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ עֻג֑וֹת וְהָיָ֣ה טַעְמ֔וֹ כְּטַ֖עַם לְשַׁ֥ד הַשָּֽׁמֶן׃

The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil.

  • reason(ing) / discernment as in:

Psalms 119:66:

ט֤וּב טַ֣עַם וָדַ֣עַת לַמְּדֵ֑נִי כִּ֖י בְמִצְוֺתֶ֣יךָ הֶאֱמָֽנְתִּי׃ (Sefaria's translation)

Teach me good discernment and knowledge; for I have believed in Thy commandments

I don't see how the term טעמי המקרא colludes with either of these 2 definitions. Does it, or is there some other definition that I'm unaware of - what is it?

  • 2
    Would you not call punctuation "discernment marks"?
    – Double AA
    May 27, 2016 at 19:15
  • @DoubleAA OK, that's a good point made. But, I'm uncertain if that's the reason why it got this name.
    – DanF
    May 27, 2016 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


I can see both translations applying. If you've ever read the Ba'al HaTurim or the Gra on the Parsha, they often use the trop as a way of getting another, hidden meaning out of the parshah. One of my favorites from the Gra, in the first passuk of Vayigash:

ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני

And Yehudah approached [Yosef] and said, please, my master

The names of the trop on this phrase are, in order:

קדמא ואזלא רביעי זרקא מנח סגול

The Gra explains: Kadma v'Azla means "got up and went." What got up and went? Revi'i, Yaakov's fourth son, Yehudah. What did he do? Zarka, he threw away. What did he throw? Munach, a resting place. And not just any resting place, but a Segol, related to Segulah - a treasured one, namely Olam HaBa. Yehuda was pleading to Yosef to let Binyamin go so that he wouldn't lose his Olam HaBa. (Of course, he did that anyway - Makkos 11a.)

This is just one of many such examples of them being טעמי המקרא in the sense of טעם לשד השמן. In terms of טעם of טוב טעם ודעת, as DoubleAA pointed out (I think this is what you meant), trop also serves to punctuate the passuk.


The cantillation marks were not only musical notations, but they also provided the logical understanding of the nuances of Scripture. That is, their hierarchy parsed the words of verses into logical segments, which were in turn subordinated one to the other. In this respect, the cantillation provide the nuance, or the “flavor,” of the meaning of Hebrew verse.

For example, the following is the logical parsing of Isaiah 53:9 according to the hierarchical structure of the cantillation.

This image is a schematic depiction of the parsing of Isaiah 53:9 according to the system of Masoretic Cantillation in Biblical Hebrew.

Each segment is modified by the following segment. Each segment is further subdivided. Again, each segment is modified by the following segment. The major divisions, in turn, modify the previous major segments. In this regard, 99% of all verses in the Hebrew Scriptures possess these divisions, where segments and sub-segments modify the previous segments. In English, the segmentation of Isaiah 53:9 would be logically understood as follows. Please note how segments modify preceding segments.

This image is a schematic depiction of the parsing of Isaiah 53:9 according to the system of Masoretic Cantillation, but now in English instead of Hebrew.

The Hebrew word highlighted in red is חָמָס (khä·mäse'), which has been translated in various ways by various translators over the years. However, when viewed through the schemata of Hebrew cantillation, the full “flavor” of this word becomes very obvious. That is, this word would be best translated injustice. That is, the individual in this verse committed no injustice through any utterances ever made by his mouth. In this respect, he died in association with wicked men, but he was an innocent man.

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