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What is trope?

The word trope refers to the notes or tunes that are used to sing the words of the Torah, the Prophets, and the books of Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther in the synagogue. The Hebrew word for these tunes is t'amim, and they will be referred to as such from here on forward. Each of these different books has a different set of ta'amim, but they all work the same way. (The Torah is the Hebrew word for the Five Books of Moses, which is combined of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. While these are separate books within the Torah, the Torah will be referred to here as a separate book since the cantillation notes for all five of the books is the same.) The notes used are not random. On the contrary they are all very carefully written and copied from generation to generation, from book to book, so that the original ta'amim will be preserved in their proper places. Of course this has not always been possible, and we will get to fixing the errors that have been the result of mistakes in copying later on. The original notes that we use as our authoritative set comes down to us from the Masora or Masoretic Text. This text was put together by the Rabbis of the ancient assembly so that the original and correct ta'amim would be used from then on.

Where do you get your information from?

Before I go on, I must say that the information provided in this site is due to the work, effort, and research of Rabbi Miles Cohen, a graduate of the The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a well-known authority on the topic of ta'amim, and general principles of Torah reading and etiquette, among other topics.

How Do The Ta'amim Work?

NOTE: For the purposes of simplicity where the word Books is used it will refer to all of the books mentioned above that are sung in the synagogue according to this sytem.


The Ta'amim are, essentially, a punctuation system that tells the reader (and therefore the listener) where pauses are in the sentence. For example in English one would say: "Miriam went to the baseball game." with the major pause of the sentence at the end of the sentence. Additionally other pauses can be inserted into the sentence to provide a variety in the way the sentence sounds.
NOTE: The location of the pause in the sentence will be denoted by the symbol "(p)".
For instance, we can say: "Miriam went (p) to the baseball game." to emphasize WHERE Miriam went, or to what kind of game she went. We might also place the pause in between the words "to" and "the" to accomplish the same task. If we were, however to say: "Miriam (p) went to the baseball game." we emphasize WHAT Miriam did, or (depending on intonation) WHO went to the baseball game. These are variations on a similar sentence, given different slants depending on where the pauses are in the sentence. We cannot, however, place a pause anywhere we like. No one would say: "Miriam went to the baseball (p) game." and have the same intent in mind. In this sentence the words "baseball" and "game" go together.

Application of the Background

In the system of Ta'amim there are two categories. Those that signify pauses, namely Mafsikim {plural of mafsik, pauser, or stopper}, and those which signify that the word with the Ta'am and the next word are to be connected, namely Mehabrim {plural of mehaber, connector}. Within the the Mafsik category there are different levels, designated 0,1,2,3. Level 0 is the highest level, and therefore the largest pause. All of the ta'amim in the mafsik category fit into these levels. The levels denote the size and importance of the pause in the sentence that is to be made when reading the sentence. Here is a table of Mafsikim, with the appropriate level designation.
Mafsik Level
*Siluk 0
Etnahta 0
Zakef Katon 1
Tipha 1 (f)
Segol 1
Tevir 2 (f)
Pashta 2 (f)
**Revia 3
Gershayim 3
Pazer 3
Zakef Gadol 3
Azla 3

I am trying to get graphics of the ta'amim so that one can identify a name with a picture on this site. While a description of the written sign will be given later, I am working on getting the graphics.* Some people have learned the ta'am Siluk as Sof-Pasuk. These are the same ta'am, except that Siluk is a better name, as Sof-Pasuk refers to the end of the pasuk, which is (in printed editions) indicated by a colon.** Some people have learned the ta'am Reviah as Revi-i. Again, these are the same ta'am, but Reviah is a better term, as the ta'am has nothing to do with the number four, as the hebrew word "revi-i" would imply. The addition of a letter "f" in parenthesis is there to show that it is what's called a "final level-x" mafsik (x being the level in question). This means it is ALWAYS the last mafsik of its level before a ta'am of the next level up. For example: a tipchah is ALWAYS the last mafsik before a level-0 mafsik.

There are a few exceptions to every rule, but the rules outlined here are those that will guide you 99% of the time. For questions on exceptions to the rules, email me or Rabbi Cohen. I will try to put together a webpage for exceptions, but until then, assume NO EXCEPTIONS, and you will 99% of the time be right. Happy Reading!
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Last updated 11/27/02
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