Aleph-Bet of Trope

What are we studying?

Over the course of our study together, we will study (and learn) Haftarah trope, Torah trope, apply the proper trope to the words of your Haftarah and Torah portion, and review/learn the Torah and Haftarah blessings as needed.

What is trope?  Why do we need it?

If you look in any Torah scroll, you will find letters and spaces and that is it!

For centuries, we Jews (as a people) were familiar enough with the contents, and educated enough to be able to “read” (meaning chant) Torah correctly.  As we scattered throughout the world, and Hebrew was no longer our mother tongue, this ability disappeared.

In 800 C. E. (or over 1200 years ago) there lived a family from Tiberias in the Galilee region of Israel by the name of Ben-Asher.  The Ben-Ashers (also known as the “Masoretes”) were quite distraught at the poor reading level of the general population.  First, they decided it was necessary to create a standard that would allow people to properly pronounce words.  The system of dots and dashes they invented is used today (n’kudot), and it is their system that has allowed you (and me) to learn to read Hebrew.

They realized that wasn’t enough, however.  People still were chanting incorrectly (not ending the sentence where it should end, not using the proper melody, not accenting the word properly) and so they invented the system of trope (also called cantillation, neumes, or taamei hamikra) to address this.  Over time you will learn to apply the trope:1) to properly accent each and every word of the Torah and Haftarah portion; 2) to know how the sentence is set up (where it begins and ends, detours, etc.); and 3) how to chant Torah and Haftarah.

Some rules:

  1. The trope signs are designed to show where the word accent (or stress) occurs.  Some trope signs are locked into position either before the word or at the end of the word.  In those cases, if there is a second identical accent, it will occur in the body of the word marking where the accent should be sounded.
  2. All trope signs have preliminary or pickup  notes and “kernel” or heart notes.  If a word has the accent at the beginning of the word, then the preliminary notes are dismissed, and only the “kernel” notes are sung.
  3. Syllables after the accent?  Each syllable after the accent gets only one note (so if there is one syllable after the accent, it gets only the last note of the “kernel”).
  4. The tropes either move the word action along (these are called servants or helper signs), or they provide a grammatical stopping point (these signs are called masters or stopper signs).
  5. The stronger the “master” sign is, the more important is its grammatical function. It will provide a stopping point (which means you can breathe) that is equal to how important it is in the sentence.