February 28, 2020 ~ Sh TERUMA. M HOSENI.

Ta'amim - טעמי המקרא 


“Ta’amei ha-miqra” or “te’amim”,  known in English as “accents”, are signs written or printed in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) above or below the words.  They exist:

1.         to mark the stressed syllable in each word (though a few signs always go on the first or last letter of a word);

2.         as punctuation showing the word groups and breaks in a verse;

3.         to denote the musical chant (“cantillation”) for the text.

There are two systems of cantillation marks in the Tanakh.  One is used in the twenty-one prose books, while the other appears in the three poetical books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job.  Except where otherwise stated, this article describes the “prose” system.

The current system of accents has its historical roots in the Tiberian masorah.

The grammar of the te’amim

In general, each word in the Tanakh has one accent. This may be either a “disjunctive” (mafsiq), showing a division between that and the following word, or a “conjunctive” (meabber or mesharet), joining the two words (like a slur in music).

The disjunctives are traditionally divided into four levels, with lower level disjunctives marking less important breaks. For musical reasons, both conjunctives and lower level disjunctives may vary, depending on which higher level disjunctive follows them.

First level

sof pasuq (“end of verse”): marks the end of a verse

atna (“rest): marks the middle of a verse.

Second level 

zaqef qaton (“little upright”): the usual second level disjunctive

zaqef gadol (“big upright”): replaces zaqef qaton when it constitutes a phrase on its own

tara (“dragging”): precedes sof pasuq or atna

segolta (“bunch of grapes”): stronger second level disjunctive, used in very long verses

shalshelet (“chain”): replaces segolta when it constitutes a phrase on its own

Third level

rebia’ (“fourth”): the usual third level disjunctive

zarqa (“throwing”): precedes segolta

qadma (“first”): precedes zaqef qaton

tere qadmin: replaces qadma when the word is not stressed on the last syllable

yetib, short for shofar yetib (“sitting horn”): replaces qadma when it constitutes a phrase on its own

tebir (“break”): precedes tara

Fourth level

pazer gadol (“great scattering”), talsha (“detached”), gerish (“expulsion”): these cluster, usually in that order,  near the beginning of a long half-verse

shene gerishin: replaces gerish when it is not preceded by azla AND the word is stressed on the last syllable

shofar holekh with paseq (“divide”): precedes rebia’

qarne farah (“horns of a cow”): can replace pazer gadol (once in the Torah)


ma’arikh (“lengthening”): precedes sof pasuq, tara (occasionally tebir and other disjunctives)

mehuppakh, short for shofar mehuppakh (“reversed horn”): precedes qadma

darga (“step”): precedes tebir

shofar holekh (“walking horn”): precedes most other disjunctives

azla (“going away”): precedes gerish and some conjunctives

tirtsah, also known as talsa: precedes some conjunctives

yarea ben yomo (“one day old moon”): precedes qarne farah  (once in the Torah)

One other symbol is tere ta’ame, double ma’arikh.  There is some argument about whether this is another conjunctive or an occasional replacement for tebir.

The accents have the effect of grouping the words of a verse into a number of characteristic phrases, each with its own melody. Typical phrases are ma’arikh tara ma’arikh sof pasuq; ma’arikh tara shofar holekh atna; mehuppakh qadma shofar holekh zaqef qaton; shofar holekh-paseq shofar holekh rebia’; pazer gadol talsha azla gerish. The same phrases can occur in shorter form, by omitting one or more conjunctives.

Psalms, Proverbs and Job

The system of cantillation signs used throughout the Tanakh is replaced by a very different system for these three poetic books.  These books are referred to as “sifre emet” (Books of Truth), the word “emet” meaning “truth”, but also being an acronym for the first letters of the three books (Iyov, Mishle, Tehillim). (The short narratives at the beginning and end of Job use the prose system, but the bulk of the book uses the poetic system.) 

The system for the poetic books uses many of the same symbols as the prose system, but often for entirely different purposes.

A verse may be divided into one, two or three stichs (half lines).  A one-stich verse is divided by dehi, which looks like tara but is under the last letter of the word.  In a two-stich verse, the first stich ends with atna.  In a three-stich verse, the first stich ends with ‘oleh ve-yored, which looks like mehuppakh (above the word) followed by tara, on either the same word or two consecutive words, and the second stich ends with atna. The last stich ends with sof pasuq as in the prose books.

Major disjunctives within a stich are rebia’ qaton (immediately before ‘oleh ve-yored), rebia’ gadol (elsewhere) and tsinnor (which looks like zarqa).  The last stich may be divided by rebia’ megurash, which looks like gerish combined with rebia’.

Minor disjunctives are pazer gadol, shalshelet gedolah, qadma legarmeh and mehuppakh legarmeh: all of these except pazer gadol are followed by paseq (vertical line).  Mehuppakh without paseq sometimes occurs at the beginning of a stich.

All other accents are conjunctives.

The music of the te’amim

The accents guide the reader in applying a chant to Biblical readings.  This chant is technically regarded as a ritualized form of speech intonation rather than as a musical exercise like the singing of metrical hymns: for this reason we always speak of “saying” or “reading” a passage rather than of “singing” it. 

The melodies applied are widely different in different Jewish ethnic communities. Within each community, there are different chants for different books of the Bible.

The Syrian cantillation tradition is a member of the “Ottoman Sephardic” family: this family also includes the Turkish, Syrian, Egyptian and “Jerusalem Sephardic” traditions. The Karaite tradition, being based on the Egyptian, also forms part of this group, as does one form of the Iraqi tradition. (Another Iraqi melody is closer to the Moroccan and Spanish and Portuguese family.) 

Separate melodies exist for the following books:

  • The Torah.  This exists both in a simple mode, originally used for teaching purposes, and in a more elaborate cantorial mode, approaching the Egyptian.
  • The Prophets, used in reading the haftarah.
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Job (poetic parts)
  • Song of Songs
  • Ruth
  • Lamentations
  • Esther.

Any other book of Ketubim is read to the tune of Ruth.


Three systems of Hebrew punctuation (including vowels and accents) have been used: the Babylonian, the Palestinian and the Tiberian, only the last of which is used today.

Babylonian system

Babylonian Biblical manuscripts from the Geonic period contain no cantillation marks in the current sense, but small Hebrew letters are used to mark significant divisions within a verse.  Up to eight different letters are found, depending on the importance of the break and where it occurs in the verse: these correspond roughly to the disjunctives of the Tiberian system.  For example, in some manuscripts the letter “tav”, for tebir (break), does duty for both Tiberian tebir and zaqef. In general there are no symbols for the conjunctives, though some late manuscripts use the Tiberian symbols for these.  There is also no equivalent for low-grade disjunctives such as talsha: these are generally replaced by the equivalent of zaqef or rebia’.

Palestinian system

The Babylonian system is mainly concerned with showing breaks in the verse.  Early Palestinian manuscripts, by contrast, are mainly concerned with showing phrases: for example the tara-atna, zarqa-segolta and qadma-zaqef qaton sequences, with or without intervening unaccented words.  These sequences are generally linked by a series of dots, beginning or ending with a dash or a dot in a different place to show which sequence is meant.  Unaccented words (which in the Tiberian system carry conjunctives) are generally shown by a dot following the word, as if to link it to the following word.  There are separate symbols for more elaborate tropes like pazer gadol and talsha.

Tiberian system

By the tenth century C.E., the chant in use in Palestine had clearly become more complex, both because of the existence of pazer gadol, gerish and talsha motifs in longer verses and because the realization of a phrase ending with a given type of break varied according to the number of words and syllables in the phrase.  The Tiberian Masoretes therefore devised a comprehensive notation with a symbol on each word, to replace the fragmentary systems previously in use.  In particular it was necessary to invent a range of different conjunctive accents to show how to introduce and elaborate the main motif in longer phrases.  (For example, tebir is preceded by ma’arikh, a short flourish, in shorter phrases but by darga, a more elaborate run of notes, in longer phrases.)  The system they devised is the one in use today, and is found in Biblical manuscripts such as the Aleppo Codex.  A Masoretic treatise called Diqduqe ha-te’amim (precise rules of the accents) by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher survives,[1] though both the names and the classification of the accents differ somewhat from those of the present day.

The Tiberian system spread quickly and was accepted in all communities by the 13th century.  Each community re-interpreted its reading tradition so as to allocate one short musical motif to each symbol. 


Some old manuscripts of the Mishnah include cantillation marks similar to those in the Bible.  There is no surviving system for the musical rendition of these.

Today we have a special tune for the Mishnaic passage “Bammeh madliqin” in the Qabbalat Shabbat service.  Otherwise, there is a customary intonation used in the study of Mishnah or Talmud, somewhat similar to an Arabic mawwal, but this is not reduced to a precise system like that for the Biblical books.  Recordings have been made for Israeli national archives, and Frank Alvarez-Pereyre has published a book-length study of the Syrian tradition of Mishnah reading on the basis of these recordings.[2]

[1]               Dotan, Aaron, ed. (1963, repr. 1979), Sefer diqduqe ha-te'amim le-rabbi Aharon Ben-Moshe Ben-Asher, Jerusalem: Hebrew University. 

[2]               Alvarez-Pereyre, Frank (1990), La Transmission Orale de la Mishnah. Une méthode d'analyse appliquée à la tradition d'Alep, Jerusalem .



Section Pizmon Page Song CommentaryRecordings Application
מקרא תורה Maqam Sigah Maqam Sigah. The Torah is read every Monday, Thursday & Shabbat.
Salem Aisbeda, 1911- Exodus 12:21-25
מקרא תהלים Maqam Rast Maqam Rast for Egyptians, Maqam Nahwand for Syrians. Tehillim, or Psalms, are read during the prayer services. G Shrem Psalm 1
Recording- Syrian Children Class
Haim Asriqi/ Salem Aisbeda, 1911- Tehillim 1:1-3
מקרא משלי Maqam Sigah Maqam Sigah (but different than Torah). Portions of this book are read during services. Some have a custom of reading this book during Shabuot. The passage "Eshet Hayil," read on Friday night Kiddush, is from this book. Y. Hamaoui
G. Shrem
G. Shrem Sample 2
M. Kairey chapter 1
Max E Tawil- Mishlei 5 chapters
Haim Asriqi, 1911- Mishle 1:1-3, Job 3:1-5
מקרא איוב Maqam Rast Ancient undeveloped Rast. Chapter 1-3:1 (narrative) is read like Megillat Ruth. From 3:2 and onwards is read like Iyob. This book is read on Tisha B'Ab. G. Shrem
G. Shrem
M. Kairey chapter 1
M. Kairey chapter 3
Job 13- Max Ezra Tawil
Haim Daya- Sefer Eyob
Job 20- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 19- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 18- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 17- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 16- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 15- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 14- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 12- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 11- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 10- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 09- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 08- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 07- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 06- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 05- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 01- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 02- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 03- Max Ezra Tawil
Job 04- Max Ezra Tawil
Max E Tawil- Iyob- beginning chapters
Song of Songs 3006 SS1 שיר השירים Maqam Bayat. Read every Friday night. G. Shrem
Max E Tawil- Shir Hashirim
H Baruch Ben Haim
Felix Tourgeman- Chapter 8
Salem Aisbeda, 1911- Shir Hashirim 1:1-8
Ruth 3007 R1 מגילת רות Maqam Hoseni.This book is read on Shabuot. Aleppo Codex- Ruth 1 Aleppo Codex- Ruth 2 Aleppo Codex- Ruth 3 Aleppo Codex- Ruth 4 G. Shrem
Haim Daya- Ruth 1
Max E Tawil- Ruth- Ch 1
Max E Tawil- Ruth- Ch 2
Max E Tawil- Ruth- Ch 3
Max E Tawil- Ruth- Ch 4
Haim Asriqi/ Salem Aisbeda, 1911- Ruth 1:1-3, Qohelet 1:1-5
Lamentations 3008 L1 מגילת איכה Maqam Ajam. Read on Tisha B'Ab. G. Shrem
G. Shrem
M. Kairey
Haim Daya
Max E Tawil- Full
Haim Asriqi, 1911- Ekha 1:1-4
Esther מקרא מגילת אסתר Maqam Saba-Mouhayar. Read on Purim. G. Shrem
מקרא משנה Maqam Rahawi Nawah Maqam Nawah. Some signs were also sometimes used in medieval manuscripts of the Mishnah, but apparently not today. G. Shrem
G. Shrem
Haim Daya- Mishnah Berakhot
H Moshe Tawil- Mishnah Yoma
Pentateuch 4081 P442 סדר שמות הטעמים Names of the Ta'amim. Jack Azar
M Kairey
Ma'arekhet HaTa'amim: Moshe Dabbah
Moshe Dwek
Haim Daya- Nebiim
Haim Daya- Torah
Hamaoui- Esther
Max E Tawil- Taamim of Torah- Introductory Lesson
Max E Tawil- Taamim of Haftarah- Introductory Lesson
מקרא שאר ספרי הכתובים Iyob Chapter 1-2, Qohelet, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemia, and Dibrei Hayamim are read like Book of Ruth. Haim Daya- Sefer Daniel