What Is Trope?

Trope is the term for the notation system for chanting Torah. Trope are symbols for when to pause and where to stop in the Torah reading. They each have a different set of associated notes and when strung together become the chant for a given portion. The technical term for trope is Ta'amei haMikra, "the flavor of the reading."It lets us know where our earlier ancestors thought the punctuation belongs since there isn't any in the Torah scroll text itself.

That's right - there is no punctuation in a Torah scroll and no trope. The melodies were an oral tradition, which we know from a comment in the Talmud, could be conducted with hand signals [Berachot 62a] and finally were encoded in written symbols. For example, the one called an etnachta looks like a wishbone. The red symbols under the letters below are trope for the first two words in the Torah.

There are 27 tropes. 14 are for ending phrases, the rest are used to build up a phrase.

This practice was developed by a sect known as the Masoretes, who lived around the 6th-10th centuries CE in Tiberius, Israel. The markings have consistent meaning throughout almost all of the biblical works - with the exception of Psalms, Proverbs and most of Job, which have their own system (known as Ta'amei Emet).

Even works like the Talmud and Mishneh seem to have been chanted to trope in the past.

The notes which go with the trope vary in sound for different works, for example, Megillat Esther trope creates quite a different melody to that of Haftorah (readings generally taken from the prophetic writings). Still, the notes always look the same and teach us the same idea, about where to pause and when to stop. Trope can also call attention to an event, one pair of trope, kadmah v'azlah, sound like a trumpet being sounded to ask for everyone's attention.

If you've been learning trope, here's an experience that can help you connect more deeply to their function. Write a paragraph about the most important event in your life and set it to trope. As you think about which trope to use, the function of specific trope will clarify for you and remember, the torah of the story of your life is part of the story of our people too!

Here's a few trope learning finds:

a) Gene Kelly's song and movie title Singing in the Rain, if you listen to the refrain it is the sound of most of the major trope turned into a popular song. [Try it this way, mapakh, pashta, zakeyf katon, merkhah, tipkhah, sof pasuk.]

b) And remarkable computer program for learning trope at home is called Trope Trainer http://www.davka.com.

c) At http://www.bible.ort.org/books/torahd5.asp you'll find a place to hear Torah chanted verse by verse.

d) Another helpful learning model is Leyning in the Fast Lane, by Hazzan Jack Kessler, at http://www.rabbimarciaprager.homestead.com, available on cd and cassette.

e) To hear an example of Torah being chanted visit