July 18, 2024 ~ Shabbat BALAQ. Maqam MAHOUR.

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.

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: the usual second level disjunctive, zaqef gadol: 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)

Conjunctives: 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”, also being an acronym for the first letters of the three books (Iyov, Mishle, Tehillim).  

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.

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, 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. 


Section Pizmon Page Song CommentaryRecordings Application
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
D Binker-Duek
Moshe Dwek
3001 תורה Maqam Sigah. The Torah is read every Monday, Thursday & Shabbat.
Salem Aisbeda, 1911- Exodus 12:21-25
D Tawil: Ta'amim for the Torah
Haftarot 4082 P445 הקדמה לקריאת הנביאים Traditional verses recited prior to the reading of the Nebiim. G Shrem
3003 תהלים Maqam Tehillim 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
Mishle 3004 משלי 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
Iyob 3005 איוב 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 E Tawil
Haim Daya- Sefer Eyob
Job 20- Max E Tawil
Job 19- Max E Tawil
Job 18- Max E Tawil
Job 17- Max E Tawil
Job 16- Max E Tawil
Job 15- Max E Tawil
Job 14- Max E Tawil
Job 12- Max E Tawil
Job 11- Max E Tawil
Job 10- Max E Tawil
Job 09- Max E Tawil
Job 08- Max E Tawil
Job 07- Max E Tawil
Job 06- Max E Tawil
Job 05- Max E Tawil
Job 01- Max E Tawil
Job 02- Max E Tawil
Job 03- Max E Tawil
Job 04- Max E 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
H Zaki Sardar - Full
Moshe Dwek
D Tawil: Shir Hashirim
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
Mickey Kairey- Ruth Chap 1
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
A Zafrani: Haazinu on Tisha B'ab
Esther 3009 מגילת אסתר Maqam Saba-Mouhayar. Read on Purim. G. Shrem
Rabia - from Syria
3011 שאר ספרי הכתובים Iyob Chapter 1-2, Qohelet, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemia, and Dibrei Hayamim are read like Book of Ruth. Haim Daya- Sefer Daniel
3010 משנה 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