Reading With Ta'am
Shirat Ha Yam
Shir Ha Shirim
TORAH & HAFTARA
Yom Kippur Shaharith
If you are a student studying for your Bar Mitzvah, or if you are preparing to read for a special occasion, or just someone who is curious about Torah tunes and melodies, you've come to the right place!
The Magic Recipe
Many, many years ago, our sages were faced with a problem: how to preserve and transmit to future generations (you and me) the proper way of reading portions from the Torah, Neve'im, and Ketuvim (Torah, Prophets and Writings).
So they developed a shorthand, a series of marks, that they placed next to the letters to guide the reader. These marks, called Taamim from the Hebrew word for taste Ta'am, are the secret to beautiful reading (they're also called cantillation or trope). They give taste to our reading. Without them, our reading would be bland and boring... like vanilla ice cream without the vanilla!Letters and Vowels and Musical Notes, Oh My!
But why cook up such tasty chanting?
Before the Temples were destroyed, we would offer sacrifices and delicious smells would rise up towards the heavens and be pleasing to the Almighty. Now, all we have left are our lips to offer our prayers. So when we are reading, we want to sound as pleasing as possible. Also, most of scripture is a story and, when read with ta'am, the story becomes much more enjoyable and memorable.
3 in 1: Tune, Pronunciation, and Punctuation
We shouldn't underestimate those tiny little marks called Taamim. They do a lot for their size! They offer us guidance in:
Vanilla, Strawberry, Coffee? Hmm..
With the Taamin our Sages provided us with a framework. Over the years, some very talented people adapted them to sound like tunes closer to their hearts. So we have Baghdadi, Yerushalmi, Spanish-Portuguese, Moroccan, Ashkenazi and many more versions of the Taamim. In time, I'm sure you will have your favorite flavor!
The Secret of Success
Practice, practice, practice! Start by clicking on one of the links for Taamim on the left. This will take you to an audio-visual presentation. As you hear the name of each Ta'am, a little circle will show you which one you're on.
Once you can look at a Ta'am and hear it's tune in you head, you're ready to jump in and test your skills. Start with something familiar, like the Shema. Listen to it with the same Taamim that you memorized, for example, Baghdadi. Recognize that tune? As you listen and look at the text in your book, try predicting the tune as you go. Then give your vocal chords a try. Remember that the trick is to adapt the Taamin to the text that you are reading.
To help you succeed I have put together a self-study guide Reading With Ta'am. Have fun practicing!