Many a young bochur has labored over the taamei hamikra for his bar mitzvah parshah. Following the trail through the sources uncovers some interesting findings.
any a young bochur has labored over the taamei hamikra for his bar mitzvah parshah, and those whose parshah includes the Ten Commandments face an even harder task — learning the special trop for those verses. But why do we have this extra set of taamim, only for these occasions? And when did the taamim come into existence, anyway? Following the trail through the sources uncovers some interesting findings.
The text in a typical Chumash is accompanied by special cantillation marks indicating how the words should be read aloud during leining. They function much like musical notation and guide the baal korei in the trop he should use. In addition, these marks serve as a sort of punctuation; they delineate the beginnings and endings of pesukim, as well as providing pauses and emphasis. The marks, known in Lashon Hakodesh as the taamei hamikra, follow a system of rules that remains consistent throughout the Chumash. (Indeed, the system applies to all of Tanach, although the taamim for the books outside of Chumash denote different musical notation.)
We find an interesting discrepancy, however, in the two passages where the Aseres Hadibros are transmitted, the first time in parshas Yisro in Sefer Shemos and the second time in parshas Va’escḥanan in Sefer Devarim. In these two places, a unique situation obtains: the passages are marked with two different versions of the trop. One version is like the trop found throughout the rest of Chumash, but the other version appears only here.
The two versions of the trop that appear in these two places have come to be called by special names in the halachic literature. The version that stays consistent with the trop in the rest of the Chumash is called taam tachton. Meanwhile, the special version that appears only in the two Aseres Hadibros passages is called taam elyon, so named for the preponderance of notes written above the letters — unlike the standard trop, which distributes the marks fairly evenly above and below the letters.
This raises a question. Are both versions of the trop original? That is, have the Aseres Hadibros always been leined with two versions of the trop, or did one evolve later than the other?
To answer the overarching question, we must first understand the differences between the versions, then identify the sources in halachah that attempt to trace the origins of those differences. Since the taam tachton is basically the standard trop, its provenance is not really in question. The presumed original would be the taam tachton.
The alternative notation of the taam elyon, however, diverges from the standard form in a number of instances. It deviates not only in the frequency with which it places the notes above letters, but also in the length of its pesukim. Reading the text according to the standard trop, nowhere in Tanach do we find a pasuk made up of fewer than three words. In dividing pesukim of the Aseres Hadibros according to the taam elyon, however, we encounter three such instances.
The taam elyon also outmatches the standard trop on the opposite end of the spectrum. The longest pasuk in the rest of Tanach, per the standard trop, is 43 words. The taam elyon has two pesukim that surpass that: one totals 55 words; the total of the other is subject to debate and is either 50 or a full 59.
In order to accurately assess date of origin of the taam elyon, these differences must be addressed separately, because the simple division of pesukim and the specific notes of trop might have developed independently of each other.
Melodies of the Torah
Before we can determine if the taam elyon originated at the same time as the standard trop, we must first identify when the concept of taamim developed altogether, and when they were implemented.
Chazal themselves discuss the origin of the trop in Nedarim 37b. Their reference to the subject provides evidence that a system of cantillation already existed in their time. The catalyst for this discussion in Nedarim is a seemingly unrelated debate about Torah educators’ compensation. We are instructed to transmit Torah the same way Moshe originally transmitted it to the congregation — i.e., without a fee. All agree that the prohibition against paying a Torah teacher applies when he teaches midrash, but the same does not necessarily hold true for mikra. The Gemara quotes a mishnah that indicates payment for the latter is indeed permitted.
This of course raises the next question: What aspect of teaching mikra would make payment for it acceptable? According to Rav, one can receive payment for teaching mikra only when the students are children, because then the compensation is specifically for the child care the teacher provides. By contrast, Rav Yochanan believes that one is exempt from the no-compensation rule when one teaches mikra because payment is specifically for the service of teaching the trop on mikra rather than the mikra itself. Rav Yochanan believes that studying the trop is inherently different from the study of the words of mikra.
The basis for this disagreement originates from a fundamental difference in historical understanding of the trop’s origin. If the trop was invented after the codification of Tanach, it would not count as an original part of the study of mikra. Therefore, the study of trop would qualify as something for which a teacher could be compensated. This is the approach taken by Rav Yochanan, which is why he allows the exemption for a teacher to be compensated.
Rav, however, considers trop an integral part of mikra, and therefore cannot accept Rav Yochanan’s reasoning. Rav posits an origin date for trop that is far earlier than codification of Tanach. As evidence for this, he quotes Nechemiah 8:8, which depicts a moment during Ezra’s lifetime with the congregation reading the Torah using all its linguistic accoutrements: “Vayikr’u basefer b’Toras ha’Elokim, meforash; v’sum seichel, vayavinu bamikra.” Rav interprets the last words of the pasuk, “vayavinu bamikra,” as referring to the taamim of the trop. This interpretation would offer evidence of the creation of trop sometime before or during Ezra’s life, either of which would date its existence to before the codification of Tanach. If so, the trop qualifies as d’Oraisa, akin to mikra, which subsumes it under the group of studies for which compensation is prohibited. (This is why Rav must give the alternative approach of child rearing as the basis for compensation in this case.)
Rav Yochanan, on the other hand, interprets that same phrase, “vayavinu bamikra,” as a reference to the mesorah. With this interpretation, the statement no longer acts as evidence for the existence of the trop before codification. One can assume, like Rav Yochanan, that the trop emerged at a later point in history, thereby invalidating its d’Oraisa status.
As a rule in the Gemara, when Rav and Rav Yochanan disagree, the halachah follows the opinion of Rav Yochanan. It would therefore seem appropriate to conclude from the gemara in Nedarim that the trop was instituted after Ezra’s time. Although this does not provide a specific date of origin, it does narrow down the possibilities to between Ezra’s lifetime and when this gemara was written — i.e., before the Amoraim — because if Rav Yochanan and Rav can debate it, it must already have existed.
There may be another indicator of this approach in the Gemara in Yoma 52b. Chazal there bring five examples of pesukim she’ein lahem hechra, i.e., pesukim with indeterminate punctuation that obscures meaning of the text. As mentioned above, the purpose of trop, in addition to marking the tune, is to serve as punctuation that clarifies text. Without it, interpreting pesukim would be a complicated task riddled with ambiguity.
Rav Eliyahu Habochur therefore uses this gemara’s apparent difficulty with these five pesukim as evidence that the trop had not yet been canonized when this gemara was written. Unlike the explanation from our previous gemara in Nedarim, this conclusion would imply that trop was instituted somewhat later than the early Amoraim, which is when the conversation in this gemara took place. As a result, some Rishonim and Acharonim take the opinion that the trop was a somewhat later invention.
Of the Rishonim who take the stance of this later invention of trop, there is some discussion of authorship. Ultimately, most agree that the trop was invented by, or during the era of, the Anshei Haknesses Hagedolah. The Tosafos Rid says as much explicitly, while Ben Asher alludes to the involvement of neviim in the process, a group that died out before the dissolution of the Anshei Haknesses Hagedolah.
Other Rishonim and Acharonim refer on numerous occasions to an otherwise anonymous person called only the baal hataamim. While an exact date for this person (if it is indeed a reference to a specific individual) is unclear, these authorities obviously assumed that trop was a later addition to the text. It would, after all, be an odd choice in phrasing to refer to a “baal hataamim” if they believed the trop had been given over to Moshe at Har Sinai. It would seem that all who utilize this phrase assume the trop to have been a later addition to the text.
One early Acharon who takes a unique approach is the aforementioned Rav Eliyahu Habochur. He posits that the trop was instituted by the Tiberian Masoretes. This opinion is unprecedented, likely because the Masoretes lived concurrently with the Geonim (in the sixth through tenth centuries CE), an era a few hundred years after the Amoraim lived. Stranger still is that Ben Asher, who was himself one of the Tiberian Masoretes (and therefore one of the highest authorities on the subject), indicates otherwise.
At least one source in Chazal, the Zohar, takes a vastly different approach by placing the origins much earlier than canonization of Tanach. In fact, the Zohar states explicitly that the trop was taught directly to Moshe at Sinai. Many of the Rishonim adopt this opinion, among them Rav Eliezer from Metz, Rav Moshe of Coucy, Machzor Vitri, the Kuzari,19] Sefer Chassidim, and Sefer Hapardes. Among the Acharonim subscribing to this view are Radvaz, Chida, and Minchas Shai.
This would, of course, call into question the ambiguity in Yoma of pesukim she’ein lahem hechra. However, those who adopt the Zohar’s approach explain the ambiguity differently: it is due not to the trop not yet existing but instead to a failure in the mesorah to accurately transmit the trop in those specific instances. An alternative explanation is to remove trop from the equation altogether. Instead, the ambiguity was because for other pesukim the Gemara relied on hints within the words themselves as to proper interpretation, while these five pesukim offer no such hints.
Breaks in the Mesorah
In addition to tracing the inception of cantillation, it is equally important to delve into the origin of the pasuk divisions. This would be necessary in any study of the history of trop as a whole, but it becomes especially significant in the discussion of taam tachton and taam elyon, because the differences of cantillation in taam elyon seem to stem from a desire to change pasuk divisions.
Unlike the tachton, the elyon seems to operate with a specific purpose in mind, namely to construct separate pesukim for each dibrah. While in tachton the sixth, seventh, and eighth dibros are contained in a single pasuk, the elyon breaks them into three separate two-word pesukim. In addition to isolating dibros from each other, the elyon also seeks to prevent breaks within one dibrah. It is for this reason that the second and fourth pesukim are so long; they comprise the entirety of their respective dibros.
All the differences in the trop stem from the varying length of the pesukim; the connective notes that allow for longer pesukim tend to be those that appear above words, which is why these notes are so common to the elyon. This places special importance on determining the origin of pasuk division with regards to the tachton-elyon analysis.
Dating the division of pesukim is much simpler than dating the cantillation. Earlier in the same pasuk whose phrase “vayavinu bamikra” prompts the debate about cantillation, the Gemara discusses another phrase. It interprets “v’sum seichel” as referring to the division of pesukim; none of the Amoraim challenge this interpretation, which suggests a unanimous opinion that the pesukim existed in the times of Ezra.
We can conclude an even more specific time range from Megillah 22a. There the Gemara teaches that our division of pesukim cannot deviate from those that Moshe set, “kol pasuk d’lo paskei Moshe anan lo paskinan.” While the Gemara does not specify whether Moshe authored the divisions himself or whether they were given to him at Sinai, the wording of this rule makes it clear that the canonization of pasuk divisions occurred during Moshe’s lifetime.
This last remaining vaguery — whether the pasuk breaks were given to Moshe at Matan Torah, or whether he made them up — may be resolved if we take a look at two of the textual derashos Chazal employ: hekesh and semichus. While both these vehicles derive information from the juxtaposition of two concepts, there is a telling difference between them. When the juxtaposed concepts appear in a single pasuk, the hermeneutical principle is a hekesh, but when the two ideas are presented in two different pesukim, the construct is called semichus. This is not just a question of terminology, as there appears to be an effect on the strength of the derashah.
While neither appears on the famous list of 13 derashos that many recite daily, a hekesh is agreed upon by all to be a valid derashah. Semichus, on the other hand, has its dissenters, with the Gemara naming Rav Yehuda as one of those who do not learn from semichus, unless the semichus is entirely unnecessary for any other purpose. In fact, even those who disagree with Rav Yehuda seem to recognize the relative insignificance of the juxtaposing of two pesukim in Torah. To further drive home the point that a semichus is not a mere outgrowth of a hekesh, the Gemara in Berachos 21b feels it necessary to bring another pasuk to teach us this concept.
This differentiation seems to make sense only if we assume the pasuk breaks to have been given at Sinai, thereby affecting the ability to use a hekesh, when the words or concepts appear in two separate pesukim. Even if we assume that it was Moshe who introduced the pasuk breaks, it seems somewhat difficult to use this innovation as a differentiator between two derashos. After all, if the Torah did not contain breaks between pesukim when given, who are we to discriminate functionally between two different limudim?
As a result of the aforementioned arguments, most of the Rishonim appear to agree that the pasuk breaks were given at Sinai. The exception is the Meiri, who seems to hold that the pesukim were institutionalized by the Zekeinim, a view at clear odds with many of the earlier sources. In light of the seemingly overwhelming proof, we might be forced to reassess our understanding of the Meiri.
With the gemara in Megillah in tow, we might think that any doubts we had about the taam elyon have been settled as well. After all, it is forbidden to reformat the pesukim after they were established, so who other than Moshe could have given us this new breakdown of pesukim? It is therefore important to make note of the many exceptions to this rule we encounter each day. There are numerous examples of pesukim that we parse in davening, many of which are discussed by the Acharonim. Among the explanations given by the Acharonim, we find those who allow for splitting pesukim, so long as the intent is to quickly continue with the second half. This would allow for the possibility that the taam elyon was created later, and yet, given that the intent is to flow from one pasuk to the next, there is no issue of “kol pasuk d’lo paskei Moshe anan lo paskinan.”
Origin of Tachton-Elyon Split
We can now return to the two sets of trop for the Aseres Hadibros. When did these alternate readings come to exist? More specifically: can we trace these two trops back to the time that the rest of the trop was canonized?
While we can trace the minhag back to the times of the Rishonim, the trail seems to go dark in the mid-13th century. In early manuscripts, though, we see clear indication of this minhag. Already in the Leningrad Codex, sometime in the early 11th century, both sets of notes are present for the Aseres Hadibros. While this proves the existence of both trops at the turn of the millennium, there might possibly be an even earlier hint of the taam elyon, the divergent trop. At the end of each parshah of the Torah is a small note about the pasuk count in that parshah. These notes were early additions to the Chumash, though their origin is the subject of some debate. The number of pesukim in parshas Yisro is recorded as 72, the count assuming the pesukim of the taam elyon. The taam tacḥton yields an additional three pesukim, and would have pushed the count to 75.
A third source that may go back significantly earlier is a manuscript of a targum now referred to as the Targum Neofiti, so named for the collection to which it belonged. While the manuscript itself was written in the early 16th century, many attempt to trace this targum back to the period just after the Churban Bayis. This targum clearly breaks the pesukim up in the fashion of the taam elyon, while retaining the pasuk breaks we have throughout the rest of Torah. What makes this manuscript difficult to rely on is its comparatively mysterious origin. This, in addition to questions about its usage, as well as the possibility that the text was emended, raise questions on its authenticity as a testament to the early origin of the taam elyon.
The Leningrad codex, and possibly the masoretic notes, are interesting in another respect as well, in that they all have the taam elyon for parshas Va’eschanan as well as for parshas Yisro. This is significant, as there is some question as to whether the taam elyon should be used only on Shavuos, or could it be used in reading the Aseres Hadibros during the remainder of the year as well. Given that only Yisro is read on Shavuos, just the existence of a manuscript that contains taam elyon in Va’eschanan seems to indicate the existence of this minhag even prior to its earliest mention in seforim.
If we adopt the view of Eliyahu Habochur, we have traced the existence of the taam elyon back to nearly to the point of origin for the remainder of the trop. The last of the Masoretes was Ben Asher, who lived in the latter half of the tenth century. At the dawn of the 11th century we see our first copy of the taam elyon. It would therefore seem that if the two trops did not originate simultaneously; at the very least they began in the same period of Jewish history, that of the Masoretes. All the other views of the trops’ origin leave us with a significant gap, one which may be cut down pending a definitive dating of the Targum Neofiti.
Some of the various masoretic notes, specifically those counting the pesukim, seem to indicate that the while the two versions were created in the same time period, they came about in different locales. There were many groups of Masoretes working simultaneously to create a mesorah for Tanach. In Tiberius a group of Masoretes culminating with Ben Asher was working on the seforim of Eretz Yisrael. At the same time, in Babylon, the project was being undertaken using the seforim that had been used in the region for hundreds of years. There is evidence that suggests that the elyon may have arisen in Babylon, while the tachton was the work of the Tiberian Masoretes.
Nevertheless, little other than place of origin changes due to these assumptions. The mesorah in Babylon, while differing slightly from that of Tiberias, for the most part retained the same pesukim. This is evidenced by some of the fragments recently found in the Cairo Genizah, which, while based on the Babylonian Masoretes, contained similar pesukim. In addition, the works of Chazal, specifically those authored in Babylon, were based on the Babylonian mesorah. If the mesorah differs significantly in the breakdown of the pesukim, one would expect to find some cases of a hekesh and semichus switched, something which seems not to occur in our Gemaras.
These two proofs seem to point to a mostly similar mesorah, at least with regards to the pesukim. And yet the Babylonian Masoretes deviated from this path for the Aseres Hadibros. Clearly, this was an innovation for the Aseres Hadibros rather than an indicator of a greater difference between the various mesoros. Therefore, it would seem to have developed from a desire to ensure all the dibros receive their own pasuk.
Dov Gertler is an alumnus of Yeshiva Tiferes Yehuda Aryeh in Carteret. He currently resides in Edison, and gives nightly shiurim to the bachurim of Carteret.
 The idea of variant opinions about the trop is not itself a unique phenomenon. There are a few isolated instances elsewhere in Tanach where doubt arose about the proper notes of individual words, as the transmission of the trop was not perfect and at times came with multiple opinions. What makes the duality of taam in Aseres Hadibros unique is its existence as an entire self-contained section with two distinct and fully developed sets of notes. The comprehensive nature of the taamim supports the expectation that their creation was a product of deliberate effort rather than an accident of transmission.
 Lo tirzach, lo tin’af, lo tignov. See Biur Halachah 494 s.v. mibachodesh who notes this irregularity.
 Esther 8:9.
 There is some debate as to the breakup of pesukim in the taam elyon. If “anochi” is a separate pasuk, then the second-longest pasuk in the taam elyon is 50 words. If anochi runs into the subsequent pasuk, it becomes the longest with 59 words.
 Similar statements in Megillah 3a, Yerushalmi Megillah 4:1, and Bereishis Rabbah chapter 36.
 Often when the Gemara quotes a pasuk in Nechemiah, Rashi comments that the pasuk is in Sefer Ezra. Rashi in Nedarim omits this annotation, lending credence to the view that the commentary on Nedarim was not composed by Rashi. In Megillah, Rashi does make this comment.
 This argument is delineated explicitly in Tosafos 37b, s.v. ve-amri; the Ran 37a, s.v. v’rav; and Meiri 37b, s.v. af al pi.
 See Beitzah 4a.
 See Tosafos, Chagigah 6b, s.v. lifsukei, who indicate that the trop is meant as more than a tool for punctuation. Even with certainty about the correct trop, there may still be uncertainty as to the proper punctuation of a pasuk.
 Sefer Ratzuf Ahavah 60b (Shlomo Algazi 1610-1683), quoting Tosfei haRosh. Our Tosafos haRosh in Yoma lacks the explicit phrase. Meiri, Nedarim 37b, s.v. af al pi; Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, chapter 45 and 66; and Chavos Yair 140 are among those who adopt this approach.
 Megillah 3a, s.v. vayavinu.
 Dikdukei Taamim, chapter 16. Though it is somewhat difficult to conclude with conviction as due to the poetic nature of the writing, some liberties may have been taken.
 See Ibn Ezra, Bereishis 3:22, s.v. k’echad; Akeidas Yitzchak, sha’ar 21, chapter 8. Also found in the Maharal, Menachem Azarya M’panu ma’amar me’ah kesitah, and Rav Shlomo Alkavetz in Shoresh Yishai, pg. 17.
 Eliyahu ben Asher HaLevi (1469-1549), often referred to as Elia Levita. See introduction to sefer Tuv Taam. See also in the introduction to Sefer Masores Hamesorah, where more of the approach is explained.
 Vayakhel 61a. See also Megillah 32a, which may support this approach.
 Sefer Yereim, chapter 255.
 Semag Lo Taaseh 155.
 Pg. 462, commentary on Avos 1:1.
 Maamar 3, chapter 31.
 Chapter 302. Notable, though, is that Sefer Chassidim’s opinion is unique in asserting that the melodies of the trop were also given over at Sinai.
 Sha’ar 28.
 Teshuvos 3:643.
 Sheim Hagedolim Maareches Haseforim entry on sefer Tuv Taam, responding to opinion of Rav Eliyahu Habochur.
 Rav Yedidya Norzi (1560-1626) in the introduction. Additional Acharonim who adopted this view include the Ketzos Hachoshen 333:7; Chasam Sofer 6:86; Chayei Adam 31:31.
 Tosafos Rid, Megillah 3a, s.v. vayavinu, who points out that the question exists also for those who claim the trop was canonized by the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah.
 See Maharsha, Yoma 52b, Rashi s.v. vaya’alu. This also seems to be the approach adopted by the Machzor Vitri, pg.462.
 See Ritva, Yoma ibid., s.v. chamesh. The fact that such pesukim have a trop would seem to indicate that it was given at Sinai. Otherwise, lacking any evidence from the pasuk, who would be capable of establishing a trop, and consequently a translation?
 Nechemiah 8:8.
 Nedarim 37b.
 There is some uncertainty raised by alternate versions of the interpretation of the pasuk in Nechemiah. While in the Gemara Nedarim, “v’sum seichel” is interpreted as referring to pesukim, this is not so in the version brought by the Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrash Rabbah. In both instances v’sum seichel references the trop, while vayavinu mikra per some interpretations refers to the pesukim, while in the view of others it refers to hechraim. Aside from the fact that the Babylonian Talmud’s word would be taken as authoritative over the Yerushalmi and Midrash, these two sources do not necessarily conflict with the view of the Bavli. While there is disagreement as to the interpretation of a phrase, nevertheless, it is entirely possible that even according to the version contained in the Yerushalmi Ezra included pasuk breaks, the pasuk just felt no need to tell us an aspect of the kriah that had been included since the time of Moshe. Therefore we should be able to assume, with some degree of certainty, that the pesukim were canonized in the times of Moshe.
 Tosafos, Yevamos 4a, s.v. dichsiv, and Rav Shmuel Hanaggid in his introduction to the Talmud printed after Maseches Berachos, both explicitly state that this is the difference.
 Berachos 21b, Yevamos 4a.
 Based on explanation of Tosafos, Yevamos 4a.
 To name a few: the pasuk recited by the congregation during hagba’ah is actually two half pesukim. We begin Kiddush Friday night with the words “Vayehi erev,” which is the middle of a pasuk. Our daily Kedushah also begins with the words “Kadosh kadosh kadosh,” again in the middle of a pasuk.
 See Arugas Habosem, siman 22. Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deiah, chapter 260, rejects this approach.
 The earliest record seems to be in the Chizkuni (commentary on Chumash by Chizkiyah ben Manoach, written approximately 1240), Shemos 20:14, s.v. lo. The practice was also quoted in Leket Yosher (Yosef ben Moshe, written in the end of 16th century), but this was over 200 years later.
 There is some attempt to deduce from the language utilized in this targum that it was composed a short time after the Churban Bayis. This is a precarious proof, as it is entirely possibly that snippets of earlier targumim were combined with some newer additions at a much later date.
 The Leningrad Codex has both versions of trop for parshas Va’eschanan, a reliable indicator that both trops were utilized even for Va’eschanan. The Masoretes’ count of the pesukim only proves the existence of the taam elyon, as no count is provided for the taam tachton version. It is possible that the count was done by a group of Babylonian Masoretes, negating the proof to this alternate practice.
 There are numerous places where it appears that Chazal had a slightly different written text than what appears in front of us. Tosafos in numerous places comments on this phenomenon: Shabbos 55b s.v. ma’aviram; Niddah 33a s.v. v’hanoseh. Rav Akiva Eiger in the Gilyon haShas Shabbos 55b cites many more instances where the mesorah seems to differ from the seforim we currently use.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Magazine)
Oops! We could not locate your form.