Welcome Spice Readers!

What does reading have to do with spice? For Torah, everything!

Before the Temples were destroyed, we offered 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 prayers. So when we read, we want to sound as pleasing as possible. Also, scripture tells a story and when read with Taam (Hebrew for taste or flavor), the story becomes much more enjoyable and memorable.

Preparing for your Bar Mitzvah, reading for a special occasion, or just curious about Torah tunes and melodies? You’ve come to the right place!

The Magic Recipe
Years ago, our sages wondered how to preserve and transmit to future generations (you and me) the proper way of reading Torah, Neve’im, and Ketuvim (Torah, Prophets and Writings).

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 Ta’am (taste), are the secret to beautiful reading (they’re also called cantillation or trope). Without them, our reading would be bland and boring!

Letters, Vowels and Musical Notes
When we are chanting a Torah portion our brain has to instantly put all three bits of information together and send commands to our vocal chords. With practice, the words with the correct tunes emerge! What a miracle!

3 in 1: Tune, Pronunciation, and Punctuation
The Taamim offer us guidance in:

  1. The Tune – of course
  2. Pronunciation – Every Ta’am goes on a specific part of the word. Sometimes it will be at the beginning, sometimes at the end. When we read, we emphasize the syllable that the Ta’am falls on.
  3. Punctuation – Taamim act as punctuation marks like commas and periods. Pay close attention and you will find that they add pauses, some small, some bigger between words. These pauses group words together and help us to better understand the meaning of the text being read.

Vanilla, Strawberry, Coffee? Hmm..
With the Taamim our Sages provided us with a framework. Over the years Taamin were influenced by the music of the different regions. So we have Baghdadi, Yerushalmi, Spanish-Portuguese, Moroccan, Ashkenazi and many more versions of the Taamim. I’m sure you will find your favorite flavor!

The Secret of Success
To help you master reading with Taam, I have put together a tutorial.

Have fun practicing!

Saeed Jalali
Los Angeles