Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cantillational Drift

It's funny the things that you think of when you're laining.

On Simchas Torah, while reading the Torah, I began to wonder if the tune that I'm using is really the same tune that was used a thousand years ago (or longer). Or does the cantillation "drift" with time?

Language, as we all know, suffers from this drifting effect. No only do expressions, idioms and the meanings of words change, but also the pronounciation of those words change over time (and place). Words that are pronounced one way today were very often pronounced differently at other times. (For some excellent examples of this, read Bill Bryson's book "The Mother Tongue.")

That being said, I'm almost certain that the tune that is used for Krias haTorah has changed over the years (and miles) as well. I'm very curious as to how it must have sounded a thousand years ago.

Anyone have any ideas?

The Wolf

UPDATE: Mississippi Fred MacDowell provided some interesting info on this question here. Thanks MFM!


Anonymous said...

Iraqi trope? I've heard it's very beautiful...

Anonymous said...

Don't ask such questions until all your children are married off :-)
Joel Rich

Unknown said...

There's a kriah disk with seven differnt takes on trope. It must be from TES.

Garnel Ironheart` said...

There is no question it's changed.

Think about it: do you do it exactly the same as the guy what taught you, or do you vary it slightly from time to time? And when you teach someone, don't you think they'll do the same?

We know that pronounciations have definitely drifted over time. The distinct nusachs used by different non-Ashkenazic groups came from somewhere. Was there a common source? Did each tribe have one?

velvel said...

No, nothing in or about the Torah ever changes, it never could because if somone would change evreyone would say "hey thats not how we used to lein" and correct them.

Nachum said...

It's important not to confuse cantillations with tunes. 21 books of Tanach have the same cantillations, but there are different tunes for the Torah, Neviim, Esther, Eicha, the three other megillot, the Yamim Noraim, Az Yashir, and a few others.

aaron from L.A. said...

Of course,the tunes to which the tropes are chanted have changed over time.That's why there's no one universal tune for each trope. Not only that,but the actual names of the tropes vary somewhat from one minhag to another.I have been a Ba'al Kriah since my teens.I do basic eastern European, German ,and Spanish-Portuguese...Am trying to learn Iraqi,but that will take some time since my ear isn't really attuned to it.

Jacob Da Jew said...

it definitly changes.

Take my tune, for eaxmple.

I learned how to lein Sephardi -Yerushalmi style...but after co-leining with a Moroccan guy fro a few years, it rubbed off on me and its now sorta Yerushalmi, Syrian, Turkish and Moroccan.

Then I taught my friend, an Iranian, how to lein. And he teaches others now too. And so it goes on.

BrooklynWolf said...


I kind of knew all along that it changed, for the reasons you pointed out. I was more wondering how it changed. :)

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...


You are correct. I was using the two terms interchangeably, which was incorrect.

The Wolf

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I would speculate that the other commenters are basically correct; the tunes probably mostly changed with slight personal adjustments on the part of the different ba'alei keriah.

I'm sure all of us have noticed that almost no two readers read the same way. Multiply that by generations and cultures and you'll eventually get new tunes.

By analogy, while we can't know exactly how the Jews of Spain sounded when they read Hebrew, their descendents basically wound up in two primary locations, the lands of the Ottoman Empire and in Central and Western Europe. We know the "Sephardic" pronunciation(s) of the former. It is more "Oriental." The Western Sephardic pronunciation is much more European sounding, but it clearly stems from Spain, and not Holland or England, just as the Eastern Sephardic pronunciation does.

Every so often I stop and consider how interesting it is how some things in Judaism are defined down to the finest details and some with much more latitude. The tunes for reading the Torah fall squarely into the latter category.

Batya said...

considering all the eidot we have in my neighborhood....