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T-S Misc.22.264 - a trope trainer from the Cairo Genizah


Marc Michaels


Whilst searching for more fragments related to my PhD, I cannot but notice other fragments of interest that catch my eye, whether flicking through the screens of the FGP app or flipping the pages of the folders of large Genizah fragments in Cambridge University Library. Indeed it can be quite a distraction and lead you into other side paths of possibilities and alleyways of adventure. 

As a baʿal qoreʾ (lit. master of the reciting) who periodically leins (the Yiddish word typically used for chanting) from the Torah in my own and other synagogues, one such fragment that leapt out at me was T-S Misc.22.264, our fragment of the month.


T-S Misc.22.264

T-S Misc.22.264 recto


The musical notation system we employ today was developed by the Masoretes in the 8th to 10th centuries. However, they did not invent this, but were codifying the tunes referenced in Mishnaic times, likely from earlier traditions that accompanied the declaiming of the Torah text in the marketplace and synagogue.1 For example in Megillah 32a, we read וְאָמַר רַבִּי שְׁפַטְיָה אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן כׇּל הַקּוֹרֵא בְּלֹא נְעִימָה וְשׁוֹנֶה בְּלֹא זִמְרָה עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר וְגַם אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם חוּקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים וְגוֹ׳ (‘and Rabbi Shefatya said that Rabbi Yoḥanan [b. Napacha]2 said: Concerning anyone who reads [from the Torah] without a melody or studies [the Mishna] without a song, the verse states: “So too I gave them statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live” (Ezek. 20:25)’). Initially the reader (or singer), was assisted by means of hand signals from the somekh (assistant) that gave general directions as to the notes to use.3 The system was called chironomy. Indeed, hand signals to assist the modern reader are still present in some synagogues, and even enjoying a resurgence, and it is a system that I, for one, would like to learn as it would be very helpful. These, however, were largely replaced by the 28 symbols4 that are placed above or below words in the biblical text of codices, which govern the notes that one uses when chanting from a Torah scroll from the bima (lectern/reading desk) in a service and also indicate the position of the main stress in that word.

When one learns the ṭeʿamim (trope, lit. ‘tastes’ or ‘flavours’) from a list, one sings the name of the note to the tune of the note. So, I can quite easily reel off typical standard musical phrases such as mahpakh pašṭa zaqef qaṭon, zaqef gadol. However, when reading from a Torah, scribal halakha forbids the inclusion of any notation (either ṭeʿamim or nequdot (vowel signs)5 ). Thus, you have to remember it all, having practised from a tiqqun qorʾim (readers guide) prior to the service. So, as you are chanting, in your head you are having to combine a musical note that has a name with the word that is written and sing the word and not the name, with the emphasis on the right syllable. 

I had seen other cantillation related pages as I searched through, such as T-S Misc.10.179 and T-S AS 139.14,6 each of which give a listing of the names and respective symbols. Moreover, the orders of notes given, the spellings, vocalisation and the names of the notes and how comprehensive the list was varies between fragments.7 The names of the individual notes reflect either the shape of the grapheme employed or the melody associated with the sign, for example מונח (munaḥ,‘sustained’ or ‘rest’) is called שופר (šofar) in Genizah fragments because of its bent shape. פזר (pazer, ‘scattered’) is perhaps more a reflection of its moving in and out sound,8 and the even rarer שלשלת (šalšelet, ‘chain’), called in Judaeo-Arabic סלסלה (silsila) in our fragment of the month,9 echoes both the zigzag shape of the sign and the extremely long wavering note.

However, T-S Misc.22.264 is very different from these other fragments. Instead of presenting a simple listing, the musical notation and their names are appended to parts of biblical verses in phrases and single words, starting with the very first half of the first verse, Gen. 1:1.

Visiting the CUL reading room in mid-February 2022, I measured the fragment as 19.8 cm high by 14.6 cm wide.10 It is on rag paper, with barely visible laid lines and, based on the script employed, it is possibly mid-11th century.11 It is noted in FGP only as 'Cantillation notes – Personal handlist - preliminary description, further examination required', but it is a short and perhaps more practical training manual for someone learning to chant from the Torah. It seems to represent an intermediate stage between the lists of notes and learning from the actual text, since it allows you to sing the words which are written large but still see the name of the notes which are in superscript. A clear example of pedagogy at work, as one generation trained the next.12 Either this teacher, or at some point in time some other teacher from whom this teacher is copying the text, had taken time out and scoured the bible for examples where phrases would cover the individual notes, including those that rarely occur. This would speed up the student's learning, since otherwise it may be some time before he would encounter a pasuq (verse) where a particular rarer musical phrasing occurred. Our teacher has mostly, but not consistently, added nequdot (vowel pointing)13 presumably to help the student further. He has then drawn boxed rules around each line to separate them off and make them even easier to deal with on the page.

I say, teacher and student, but this could equally be a father passing the tradition down to his son. The chazzan at my current Mizraḥi synagogue, Shimon Tivony, whose father Moni was the chazzan at a Cairo synagogue, recalls the seriousness of lessons in the cantorial art and the importance attached to accurate renditions. The grandson, also named Moni, continued the singing tradition, finding fame on TV’s ‘The Voice’.

It is possible there is another page since not all the notes are covered here, though the last instance on this folio, אל משה (‘to Moses’) ending part way through the last line may suggest it ended here, as does the fact that the reverse is blank.14

Interestingly some of the names appended to the ṭeʿamim are sometimes different from any of the traditions mentioned above or those in other Genizah fragments, mixing Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic nomenclature, showing the variation by which the trope was conveyed in different localities.

The first line brings a fairly standard phrasing attached to Gen. 1:1a, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖[יִם:] (‘In the beginning God created the heaven ...’). The first note shown has an extra ʾalef suggesting the vocalisation is טאפחה (ṭāp̄iḥa, ‘hand-breadth’) rather than ṭipḥa.15 שופר we have already discussed above. Similarly, את[נ]חא (ʾatnaḥa, ‘rest’) instead of ʾetnaḥta, usually marking the mid-point of a pasuq. The מארכה meʾarkha (to lengthen) is our modern מירכא meirkha. The last note is not fully clear. It is another ṭapḥa but is not marked as such, instead using the name דחי (dekhi, ‘thrust back’) used before a hemistich break סילוק (silluq).16

We skip to the next biblical verse with וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֨הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ ('and the earth was formless and void’) from Gen. 1:2a which introduces a more complex sequence רביע (reviaʿ, ‘four-square’ – a reference to its diamond shape) is followed by a further merkha but this is called here גרה which, according to Prof. Geoffrey Khan, may be the Arabic (jarrā, ‘runner’).17 What has become known in modern times as double pašṭa is rendered here as פישט (pišṭ, ‘extended’ or ‘stretching’).18 The last note in line 2 is not particularly legible. It is a zaqef qaṭon (‘lesser upright’) but is given here as [זיקף] (zeyqef).

Reconstructing the last word of the second line with the first of the third gives us the important combination of [ד]רג[ה] (darga, ‘stepwise’ or ‘scale’) and תבר (tevir, ‘broken’), though lacking the yod seen in other fragments and modern spelling (תביר). This musical phrase is attached to וַיַּ֧רְא אֱלֹהִ֛ים (‘and God saw’) from Gen 1:4a.

The next sequence involves Gen 1:9a וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים יִקָּו֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם מִתַּ֤חַת הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ and takes us across lines 3 and most of line 4. It brings the common combination of šofar and reviaʿ but its main purpose is to introduce to our student the combined phase that feels like a musical rainbow forming a sort of semi-circle over the words, קדמ[א] (qadma, ‘to proceed’) ואזל[ה] (veʾazla, ‘and go on’). Before the פישט (pišṭ) we see something that the teacher appears to note in combined Hebrew and Aramaic, שופר מקלוב (šofar maqlūb, ‘upside-down shofar’). This symbol is מהפך (mahpakh, ‘reversed’) in modern trope, but in other fragments we do see it as שופר מהופך (šofar mehufakh, ‘backwards’ or ‘inverted shofar’ [shape]).

The last word on the line is our first individual word and it is the ubiquitous וַיֹּאמֶר (‘and he said’). However, the choice is also odd as there is no example of vayyomer with the note גרשים (geršayim), given as גרישין (gerišin) here, in the Masoretic Text of the Torah or Joshua where the other verses that follow are drawn from. So, this is an odd choice by our teacher, unless there was a different tradition for musical notation that he was following.

We then skip to Joseph's brothers plotting to throw him into the pit, וְעַתָּ֣ה ׀ לְכ֣וּ וְנַֽהַרְגֵ֗הוּ (‘Come now, let us kill him’) from Gen. 37:20 which brings the common munakh [pause] munakh reviaʿ phrase and which is shown here as [לג]רמיה (legarmey) which, according to other fragments, is an abbreviated form of šofar legarmey (‘shofar standing alone’),19 though vocalised without the yod. Reviaʿ here is this time rendered in Arabic as תגליס (tajlīs) for which Dr Outhwaite notes 'the root jls has to do with 'sitting' (like majlīs) – which would be a good synonym for רביע, 'resting'. 20 

We leave the Torah and move to the Prophets for the next phrase from Josh. 1:8a, לֹֽא־יָמ֡וּשׁ סֵפֶר֩ הַתּוֹרָ֨ה הַזֶּ֜ה (‘let not this Book of the Teaching cease’) – likely a very meaningful phase for our teacher to convey to his student given the next word מִפִּ֗יךָ (‘from your mouth’) and the context in which this teaching is taking place. Perhaps this verse is also a subtle exhortation to the student to keep practising. Aside from rehearsing notes that have already appeared, this phrase introduces תלש (talaš), specifically תלשא איליטרי (talša ilyiṭri) based on vocalisation given in T-S Misc.10.179, and related to the Arabic al-yusrā (‘the left’) relating to its positioning on the left of the word.21 This corresponds to תלישא קטנה (teliša qeṭanna, ‘lesser drawing or plucking out’) in modern usage. Dr Outhwaite notes that on לֹֽא־ at the start of the phrase there is a munaḥ ... [and so] is marked differently from the standard Masoretic edition, which has gaʿya and maqqef.' 22

This is followed by the single word זֶ֠ה (‘this’), which would be Joshua 15:12 given it bears the symbol for תלישא גדולה (teliša gedola, ‘great drawing out’),23 which is oddly marked here as זרקה (zarqa, ‘scattered or throwing’) when it should likely be תלשא אלימני (talšaʾ ilyumney) based on vocalisation in T-S Misc.10.79, and related to the Arabic al-yumnā (‘the right’), again relating to its position on the right of the word. Our teacher may have erred here. It first appears at Gen. 5:9, but bearing two notes, this and gerišin, זֶ֞ה֠.

Line 6 into line 7 brings us כִּ֣י תִ[שָּׂ֞]א ‘when you take [a census]’) from Ex. 30:12a, repeating munaḥ and gerišin. Skipping three words in the same verse brings יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם֒ though our teacher gives the full orthography with waw (maleʾ waw) in the second word, which is not like the reading in the MT. He introduces the combination זרקה (zarqa), this time correctly, with שרי (šerei)24 or שדי, which may be the Arabic šady, a variant of šadw (‘singing, chanting’).25 It is not clear whether this is a reš or dalet. Either way, we would know this as סגול (segol) or סגולתא (segolta), which is an upside-down version of the vowel sign of the same name, but also Aramaic for ‘grape cluster’, referring to its shape).26

Having introduced combined phrases, the last two lines are simply there to bring single notes. First is a וַיֹּ֕אמֶר (‘and he said’) which, given the gap between the previous and the next instance is possibly from Gen. 37:35 where it takes a זקף גדול (zaqef gadol, ‘full upright’).27 וַיְמָאֵ֓ן from Gen. 39:8 provides the vehicle for the rare note סלסלה (silsila) mentioned above.28 Even rarer is the combination on two words from Num. 35:5a אַלְפַּ֪יִם בָּֽאַ[מָּ֟ה] with the Arabic הלאל (hilāl, ‘new moon’), which is more commonly known as ירח בן יומו (yeraḥ ben yomo, ‘moon of one day’), reflecting its crescent shape.29 It is a shame that we cannot see the name assigned on the next word which is known as קרני פרה (qarney fara, ‘horns of a heifer’), reflecting the shape of both teliša notes either end of the same word.30

The final entry is on אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה apparently with zaqef qaṭon again; it could be from Ex. 3:14, its first appearance, or its last in Deut 32:48 or elsewhere. Based on other fragment listings, we would expect to end with סוף פסוק (sof pasuq, ‘end of the verse’). However, oddly this note seems to have been omitted from our fragment.

At the base of the fragment after the last ṭeʿamim instance, there is in Arabic, כמלת ﭏׄאׄוׄיׄהׄ ושרוטהא ... ותסמיתהא ... (‘I have finished the [four letters] אוי׳׳ה and their rules … and their names (i.e. the names of the rules relating to the contexts in which בגדכפת letters following word-final vowels represented by the vowel letters אוי׳׳ה become fricative or remain plosives). A section on this topic is found in Hidāyat al-Qāriʾ,31 but it was common in Masoretic treatises in general.


transcription of T-S Misc. 22.264 recto



1 Khan notes that ‘The cantillation is a layer of reading that has roots in late antiquity’ and that ‘and the division expressed by the cantillation are two different layers of exegetical tradition, which occasionally do not correspond with one another. In a number of cases, the cantillation divisions conflicted with the qere [(what is read)]’ and ‘the Targums frequently reflect an interpretation of the text that corresponds to the divisions of the cantillation’, Khan, Geoffrey, The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew, Volume I. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2020,, pp. 50–53.

2 Second generation Amora, studied under R. Yehuda ha-Nasi and followed him as the director of the academy at Tiberias. Died in 279 CE.

3 Referenced in Berakhot 62a, מִפְּנֵי מָה אֵין מְקַנְּחִין בְּיָמִין אֶלָּא בִּשְׂמֹאל ... נַחְמָן בַּר יִצְחָק אָמַר מִפְּנֵי שֶׁמַּרְאֶה בָּהּ טַעֲמֵי תוֹרָה (‘why does one not wipe with the right [hand] and rather the left ... Naḥman bar Yiṣḥaq said: Because [the right] reveals the notes of the Torah’, i.e. through the hand gestures).

4 Enumerated in detailed in Binder, A.W. Biblical Chant, Philosophical Library Inc., New York, 1959, pp. 19-22. Hebrew and Aramaic names and translations used in this article are drawn largely from Binder, cross referenced with section 5.3.3 The Accentuation Signs in the Masorah article in Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol.16 (Supplementary Entries), pp. 1454-1458 and Wickes, William, טעמי אמ"ת A Treatise of the Accentuation of the Three So-called Poetical Books of the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, Clarendon Press, 1881, pp. 10 - 23. I have employed the Askhkenazi names for comparison with the modern terms, but Sefardi, Italian, Mizraḥi and Yemenite traditions also have different naming conventions. I am particularly grateful to both Dr Ben Outhwaite and Prof. Geoffrey Khan for their suggestions and guidance with the Arabic names for the ṭeʿamim that feature in this fragment and in others.

5 For example core scribal manual, Qeset ha-Sofer 16:6 explains ס"ת המנוקד פסול ... אם היה הס"ת כבר כתוב בהכשר ואח"כ עשו בו נקודות או סימני טעמים מהני בהן גרידה כמו באשר טעיות (‘a Sefer Torah that has vowels is invalid ... [and] if the Sefer Torah was already written in a valid manner, and afterwards one made vowels or trope signs in it, then it is appropriate for them to be scraped like [you would deal with] other errors’). In my scribal work, I have repaired several Sifrey where vowels were added to help a Bar or Bat- Mitzvah.

6 After embarking on this FOTM, I checked through the Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP) searching the sub-domain cantillation. Some fragments relate to treatises on the trope, but having checked various fragments there are a number of fuller and partial listings, such as T-S AS 139.40, T-S AS 139.43, T-S Misc.26.18. T-S NS 259.78, BL OR 10578N.3 (Alt: Gaster 1345.3), JTS ENA 2710.37, AIU IX A.11, Paris, Moss. I,61.2 (Alt: G 13), Paris, Moss. I,74.2 (Alt: G 26), T-S K5.26. T-S K9.11, T-S Ar.31.164 and T-S NS 194.12. No doubt there are others.

7 A subject worthy of further study.

8 Wickes suggests it is a ‘shake’ or ‘trill’, op. cit., p. 17. Though the Encyclopaedia Judaica suggests that ‘it apparently does not refer to the melody, but to the sign (פַּזְרַה Aramaic = whip)’, op. cit., p. 1454.

9 Also, in T-S D1.30, JS ENA 2710.37 and Paris, Moss. I,61.2 (Alt: G 13).

10 It is difficult to get a sense of scale of a piece from online study, so seeing the fragment in reality is always worth the effort.

11 Through creating an abecedary and comparison with examples given in Beit Arié, M, (in collaboration with Engel E. and Yardeni, A.), אסופות כתבים עבריים מימי-הביניים כרך א: כתב מזרחי וכתב תימני (Specimens of Medieval Hebrew Scripts, Part 1: Oriental and Yemenite Scripts), The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1987. My thanks to Vince Beiler for being a second pair of eyes to confirm my dating suggestion.

12 For example, Nedarim 37a explains רַב אָמַר שְׂכַר שִׁימּוּר וְרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן אָמַר שְׂכַר פִּיסּוּק טְעָמִים (‘Rav said the payment [of a teacher] is for looking after [children] and R. Yoḥanan said payment is for [teaching] the pauses of the cantillation’).

13 In the body text I have given the text as it appears in MT, and in the transcription as the teacher wrote it.

14 Paper was a precious commodity and not lightly wasted as we can see from the many examples in the Genizah of documents being re-used and additional writing in margins and other blank spaces.

15 My thanks to Prof. Geoffrey Khan who explains this as an Arabicised form, similar to קאמצה for qameṣ. Also often called טרחא tarḥaʾ in other fragment listings and see Wickes, op. cit., p. 19.

16 My thanks to Dr Ben Outhwaite for his suggestions as regards a number of notes that were damaged and thus difficult to read on the fragment. The trope for the opening to Genesis is quite pedestrian. One might have expected something a little more dramatic, using rarer more exciting notes - dare one say, to start with a big bang.

17 Personal correspondence 17/1/22.

18 In other fragments this doubling is also referred to in Aramaic as תרין קדמין tereyn qadmin (twice qadmaʾ) since pašṭa and qadmaʾ are basically the same sign. 

19 Encyclopaedia Judaica gives 'שופר מונח לגרמיה ("trumpet, horn [sustained] by itself", op. cit., p. 1455.

20 Personal correspondence 21/12/21.

21 According to Prof. Khan, personal correspondence 17/1/22.

22 Ibid..

23 It appears only once in the Torah at Gen. 5:9, but bearing two notes, this and gerišin, זֶ֞ה֠.

24 ‘Attested for segolta in some sources’ according to Dr Outhwaite, personal correspondence, 21/12/21.

25 According to Prof. Khan, 17/1/22. Having viewed the fragment at CUL, either could be possible as the letter joins to the preceding šin.

26 Oddly omitted from Wickes listing, op. cit., p. 12.

27 It first occurs at Gen. 3:10, then again in 3:11 and elsewhere, so could equally be these.

28 Occurs only seven times in the Tanakh.

29 Wickes also notes that it is called גלגל galgal (wheel), op. cit., p. 12 and details on p. 22. 

30 I have made a highly speculative guess in the transcription at some of the letters (shown in grey) based on seeing the fragment up close.

31 Khan, Geoffrey, The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew, Vol. II. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2020, pp. 276, 76 and 95 in particular.



Arié, M, (in collaboration with Engel E. and Yardeni, A.), אסופות כתבים עבריים מימי-הביניים כרך א: כתב מזרחי וכתב תימני, (Specimens of Medieval Hebrew Scripts, Part 1; Oriental and Yemenite Scripts), The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1987.

Binder, A.W. Biblical Chant, Philosophical Library Inc., New York, 1959.

Khan, Geoffrey, The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew, Volumes I and II. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2020.

Wickes, William, A Treatise of the Accentuation of the Three So-called Poetical Books of the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, Clarendon Press, 1881.

Encyclopaedia Judaica articles: Cantillation, Masoretic Accents and Masorah (particularly section 5.3.3 The Accentuation Signs in Vol.16 (Supplementary Entries), pp. 1454-1458). (accessed 16/12/21) Information excerpted with permission from Discovering Jewish Music, Jewish Publication Society.


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