Torah and Laining (Cantillation)

The word “Torah” literally means “instructions” (not “law”), and refers to the instructions given to God to Israel. Torah typically refers to the 5 books of Moses (the “written law”), but some people also use it to refer to the entire Jewish Scriptures (the Tanak) and still others include the “oral law”, i.e. Talmud, as part of Torah.

TaNaK – is an acronym of the Jewish Scriptures. It stands for the following:


N=N’vi’im (the prophets)

K=K’tuvim (the writings)

Torah scrolls are written on lamb skins and the ink is a type of vegetable oil. The reader uses a pointer called a “yad” (literally meaning “hand”). A “yad” is usually a metal or wood “stick” with a hand and a pointing finger on the end. Contact of the words on the Torah scroll with the oils, greases, and chemicals on the human hand can be harmful to the letters.

The Torah was written without vowel points (“nikudot”), which were added to simply, avoid confusion, and to clarify. A good knowledge of vocabulary, and grammar, and some experience should allow a person to read Hebrew without the vowel points.. Like most Israeli signs, many major Hebrew newspapers do not include the vowels. Torah scrolls have decorative ornaments, called “crowns”, added to the tops of many letters. (Actually the Hebrew word means “pomegranates”, from which modern Hebrew gets the word “hand granades”).

Likewise, the original scrolls had no punctuation or book/chapter/verse numbers. However, all Torah scrolls do have identifical formats, . i.e. the same words appear in the same shapes and position on the sames “pages”. A person working with a Torah scroll must learn to recognize the “page layout”, or use a book with that cross-references the Torah page to a page with the vowel and Trup symbols.

A cantor or “chazan” will chant the Torah reading. He uses additional symbols, called Trup or Ta?ameem (plural for the Hebrew word “tahm”, meaning simple or innocent, like the sacrificial lamb). Like vowel points, they appear above or below the letters, and they act as musical symbols, indicating which of the several melodies should be used. There are different tunes for the Torah (books of Moses) and Haftarah (prophets), and each of the writings. Also, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and other Jewish sects have different cantillation tunes.

Since the Torah scrolls have neither vowel points or Ta?ameem, a cantor study generally prepares from a “tikun” (literally meaning “repair”, “restore”, or “improvement”), a book with the vocalized text (with Ta?ameem) both on one page, across from the other page with the original Hebrew/Torah layout.

The Torah has been divided into weekly “parashot” (parashah, singular). Every synagogue in the world will be reading the same parashah on any given Sabbath. Various men in the synagogue are called to make an “aliyah” (a going up – or call to come forward and read). Typically the man going forward recites a blessing before and after the Torah reading, but lets the Rabbi or Cantor read from the Torah in his stead. There are usually seven “aliyot” (plural of “aliyah”) per service, plus the maftir, who reads the final Torah passage and the Haftarah (a selected reading from the prophets).

This entry was posted in Jewish Prayer. Bookmark the permalink.