The name of the recipient of this letter was not released.

19 Tammuz, 5711,
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Greetings and blessings,

Your letter with the [following] question was received. Since in several places the taamim (the signs for the melodic chanting of the Tanach) do not fit the simple meaning of the verses, which approach should be chosen? Should one read according to the taamim or should one read with sentence breaks and the formation of clauses that fit the simple meaning of the verses. (According to the latter approach, every person is being given license to interpret the Torah individually — in one place, reading as if a period were required, and in another, as if a comma were required.)

In reply:1

a) It is part of our accepted [spiritual] tradition of our nation that the taamim were given from the mouth of the A‑lmighty, as stated in the Pardes of R. Moshe Cordevero at the beginning of Shaar 28 (with regard to the nekudos, vocalization sounds): “It is well known among all the wise men of Israel, being a tradition communicated mouth to mouth, [teacher to disciple,] from Ezra the Scribe who received this tradition as communicated mouth to mouth from Moshe, [originating] at Sinai from the mouth of the A‑lmighty. The different nekudos….” See also Shaar 29 there, from which it is apparent that the names of the taamim were transmitted according to tradition. Therefore, they also contain allusions to several concepts.

This understanding does not follow the opinion of R. Eliyahu Bachur2 who maintains that the taamim and the nekudos were ordained at a later date. This matter has been discussed in several texts (see Pakuos Sadeh compiled by the author of Sdei Chemed). Nevertheless, after the revelation of the Zohar and the Tikkunei Zohar, anyone who believes what is written in them also believes that the nekudos and the taamim were given by the A‑lmighty. See also the maamar entitled Shir HaShirim in Likkutei Torah, sec. 2,3 where sources are given.

b) The taamim were given in order to chant the words, as the Zohar states (Vol. 1, p. 15b):

The letters are comparable to the body; the nekudos to the spirit. They all “set forth on their journeys,” [following] after the taamim which serve as the force that maintains their existence. When the taamim are chanted, the letters and the nekudos “journey forth,” after them. When [the taamim] cease [being chanted, the letters and the nekudos] do not “journey,” but remain in their place.

See also the Introduction to the Tikkunei Zohar (p. 8a) and other places in that text that make similar statements.

c) Based on the above statements, it is not understood why, in several places, the taamim do not fit the simple meaning of the passages, as you asked in your letter.

There are several possible resolutions to this matter:

i) We do not know the rules governing the taamim and the matters related to them. The overwhelming majority (perhaps all) of the rules governing the taamim that are cited in texts are nothing but “the work of men”4 who compiled these rules in an effort to understand the pattern of the taamim in the Tanach. When there is a conflict between the rules of the taamim and the simple meaning of the verse, it is possible that these individuals gave primacy to the taamim.

ii) With the context of the above, it is also necessary to take into consideration the rules of voice control, the length of breath required, and the like.

iii) [At times, there is a difference between the manner in which a word is written (the ksiv) and the way it is read (the k’ri). In such instances, the simple meaning follows the k’ri. Nevertheless,] the ksiv alludes to meanings that transcend the simple meaning and the apparent understanding (see [Tanya,] Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 19). Similarly, it can be said [that in the places where such contradictions exist], the taamim also allude to such interpretations.

There is, however, a distinction between these two instances. The ksiv merely relates the difference between the manner in which a word is read and how it is written.

This is not the case with the taamim.

This is also understood, because, in general, chanting and melody, [which are created by the taamim,] connect one more with the inner dimension of the soul that is above intellectual thought and understanding. See Likkutei Torah, op. cit.

d) Based on the above, much analysis is required regarding our Sages’ statement (Yoma 52a) that there are five phrases about which it is not clear whether they refer to the preceding phrase or the following phrase.5 [Moreover,] Bereishis Rabbah, sec. 70, and the Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zarah 2:7) added another phrase. The Rishonim6 offered several resolutions:

i) that afterwards, the meanings of the verses were clarified according to the definition of the taamim which Ezra clarified (Ritba to Yoma, loc. cit., Rabbeinu Asher, as cited by Tosafos; Yad Malachi; Chidushei Aggados of the Maharsha);

ii) that there is a difference of opinion concerning the taamim in these passages (Beis Yosef in his collection of responsa entitled Avkas Rochel, the end of sec. 4).

With regard to this discussion, see Sdei Chemed, Klallim 8:28. See also Shaar Ephraim 303:15.

In summary of all the above, Scripture should be read together with its taamim. One should not deviate from the accepted tradition and establish taamim on his own initiative, Heaven forbid. See the sichah of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe זצוקללה"ה, נבג"ם, זי"ע,7 from 25 Shvat, 5696, sec. 5, regarding the extent to which care was given to such matters.

You are certainly continuing your work in the field of kosher Jewish education. I would be interested in knowing particulars concerning this. Thanking you from the outset.