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Parashat Bamidbar-Shavuot 5761

Why Two Tunes for the Ten Commandments?

On Shavuot we celebrate Matan Torah - the giving of the Torah. In honor of this event we read the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20) in the synagogue. Anyone who has learnt to read from the Torah in the traditional manner is aware that the cantillation marks (we will use the Yiddish trop) are the major guide for the intonation. The word trop is related to the English 'strophe' and 'apostrophe.' While Ashkenazim and Sefaradim superimpose some additional traditions on the trop, particularly one indicating the conclusion of a reading, traditional Yemenites do not.

When one comes to read the Ten Commandments it can be quite disturbing to find that there are two (or three) versions of trop presented with the text. The more dramatic version is known as the 'High' trop system, while the other is known as the 'Low' trop system. Many traditional editions of the Torah actually print both sets of trop together, a practice that has caused confusion for hundreds of years. It is not just that there are two sets of tunes. Because the trop governs the vowel system, some words also have alternative vowels. Furthermore the length of the verses is also part of the issue.

In the Low trop system the fourth commandment which deals with the Sabbath, is read as four verses (as it is relatively long) while in the High trop system it is read as a single verse. On the other hand according to the Low trop system the short commandments 'Do not steal,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not bear false witness against your fellow,' are all part of one verse, while in the High trop system, each is read separately.

To remedy this, the more user-friendly editions of the Torah have printed the Ten Commandments twice so that each set of trop can be presented separately. This is sometimes done by way of a note in the text referring the reader to another page where the other version is to be found. This of course interferes with the continuity of the text.

According to Rabbi Mordechai Breuer of Jerusalem, in his book "Keter Aram Tzova," the origin of these two systems is in two ancient traditions that the Masora wanted to preserve. I have not been able to find any other discussion of this Masora. Over the centuries the discussion of scholars has focused on the use that should be made of the two versions.

The earliest discussion of how the two systems are to be used appears in the Hizkuni, a commentary on the Torah, at the end of the Ten Commandments. It states that the practice is to read the Ten Commandments with the High trop system on Shavuot and with the Low system on Shabbat Yitro. There is considerable evidence that this was the practice of the Ashkenazi communities for many centuries and is still the practice recommended by Luach Eretz Israel that is regarded as authoritative by many Nusach Ashkenaz synagogues in Israel.

The earliest source for the Sefaradi practice of always reading in accordance with the High trop in public and leaving the Low system for private study is to be found in the Ein Yaakov (Shekalim, Ch.6). This provides a function for the High and the Low trop at both appearances of the Ten Commandments - in Yitro and in Va'etchanan. According to Ashkenazi practice the Ten Commandments of Yitro are read both ways, one during the regular reading on Shabbat, and the other on Shavuot. If the Ten Commandments that appear in Va'etchanan are read on the Shabbat in the Low trop the question arises: when is the High trop utilized? Rabbi Yaakov Emden pointed out that because of this question, the Sefaradi view had a distinct advantage. It may be that because of this problem the Sefaradi practice spread among Ashkenazim in recent centuries.

At the end of the first Commandment, some versions of the trop indicate that the verse does not end and is one with the second Commandment. We have here an echo of the Midrash that tells us that the first two Commandments were spoken as one. This provides a third version of the trop.

Nowadays most synagogues outside Israel follow the Sefaradi custom and read the Ten Commandments according to the High trop on all occasions. In Israel the followers of the Gaon of Vilna and some other Ashkenazi synagogues follow the old Ashkenazi practice and read the Ten Commandments according to the High trop only on Shavuot.

Here we present a bibliography of writings on the 'High' and the 'Low' trop for the reading of the Ten Commandments. The bibliography partly overlaps the references in Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 20, entry 'te'amim' footnotes 135-161, and the sources reproduced in S.Y. Weinfeld, Ta'amei Hamikra, Eshkol, Jerusalem, 5741 (1981), pp 75-100. Both of these resources are important for a thorough understanding of the subject. I wish to acknowledge correspondents who have supplied me with references, they are: Rabbis Y.Z. Brandeis, A. Gerber, D. Glauberman, U. Kaploun, Z.Y Kraus, S. Katanka, M. Levin, (who referred me to Emet L'Ya'akov NY/Cleveland, 2nd ed 1996, Mevo; and Hershel Shechter, Nefesh Harav section on Kriat HaTorah), A.Y. Weinstein. All are in Hebrew. (If someone would give me a reference to this subject in English I would publish it with an acknowledgement.)

Breuer, R' Mordechai (20th/21st cent.) Sefer Keter Aram Tzova points out that the two sets of trop reflect the customs of two ancient regions (East and West).

Emden, R' Ya'akov b. Tzvi (18th cent.) Luah Eresh (published together with Sha'arei Tefilah, see Hanau, infra which it discredits, and other books, ed. by David Yitzchaki, Otzreinu, Toronto, Canada, 2001) accepts that the Ashkenazi practice is to use the High trop, but points out that this practice raises the question "When does one read the Ten Commandments of Va'etchanan in accordance with the High trop? Due to this question the Sefaradi practice is preferred.

Geiger, R' Shlomo Zalman b. Aharon Yechiel Michel (19th cent.) Divrei Kehillot (spelled as Kohelet vocalized as Kehillot as a play on words) asserts that the custom of Frankfurt is always to read the Ten Commandments in public according to the High trop.

Hanau, R' Zalman (Raz"a, 16th/17th cent.) Sha'arei Tefilah, (relevant part republished in Weinfeld, 1981, fully republished 5761 (2001) with Luah Eresh see Emden) argues that High trop reflects the ketiv, Low trop reflects the kerei, therefore Low trop should always be followed. Raz"a was quoted in Noda Bihudah, Peri Megadim, and Shulahan Aruch haRav Baal HaTanya. Rabbi Yaakov Emden, and modern historians saw him as a forerunner of the Haskala and Reform.

Ibn Haviv, R' Ya' akov (15th/16th cent.) Ein Yaakov (Shekalim Ch.6) reports the Sefaradi custom - High trop for all public readings, Low for private study.

Heidenheim, R' Wolf (18th/19th cent.) edition of Torah (reproduced in S.Y. Weinfeld).

R' Hezekiah b. Manoah (13th cent.) Hizekuni (Exod. 20) establishes what became the Ashkenazi custom for many centuries - High trop on Shavuot, Low during weekly reading on Shabbat.

Kagan, R' Yisroel Meir (19th/20th cent.) Mishnah Berurah reproduces the passage in Shulhan Aruch HaRav.

Landau, R' Ezekiel (18th cent.) Noda Bihudah quotes 'the great grammarian R' Zalman Hanau' (1st ed. Y.D. s. 74); however it is not clear that for purposes of reading the Ten Commandments he accepts Hanau's view.

di Lonzano, R' Menahem b. Yehuda, (16th cent.) Or Torah, follows Sefaradi practice.

Selnik, R' Binyamin Aharon b. Avraham (16th/17th cent.?) Mas'at Binyamin follows the Ashkenazi practice.

Schneerson, R' Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch (20th cent.) Likutei Dibburim (Hebrew translation vol. 1 p 131, and vol 3 p 615) discusses tunes for the Ten Commandments apparently other than those indicated by the trop.

R' Shneuer Zalman of Liadi (18th/19th cent.) Shulhan Aruch HaRav uses the explanations and the very words of R' Zalman Hanau in explaining the difference between High trop and Low trop but does not refer to his conclusion on how to read the Ten Commandments. For this purpose he refers to both the Ashkenazi and Sefaradi practices and does not decide between them.

Tokzinski, R' Yechiel Michel (20th cent.) Luah Eretz Yisrael follows the Ashkenazi practice.

R' Yedidyah Shelomo Refael b. Avraham of Norzi, (16th/17th cent.) Minhat Shai (Exod. 20) quotes Ein Yaakov and Or Torah.

Shabbat Shalom veHag Same'ah!

I will be pleased to have comments on these notes on the Parasha.
Good Shabbos, Meshullam Klarberg, 35/4 Meshech Chochma, Kiryat Sefer, Israel 71919
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