Ramchal indicates in Petach 21 that the full functioning of the letters depends on (the additional roles played by the following elements:) the trope (musical notations placed above and below the letters), vowels (points placed within, over or under the letters), and the “crowns” (configurations that are joined to the letters at the top) that are attached to the letters (themselves). Each completes an action appropriate to it. But the essential acts come about through the letters (themselves), he underscores, which is obvious given that “the written letters alone are sufficient to allow us to understand” the point being made, as he adds in his comments there.
Let’s examine the makeup of trope, vowels, and crowns.
Trope (also known as “Cantillation Notes”) are special signs and marks used to help in the reading of Tanach in the course of public services. As a rule of thumb, each word of text has a trope mark at its primary accent which is associated with a musical phrase to be used when reciting it, but in point of fact some words have two or no marks, and the musical meaning of some of them depend on context. The trope marks provide insight into the syntactical makeup of the text and often serve as a clue to its meaning. There are two systems of trope: the one used in the great preponderance of the books, and the one that’s used in the Books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job.
There’s clearly an ancient tradition about the trope, as we see in the Talmud which speaks of a system and masters of it (Berachot 62a, Nedarim 37a).
(c) 2011 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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