Helen Chuckrow

Helen Chuckrow
Helen Chuckrow reading from Torah Scroll
Photo by Pam Sherman
Helen Chuckrow

Since 1979, Helen Chuckrow has read from the Bible, using the chants of her tradition, at Congregation Sons of Israel, in Briarcliff Manor, NY, and at other synagogues in the area.

In the synagogue, Jews do not just read from the Bible; they chant in order to adorn it and to bring out the meaning of the words. This chanting is called cantillation. The tunes used in chanting are called trops. There are 28 trops; 23 of them are used frequently. The trops are divided into lords and servants. There is no pause after chanting a servant trop. When chanting a lord trop, the reader pauses slightly or significantly, depending on the rank of the lord. The trop that ends a verse, sof posuk, is the highest ranking of the lords and has the longest pause (one second, perhaps). These pauses are called Mafseek, which means pause in Hebrew. The trops were codified in the 8th century. Each word or phrase has a trop sign (sometimes two trop signs) indicating what its tune is. When reading from the Torah, and from Esther (as well as from the Prophets, in some synagogues), a scroll is used. There is no punctuation, vowels, or trop markings in the scroll, which is hand written. Other books of the Bible are usually read from a pointed text, that is, a regular book which has punctuation, vowels, and trop signs.

Helen Chuckrow writes about her research:

The most amazing thing I discovered when I began to research this was that there were so many traditions of biblical cantillation. In the early part of the 20th century, A. Z. Idelsohn collected the various traditions of Jewish music, both sacred and secular. His work, a multivolume one, contains musical notation for all the traditions of song, liturgy, and cantillation. Here can be found the Gibraltar tradition, the Italian tradition; there is even a place in southern France, Carpentraz, which has its own tradition of cantillation!

Helen Chuckrow can be reached at mafseek@bestweb.net.

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