Monday, December 01, 2008

The Use of a Shalsheles

One of the rarest of the ta'amei ha-mikra used in Tanach is the Shalsheles. Shalshelaos[1] are used in only seven places in the 21 books of Tanach[2] (excluding the "Sifrei Emet" - Iyov, Mishlei, and Tehillim - which use a different system). Someone on a discussion list that I subscribe to asked why it is that all 7 instances are on the first word of a passuk. Answering this question requires a very brief summary of the use of ta'amei hamikra in the 21 books of Tanach.[3]

Despite the interesting derashos that are often brought on ta'amei ha-mikra[4], their primary purpose is the rather prosaic one of providing punctuation to the pesukim, in order to aid in their translation by indicating which modifiers are connected to which clauses.

Most pesukim are divided into two parts, each of which expresses a complete thought. The first part is concluded with an Esnachta, while the latter is concluded with a Siluk (colloquially known as a "Sof-Pasuk"). These two te'amim are the primary disjunctive te'amim, which indicate the primary breaks in the reading of the passuk.

Each of these two parts are subdivided into additional sections using te'amim, depending on their structure:

The secondary disjunctive te'amim, which are used to subdivide primary phrases in a passuk, are zakeif[5], tipecha (which is always the last disjunctive ta'am before a primary disjunctive ta'am), segol (which is often used at the head of a string of secondary disjunctive te'amim, more commonly as the string gets longer), and shalsheles (which I'll discuss at the end).

The tertiary disjunctive te'amim, which are used to subdivide secondary phrases within a passuk, are pashta (and its variant, y'tiv), zarka, revi'a[6], and t'vir[7].

The quaternary disjunctive te'amim, which are used to subdivide tertiary (or higher degree) phrases within a passuk, are geresh (aka azla-geresh), gershayim (which replaces geresh under situations that escape my memory), munach l'garmeih (the one that has a vertical bar that looks like a p'sik but isn't immediately following, which is associated with revi'a), pazeir, telisha gedolah, and karnei fara.

The conjunctive te'amim, which do not indicate breaks but rather flow directly into an immediate or remote disjunctive ta'am, are kadma, mahpach, munach, meircha, meircha chefulah, darga (associated with tevir), telisha ketanah, yerach ben yomo (associated with karnei farah).

Each terminal-level phrase will contain in it one disjunctive ta'am and any number (including zero) of preceding conjunctive te'amim.

If a secondary phrase has only two words in it, it may be subdivided into a tertiary phrase (e.g., pashta-zakeif) or it may not be (e.g., munach-zakeif, often incorrectly referred to as zakeif katon). If a secondary phrase has only one word in it, it, of course, cannot be subdivided. The same goes for any level of division.

If a zakeif-terminated secondary phrase has only one word in it, the zakeif-katon that is usually used will be converted into a zakeif-gadol. If a segol-terminated phrase has only one word in it, the segol will be converted into a shalsheles.

Hence, given that segolim are only used at the head of a chain of secondary phrases, and that the segol is replaced with a shalsheles only when this initial secondary phrase contains in it only a single word, it follows logically that a shalsheles can only fall on the first word of a passuk.

The question remains why, within minhag Ashkenaz[8], the musically simple segol is converted into what sounds like a super-duper pazeir.

[1] Shalshelos in Hebrew, but most of the te'amim have Aramaic names.
[2] Bereishis 19:16, 24:12, 39:8; Vayikra 8:19; Yeshaya 13:8; Amos 1:2; Ezra 5:15
[3] Summarized from Joshua Jacobson's _Chanting the Hebrew Bible: The Art of Cantillation_.
[4] See this article by R' Mois Navon for an example of such a drasha on the shalsheles. And see this post of mine regarding this phenomenon.
[5] A zakeif katon is solely the colon that appears on top of a word, not the combination of that ta'am with the right angle that sometime appears below a previous word, which is actually a munach.
[6] Not revi'i, fourth, but revi'a, the Aramaic cognate of roveitz, crouching, indicating its pausal role.
[7] Yes, this means that in a t'vir-tipecha combination, there should be a longer break following the tipecha than preceding it.
[8] In a comment on my above cited post, R' Joshua Maroof noted that in the Yerushalmi style of leining, the shalsheles is a very short note, as would be more expected.

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