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It has a name –?!?

I was previewing this (reasonably good, and free!) second-grade Chumash workbook on and I was puttering along through a preview of the book when I came upon this page:


And I was like, “what the heck is an esnachta?”  Let alone drawing one.  Let alone finding one.

Now, don’t laugh if you have known this since birth – this must happen to baalei teshuvah all the time.  Because it turns out I do know what an esnachta (etnachta, to some) is… the thingamabob I have always thought of as the “spur,” the rodeo-inspired doohickey I gradually worked out for myself over a period of not days or weeks but YEARS. 

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you will – you’ve seen them all over the place in the Chumash.  It’s the little red thing underneath this word:

That’s an Esnachta.  The word, and the doohickey. 

All on my own, I learned that besides being trop (Torah cantillation marks), which I usually ignore, it was ALSO crucial grammatical Torah punctuation which – natcherly – they never bothered telling us about in Hebrew school.  Crucial because it helps divide sentences that otherwise run on and fail to make sense.  So of course they’d want to introduce it near the beginning of a student’s Torah education.  By the way, I was wrong; I’ve come to understand that trop is entirely logical and grammatical – in Hebrew, it’s called ta’amei hamikra / טעמי המקרא – the “flavours” of the reading, with their musical attributes being completely inseparable from their grammatical connotation.

In the same way that I wouldn’t try to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe without commas, periods, parentheses, etc. (“hadnt we all better to go bed said lucy there’s sure to be a row if were heard talking here”), you shouldn’t read through the Torah without at least glancing at the trop. 

And just like commas do, each of the little punctuation thingies have their own name.  I  just never, ever thought about it before.  So now I am having a crazy BT moment of clarity.  I knew about it, but never knew it had a name and would never have emphasized my ignorant non-FFB’ness by actually asking anyone.  Ever ever ever.

But now I know, and apparently, in the FFB world, this is required knowledge to get past Grade 2.  Figures. 

I wonder what else is out there that I just don’t know…

Post-script:  Just asked one of the Big Kids who happened to be wandering through and this particular big kid said, “What?  Oh, the wishbone-thingy!”  So now I don’t feel too bad.  I mean, except for the $1000s wasted on his/her Jewish education.


  1. Hmm. Didn't learn it in Grade Two, but I'm not FFB (hey, I'm not even F!) and I learned it before my Bat Mitzvah. Hmm... under-appreciated advantage of girls learning trope?

  2. Yeah, I almost mentioned that I didn't learn trop (or trope) despite laining at my Bat. I just had the standard maftir / haftorah booklet and learned what was in there. No way to generalize to other sections of the Torah. It was the heyday of the cassette recorder, and even the aged cantor just popped in a tape and recorded his own voice for me to memorize.

  3. I was just complaining to my husband how nobody taught me trop or basic punctuation. I as taught about etnachta, and taught to stop at it, but those other pauses ( the diamond and two dots), those I encountered much later. I am teaching my 8yo to stop at those places in his translation of a pasuk.
    And I am hoping to learn trop, not for laining, but for teaching it to my kids.

  4. @breathingspace - thanks for stopping by again! My son's teacher taught him the trop first and I'm always amazed at how quickly he can pick up & lain a new parsha. Like, in *minutes*. vs me who needs to hear it sung over and over and over. I know he's smarter, but I still think this is important stuff for all kids - not just boys - to learn.


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