Religion & Beliefs

Learn Some Trope, Make Some Cash

I went to a Jewish day school, (this one, specifically) and in third grade we had a weekly torah trope lesson with the school’s cantor. Trope are the cantillation marks that narrate how the Torah is chanted in synagogue. At … Read More

By / April 25, 2007

I went to a Jewish day school, (this one, specifically) and in third grade we had a weekly torah trope lesson with the school’s cantor. Trope are the cantillation marks that narrate how the Torah is chanted in synagogue. At eight, it was hard to take seriously, but I learned the basics, and read Torah a number of times every year from third through eighth grade. For my bat mitzvah I learned haftarah trope from my dad, and again, it was hard to get excited about, but pretty easy to do. Once I made myself available as a Torah reader at my shul I was often asked to participate in services, and eventually got a job reading Torah for a different congregation. The paid me a hundred bucks a week to learn the whole parsha (none of this triennial bullcrap for me) and then to chant for them on Saturday morning. At seventeen this was an awesome job. I was going to shul anyway, and I learned to memorize the trope pretty quickly, so it worked out to something like twenty bucks an hour. Plus, all the people at the shul where I read Torah thought I was the sweetest little Jewish girl ever. When I moved to Iowa I got paid to read there, too (seventy-five bucks to learn a third as much—sweet!), and a week into my time in Nashville the Conservative synagogue in town was already calling and asking if I could sub for the cantor when he was away. Learning trope may be a little boring, but it can be seriously lucrative, especially if you live in a smaller community without tons of Torah readers. At the very least, being a layner (someone who chants Torah) can get you a job as a tutor for bar and bat mitzvahs, which is a pretty sweet gig, too.

Besides the cash I liked how reading Torah every week forced me to have a relationship with text every week. I read the whole parsha several times as I was preparing, and it made me feel way closer to God and to the community to have this big responsibility of reading the words out loud for a room full of people. It sounds kind of corny, but I’ve found reading Torah at shul has done great things for my ability to connect with text. If you usually find shul boring and meaningless, this is a great way to counteract that. Learning or relearning trope isn’t particularly difficult, and there are tons of websites and computer programs that can help you, although personally I recommend finding someone from your community to work with you. But if you just can’t swing that, either because of time constraints or because you don’t know anyone who can help, head over to Ellie’s Torah Trop Tutor, created more than a decade ago by Ellie Wackerman. The website has mp3 files of all the different kinds of trope, and you can even order tapes of specific portions, if you want. It’s an awesome and free place to start. ORT also has a nice free program on their website. If you just want to learn a specific portion, not how to read and sing the trope, check out Cantor Stephanie Shore’s website, which has recordings of everything you might need. If you’re a little more ambitious and willing to spend some cash, the Kol Tor Chant the Bible software looks excellent. They have a really extensive demo available online and it has everything from games to help you learn the trope, to explanations of how the trope works. Trope Trainer is very popular and I know people who swear by it. There’s also BMitzvah Personal which is a little less extensive, but looks pretty good. It’s more geared towards learning one portion than learning the skill of Torah reading. For more Torah reading resources check out these listings, and then call your synagogue and find out where you can sign up.