Q. What is the origin of the chants used for the Torah?
The sages insisted that the Scriptures be read tunefully. The Talmud itself is also generally read in a tuneful way, with the voice showing that a question is being asked or a debate is becoming emotional. However, unlike Scriptural cantillation, there is no fixed tune to which the student of Talmud must adhere.
At first the melodic format for the Bible was maintained without written notation. In time, the texts were furnished with neginot or ta’amim – signs that, like vowels, accompany the printed versions but cannot be written on the Sefer Torah itself. These signs indicate how to group words together, raise or lower one’s voice, provide a rhythm and convey the drama of what is being read.
In the traditional view, the cantillation system (but not the specific note forms) dates back to Mount Sinai.