IN LIGHT OF THIS WEEK BEING SHABBAT ZACHOR – SHABBAT OF MEMORY I’M REPOSTING THIS.
In the age of iPads, Blackberries and Google, a mind-boggling array of technologies allows us to easily organize and access information so that we no longer need rely solely on memory. But this has not always been the case. Joshua Foer’s fascination with the techniques that people once used to retain vast amounts of information led him to enter and win the 2006 U.S. Memory Championship and document the experience in his recently published Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Moment Editor Nadine Epstein sits down with Foer to discuss the historic relationship between Jews and memory, and the role that memory plays in shaping the Jewish mind.
Jews are known as the “People of the Book.” Before scribes began to write words on scrolls, were we the “People of Memory?”
Much more than being the “People of the Book” we remain the “People of Memory.” The Hebrew word for remember is in the Torah 169 times. There is a terrific book called Zakhor, by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, in which he argues that we are the only people on earth who elevated the act of remembering to a religious imperative. We are commanded constantly to remember this, remember that, don’t forget this, don’t forget that.
How did we remember before literacy became widespread?
Memory was highly valued in all cultures before there was literacy. Jews had an entire oral tradition that was passed down through memory. In fact, for a long time it was forbidden to write down the oral laws. There were actually individuals who were charged with remembering. Rabbis would consult with them and say, “Help me out, I’m missing this one piece of text” or “What did someone say once upon a time?” These guys would circulate from academy to academy just to make sure everybody had the same texts in mind.