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Chronoi Talks "Memory, Body, and Community"

January 27, 2020


Dr. Reuven Kiperwasser (Hebrew University of Jerusalem/Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation, Visiting Lecturer)

According to the typical rabbinic approach, knowledge must be accompanied by understanding. However, the learning process at the rabbinic academy involved the cultivation of memory training, basically based on constant repetitions, without the necessity of understanding, on this stage of learning. Thus, loss of memory perceived as a disaster and a serious problem for the rabbinic career. 

In antiquity, memory was thought to have a physiological basis. While the theories underlying this conception ranged from Aristotelian psychology to practical medicine, it was understood that memory was directly related to the makeup and composition of the body and physical mind. In rabbinic culture, memory is a link between the body and the mind: it has roots in the body, and it is a crucially important component of the mind, as I aim to show.

Besides the collision between remembering and forgetting on a personal level, deep in the heart of rabbinic culture, as ongoing Leitmotiv, exists the constant fear that the Torah will go to oblivion. The danger of forgetting the knowledge is not only threatening the individual scholar, but it is general, national and cosmical. I will first analyze stories from rabbinic literature about personal experiences of rabbis who forgot their knowledge under certain circumstances and then used certain techniques for getting it back. 

Through all these, I want as well to ask the following questions: how does memory represent the past as past? Followed by: is this sort of memory conscious? What function is fulfilled by an explicit representation of past experience? Asking these questions, I want to bear in mind the modern distinction between memory and recollection. I aim to analyze if in rabbinic thought, in the absence of the terms differentiating between the memory and recollection,there is awareness of the processes of transformation of the memory image and the doubts regarding the “this existed” were expressed.


Einstein Center Chronoi

Otto-von-Simson-Str. 7

14195 Berlin

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