Sunday, June 26, 2005


Over Shabbat I read Shlomo Naeh's article in Mehqerei Talmud 3. It is dedicated to the art of memory and its traces in Hazal. He focuses on two techniques - visualising a mental image of a book, and creating conceptual compartments to hold different categories of knowledge.

As he mentions at the end (p. 587), this emphasis on visual metaphors is not exclusive, and there are statements of the Rabbis which utilize the sounds of learning as a way to remember. But, nevertheless, this is a far cry from the "Jewish auditory logic" expounded by the Nazir, R David Cohen. Naeh shows how visually the Tannaim conceived of their learning.

Which touches on a hidden struggle between the pages of this collection of studies. Because Naeh believes that, while much of their learning was done by memory, Hazal had access to written books (see n. 64). While Jacob Sussman's long essay was devoted to his claim that the rabbinic tradition was not committed to writing until the 6th century, at the earliest.

Traces of this tradition of memorizing can be found in Jewish culture even later, at a time when books were being written in dizzying numbers. One of the most prolific of the Geonim was R Samuel b Hofni. He wrote dozens of monographs on topics halachic and philosophical. One of his books, which has been published only partially, is his Introduction to the Talmud. Liber Prooemium Talmudis, as it is called in the Latin title of the Mekitze Nirdamim edition (edited by Shraga Abramson, Jerusalem 1990), which includes the Judeo-Arabic original and a Hebrew translation with notes.

The 143rd chapter (there were 145 altogether - Abramson published six of them) of Mavo ha-Talmud is devoted to Talmudic terminology. R Samuel explains there that he arranged his lexicon in alphabetical order "for whoever wants to remember them, and to make it easier for someone looking for them" (p. 163). The secondary reason is for ease of access. The primary one is to help those who would commit his entire lexicon to memory.


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