2

This is definitely not to imply that anyone who gets Alzheimer's or has memory issues is being judged for sin. Who knows the ways of Hashem in every situation? But in some cases, we see in Tanakh that if someone sins badly with the eyes, they might suffer blindness and other examples of measure for measure judgments and cause and effect.

Do our sources mention possible causes of memory loss?

4 Answers 4

5

I can think of two blemishes that can cause this:

(1) Anger. Pesachim 66b instructs that a sage who becomes angry loses his wisdom.

(2) Not fearing Hashem or not doing enough good deeds. ‘Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa said: anyone whose fear of sin precedes his wisdom, his wisdom is enduring, but anyone whose wisdom precedes his fear of sin, his wisdom is not enduring. He [also] used to say: anyone whose deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom is enduring, but anyone whose wisdom exceeds his deeds, his wisdom is not enduring.’ (Pirkei Avos 3:9)

P.S. Please do not think me a renegade; I am a Gentile, and just minding the shop while others are away.

P.P.S. To the moderators: I’m happy to field Gentiles’ questions, if I can, during Yomim tovim if no one else can / is willing. I’m unemployed - I’d be happy for the work ;)

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  • Apology for, and questions related to this post, posted here: judaism.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5478/…
    – Tom W
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 17:56
  • 2
    Shana Tova! Actually, I think Avos 3:9 is to be taken literally concerning the word חָכְמָה - chochmah - wisom. As far as I know, there aren't mefarshim that translate this as memory. Same with Pesachim 66b.
    – Shmuel
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 18:40
  • @Shmuel - thanks, I stand corrected :) As you can see from the linked Meta post I got in a bit of a mess on MY today. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this Noachide / Yom Tov MY business!
    – Tom W
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 19:04
2

Shabbat 147b features one version of a certain story about Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh. In this version, he forgets all of the Torah he learned because he was drawn to places with quality wine (Perugaita) and hot water baths (Deyomset):

"The Gemara relates that once Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh happened to come there, to Perugaita1 and Deyomset,2 and he was drawn after them, and his Torah learning was forgotten. When he returned, he stood to read from a Torah scroll and was supposed to read the verse: “This month shall be for you [haḥodesh hazeh lakhem]” (Exodus 12:2), but he had forgotten so much that he could barely remember how to read the Hebrew letters, and instead he read: Have their hearts become deaf [haḥeresh haya libbam], interchanging the similar letters reish for dalet, yod for zayin, and beit for khaf. The Sages prayed and asked for God to have mercy on him, and his learning was restored."

Another version appears in Kohelet Rabbah 7:7, where Rabbi Elazar follows his wife to Emmaus. None of his friends come with him and he eventually comes to forget basic laws:

"Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai had five disciples. As long as he was alive, they would sit before him. When he died, they went to Yavne, but Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh went to his wife in Emmaus, a place with good water [/beautiful waters] and a beautiful view. He waited for them to come to him, but they did not come. When they did not come, he sought to go to them, but his wife did not allow him to do so. She said: ‘Who is in need of whom?’ He said to her: ‘They are in need of me.’ She said to him: ‘A leather container [of food] and mice, which typically goes to which; the mice to the container, or the container to the mice?’ He heeded her and remained until he forgot his learning. Sometime later they came to him and asked him: ‘A wheat loaf or a barley loaf, which can be eaten faster with a relish?’ He did not know how to respond to them, or the meaning of “with relish [liftan].” Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yosei say: It is two food items joined [lefutin] together.

It should be noted that two other versions of this story appear in Avot D'Rabbi Natan version A and B (see here) but neither specifically say that he forgot his Torah learning. They just say that he did not become great in the field of Torah because he went to Dimsit2/Emmaus because of their 'beautiful waters'. It has been suggested by Judah Goldin in his Hebrew essay "משהו על בית מדרשו של רבן יוחנן בן זכאי" (Something About the Study Hall of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai), The Tzvi Wolfson Jubilee Book, pp. 79-80 that these 'beautiful waters' symbolize study material that wasn't considered entirely acceptable in rabbinic circles, i.e., Hellenistic philosophical studies.3

These stories contain a lot of symbolism and a number of essays have discussed them. One particularly key point is, with regards to your question, that the Torah has also been compared to water (see for example Bava Kamma 82a, Taanit 7a, Beresheet Rabbah 41:9), so it seems that going after other sorts of 'watery' pleasures (whether physical or intellectual) brings about loss of truly important 'water' - Torah.


1 There are different views as to which place this name refers to. Sefaria translated it as Phrygia, but there are equally plausible suggestions that it refers to somewhere in the Galilee or in Transjordan.

2 Though in Shabbat 147b and Avot D'Rabbi Natan version A Deyomset/Dimsit is presented as a place-name, the word literally means 'hot water bath'.

3 Goldin also published an English version of this essay: J. Goldin, 'A Philosophical Session in a Tannaite Academy', Traditio 21 (1965), pp. 1-21 (JSTOR link) but I was not able to find this particular idea mentioned there, though it's possible I missed it. The Hebrew essay is not available online to my knowledge, but I can provide a scan if it interests you.

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  • I like yours, Dov's, and Shalom's answers. I would also like Tom W's but comments are saying he mistranslated "Wisdom" for "Memory" so until that gets cleared up for sure I can't say. Your answer has specifics and looks like a lot of time put into it and the most sources, Shalom's also good specifics & time and sources, and Dov's is short but mentions another important source that covers so much. I appreciate all of them. Will prob award you the answer barring someone else answering (even more) because you researched so much. I wish I could award multiple answers, but voted up all three anyway Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:30
  • In case this jogs anyone's memories for anything they think is worth adding, I believe I can recall a little myself about at least the word forgetting itself, which is that forgetfulness has relationship to Amalek, and the words "troubled," and "snow" (because of gematria of shelag and shichah), and Manasheh (neshiyah). I also recall a teaching that when Moshe broke the tablets it brought forgetfulness to the world. Also remember barley creates forgetfulness. If anyone has more worth adding when seeing that, plz comment. Otherwise post as you would have. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:31
  • Lastly maybe someone can tell me a way to answer to all 3 of these answers at once. I didnt know how so I copy pasted these comments below all three answers. It's not ideal though because I think it will be annoying for people reading the thread. I would like to find a better way in the future. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:32
  • Also, maybe this warrants a separate question, but can Hashem get alzheimers? Deut I think it was posted that Ohr HaChaim states for the sake of our free will, when we attain knowledge, Hashem forgets it, paraphrasing. There is also the concept that our sins harm not just the physical realm but the spiritual realm. Could this harm manifest in hurting the memory of some levels of Hashem? Not suggesting the essence of Hashem could be changed this way, or He wouldnt be in control, but the question would be can some levels be caused forgetfulness and up to what level and in what way for what sins? Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:38
  • @ShipBuilding you know, you don't have to select an answer if you think all answers work. And if you leave the question open it may bring others to provide more sources.
    – Harel13
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:53
2

I don't like assuming everything is a straight punishment, but there's a slightly different lesson the Ramban notes in the ethical letter to his son: don't get conceited about how smart you are, as God can take it away:

וּבַמֶה יִתְגָּאֵה לֵב הָאָדָם? ... וְאִם מִתְפָּאֵר בְּחָכְמָה: "מֵסִיר שָֹפָה לְנֶאֱמָנִים, וְטַעַם זְקֵנִים יִקַח" (איוב יב כ). נִמְצָא: הַכָּל שָׁוֶה לִפְנֵי הַמָּקוֹם, כִּי בְאַפּוֹ מַשְׁפִּיל גֵּאִים, וּבִרְצוֹנוֹ מַגְבִּיהַ שְׁפָלִים. לָכֵן הַשְׁפִּיל עַצְמְךָ, וִינַשַֹּאֲךָ הַמָּקוֹם.

About what could a person feel hubris? If he basks in his wisdom, Job 12:20 says God takes speech away from the trusted, and reason from the elders. All are equal before God, as in His anger he can bring the haughty low, and as he wills, raise those who are down. Therefore view yourself as lowly, and let God lift you up.

I heard one rabbi explicitly say this referred to Alzheimer's.

3
  • I like Harel13, Dov, and your answers. I would also like Tom W's but comments are saying he mistranslated "Wisdom" for "Memory" so until that gets cleared up for sure I can't say. Harel13's answer has specifics and looks like a lot of time put into it and the most sources, yours also good specifics & time and sources, and Dov's is short but mentioned another important source that covers so much. I appreciate all of them. Will prob award Harel the answer barring someone else answering because he researched so much. I wish I could award multiple answers, but voted up all three anyway. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:26
  • In case this jogs anyone's memories for anything they think is worth adding, I believe I can recall a little myself about at least the word forgetting itself, which is that forgetfulness has' relationship to Amalek, and the words "troubled," and "snow" (because of gematria of shelag and shichah), and Manasheh (neshiyah). I also recall a teaching that when Moshe broke the tablets it brought forgetfulness to the world. Also remember barley creates forgetfulness. If anyone has more worth adding when seeing that, plz comment. Otherwise post as you would have. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:26
  • Also, maybe this warrants a separate question, but can Hashem get alzheimers? Deut I think it was posted that Ohr HaChaim states for the sake of our free will, when we attain knowledge, Hashem forgets it, paraphrasing. There is also the concept that our sins harm not just the physical realm but the spiritual realm. Could this harm manifest in hurting the memory of some levels of Hashem? Not suggesting the essence of Hashem could be changed this way, or He wouldnt be in control, but the question would be can some levels be caused forgetfulness and up to what level and in what way for what sins? Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:38
2

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov brings down in his Sefer Hamiddos:

עַל־יְדֵי נִאוּף מְאַבֵּד אֶת הַזִּכָּרוֹן - Immoral behavior causes one to lose his memory.


UPDATE

In addition to just general memory loss, there are several sources that point to certain actions that lead to forgetfulness in Torah.

In Horayos 13b it details a series of food items that can lead to forgetfulness in Torah:

ת"ר חמשה דברים משכחים את הלימוד האוכל ממה שאוכל עכבר וממה שאוכל חתול והאוכל לב של בהמה והרגיל בזיתים והשותה מים של שיורי רחיצה והרוחץ רגליו זו על גבי זו ויש אומרים אף המניח כליו תחת מראשותיו חמשה דברים משיבים את הלימוד פת פחמין וכל שכן פחמין עצמן והאוכל ביצה מגולגלת בלא מלח והרגיל בשמן זית והרגיל ביין ובשמים והשותה מים של שיורי עיסה ויש אומרים אף הטובל אצבעו במלח ואוכל

§ The Sages taught in a baraita: There are five factors that cause one to forget his Torah study: One who eats from that which a mouse eats and from that which a cat eats, and one who eats the heart of an animal, and one who is accustomed to eating olives, and one who drinks water that remains from washing, and one who washes his feet with this foot atop that foot. And some say: Also, one who places his garments under his head. Correspondingly, there are five factors that restore forgotten Torah study: Eating bread baked on coals and all the more so one who warms himself with the heat of the coals themselves, and one who eats a hard-boiled egg [beitza megulgelet] without salt, and one who is accustomed to eating olive oil, and one who is accustomed to drinking wine and smelling spices, and one who drinks water that remains from kneading dough. And some say: Also, one who dips his finger in salt and eats it. (Sefaria translation & notation)

It is interesting to note that some of this is codified in halacha. Refer to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 32:9

You should not eat the heart of an animal or bird, because it is harmful to your memory. Similarly, do not eat from a place where a rat or a cat has bitten, for that too is harmful to your memory.

In Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim 4:18 it speaks out about failure to wash one's hands in certain scenarios which can also lead to one forgetting their Torah learning:

The following things require washing the hands in water [after them]: One who rises from bed, goes out of the bathroom, or of the bath house, one who cuts his nails, takes off his shoes, touches his feet, or washes his head, some say: also one who goes among the dead, or touched the dead, one who cleanses his clothes of lice, has sexual intercourse, touches a louse, or touches his body with his hand. Anyone doing any of these and not washing his hands, if he is a scholar, his studies are forgotten, and if he is not a scholar, he goes out of his mind.

Finally, in Kiddushin 33b it writes:

אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר כׇּל תַּלְמִיד חָכָם שֶׁאֵין עוֹמֵד מִפְּנֵי רַבּוֹ נִקְרָא רָשָׁע וְאֵינוֹ מַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים וְתַלְמוּדוֹ מִשְׁתַּכֵּחַ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְטוֹב לֹא יִהְיֶה לָרָשָׁע וְלֹא יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים כַּצֵּל אֲשֶׁר אֵינֶנּוּ יָרֵא מִלִּפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים

§ Rabbi Elazar said: Any Torah scholar who does not stand before his teacher is called wicked, and he will not live a long life, and his studies will be forgotten, as it is stated: “But it shall not be well for the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before [millifnei] God” (Ecclesiastes 8:13).

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  • I like Harel13, yours, and Shalom's answers. I would also like Tom W's but comments are saying he mistranslated "Wisdom" for "Memory" so until that gets cleared up for sure I can't say. Harel13's answer has specifics and looks like a lot of time put into it and the most sources, Shalom's also good specifics & time and sources, and yours is short but mentions another important source that covers so much. I appreciate all of them. Will prob award Harel the answer barring someone else answering because he researched so much. I wish I could award multiple answers, but voted up all three anyway. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:29
  • In case this jogs anyone's memories for anything they think is worth adding, I believe I can recall a little myself about at least the word forgetting itself, which is that forgetfulness has' relationship to Amalek, and the words "troubled," and "snow" (because of gematria of shelag and shichah), and Manasheh (neshiyah). I also recall a teaching that when Moshe broke the tablets it brought forgetfulness to the world. Also remember barley creates forgetfulness. If anyone has more worth adding when seeing that, plz comment. Otherwise post as you would have. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 1:29
  • 1
    @ShipBuilding - I added a bunch more sources with other things. I hope that does the job :-)
    – Dov
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 7:30
  • Thanks! I am just reading through it now, but came across a curiosity in paragraph 1. It says "forget their Torah study" but what about in general. Since Torah observant Jews would really never eat such things, and non-Jews don't study the Torah, it creates a grey area, like if a non-Jew ate the heart of an animal, or something against the Noahide laws, would they lose their memory generally? Or because they don't study Torah, and it only says people would lose Torah memory from this, then they have none of that to forget in the first place, therefore would not lose any memory generally? Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 8:32
  • The next paragraph says it causes memory loss in general, so it answers half of that. But since it's halachah would it only apply to Jews? If you know the Noahide ruling off hand on this I am curious as well, otherwise I dont ask you take even more time to look it up. Thank you! Very much for your answers! Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 8:35

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