Does Judaism provide and tips, tricks or rituals for improving memory or preventing forgetfulness?
I just remembered that I do know the answer to this question. In Eruvin 54, much advice is given on the topic, including:
- Learn out-loud -- Rabbi Shmuel said to Rav Yehuda: "Open your mouth when you learn written or oral Torah, in order that you will remember it and live a long time." Also, Rabbi Yitzhok said, "Torah is close to you when it is [audible] in your mouth and your heart [intends to fulfill it; alt. Maharsha - if it is audible in your mouth, you will remember it and be able to fulfill it]."
- Approach your learning with humility -- As Rava, citing the verse "Umi'Midbar Matanah umi'Matanah Nachli'el umi'Nachli'el Bamos...", taught: "When a person makes himself Hefker to all like a Midbar (wilderness), Torah is given to him as a gift; after this, it is like a Nachalah (inheritance) to him; then, he is elevated (Bamos); If he raises himself (becomes haughty), Hash-m lowers him - "Umi'Bamos ha'Gai (the canyon)"; if he repents [from his haughtiness], Hash-m raises him - "Kol Ge Yinasei".
- Repetition and Review -- G-d taught the Torah to Moses completely through four times; Moses then taught the Torah to just Aaron, then to Aaron and Elazar, then to Aaron, Elazar and the Elders, and then to Aaron, Elazar, the Elders and all of Israel. So Aaron learned it four times from Moses, Elazar learned it three times from Moses, the Elders heard it twice from Moses, and the congregation heard it once from him. Then Moses left and Aaron took over. Each group heard the Torah four times and taught it four times. RAbbi Eliezer learned from this that a student will retain his Torah if he hears it four times. While the Gemara doesn't go further, I would add that we can also learn from this that teaching the subject four times further solidifies the knowledge in one's own brain.
The Tif'eres Yisra'el (Bo'az, Avos 1:15) gives five points for success in learning and improving the memory:
Not to learn lazily (lying down, leaning, or eating when learning), and not to concentrate on things other than learning. A person should learn out loud to fix this. The gemara tells a story of someone who learned quietly and forgot all his learning after three years. A person shouldn't concern himself with his worries while learning. He shouldn't be extremely happy or sad, excluding the joy he feels because of the learning.
A person should be calm while learning. There should be no distractions in the room in which he is learning. The room should be spacy and have windows. The book from which he is learning should have a clear print.
A person shouldn't take breaks in the middle of learning one thing. A person also shouldn't switch from learning one thing to another so quickly; he should learn a maximum of three things a day. A person shouldn't switch from edition to edition of the same book, from room to room, or from spot to spot in the same room.
Understand the subject well. Once you understand it well, be able to memorize the main idea without looking in the book. A person who wants to make a speech in public should review it a few times the night before and a few times the morning of the speech.
Be in a place where there are no distractions. If you encounter a distraction, strengthen yourself to not pay attention to it.
In his commentary to Avos 2:14 (Yachin 129-131), he writes that a person needs three things for success in learning:
Review everything you learned the next day.
Be able to answer these questions: Who? What? To whom? When? Where? How? Why? Look in the thing you're learning and ask questions such as "Why did it have to use this extra word?" and try to answer them.
Concentrate solely on your learning and don't pay attention to any of your worries.
Also, in Avos 1:13, we learn that one who doesn't increase his learning will forget.
Horiyos 13b - olive oil is good for the memory. Also dipping the fourth finger in salt prior to Birchas haMazan and licking off the salt.
Yerushalmi Brachos Chapter 5 Halacha 1 - learning inside a Sefer is good for the memory.
Otzar Segulos page 9 - saying Zicharon L'Maaseh Braishis at Kiddush having in mind to help your memory.
Chagiga 9b learning 101 times.
R. Chaim Kanievsky wrote a kuntres about this, titled "Sefer ha-Zikaron," which can be found here.
There is an interesting book called Brain Power: Torah's timeless secrets to a stronger memory by Aharon Yehoshua Pessin (here online, and here to download). It has approbations from R Chaim Scheinberg, R Ovadia Yossef, R Asher Weiss, R Avigdor Neventzal and others.
The author introduces the book with
In many places in the writings of our Sages we learn of the severity of forgetting one’s Torah learning and the enormous effort that one must muster to retain it. We also find practical advice and many segulos on how to do this.
This guide is drawn from the vast wells of wisdom found in Chazal. It is a compilation of ideas from the Talmud, Midrashim, writings of rishonim and achronim, and Kabbalistic works. This book can serve as a companion and an inspirational tool to encourage one to review, which will lead to the retention of the Torah one has learned.
We have compiled here hundreds of recommendations, instructions and advice; and with the help of Hashem, one who will heed them will be able to diminish his forgetfulness and strengthen his memory.
Key chapters include
- Why We Forget
- Reviewing 101 Times
- Accelerating Our Learning
- Food for Thought
- Other Means and Measures
- Appropriate Prayers
He also brings answers to specific questions he asked R Chaim Kanievsky.
R Jonathan Rietti has an excellent book on Torah learning called the One minute masmid. In appendix D (p. 241) he brings 43 strategies recommended by Chazal to improve memory - with their sources. Here are the first 10 of those, see the book for more
- Constantly review your learning
- Read your learning out loud
- Sing your learning
- Engage your mind in the words as you speak
- Write down your own insights
- Make your own summary of your learning and then make a code work to represent that information
- Under-eating and avoiding food that does not support your health
- Learn in a modest way (without trying to impress others)
- Learn in a beit hamidrash or shul
- Learn lishma - with intent to apply what you learn