The rootword for memory, (z-kh-r), springs up repeatedly in Jewish literature and liturgy, reminding us to remember. The first two times the root (zayin-khaf-resh), "to remember," appears in Scripture, God remembers Noah and the other living creatures in the ark: (va-yizkor elohim et noah), "And God remembered Noah..." Following the flood, God sets a rainbow in the heavens as a perpetual sign of his covenant with man: (ve-zakharti et briti), "I will remember my covenant." That memory is an attribute of God is further deduced from the name of the prophet (zekharyah), "whom God remembers."

From the number of times in the liturgy Rosh Hashanah is referred to as (yom ha-zikkaron), the Day of Remembrance, it is clear that remembering, by both God and man, is a central concept during the Days of Awe. In fact, an entire section of the liturgy, known as (zikhronot), remembrances, is comprised of biblical verses dealing with God's remembering. In the Israeli calendar, the day before Independence Day is also designated (yom ha-zikkaron), Memorial Day, in memory of the soldiers and citizens who fell in defense of the State of Israel.

In postbiblical Judaism, the root (z-kh-r) is used to show respect for both the Rabbis and God. The Rabbis of the Talmud are frequently referred to as (hazal), an acronym for (hakha-meinu zikhronam li-vrakhah), "our Sages, may their memory be for a blessing." The Rabbis often refer to the ineffable four-letter divine name as the (azkarah), an Aramaic word that is also used to denote a memorial ceremony. And let us not forget the (yizkor) service which, according to social scientist Daniel Bell, strengthens a Jew's ties to his people. "In the Yizkor, through memory, I am identified as a Jew," says Bell.

In his seminal book on Jewish historiography, entitled (zakhor) - "remember" in the imperative - historian Yosef Haim Yerushalmi of Columbia University argues that collective memory, (zikaron), was preserved through oral transmission and tradition, while in the modern period the formal writing of history takes on new significances. [See Yerushalmi's discussion of the Jewish historian's role in preserving collective memory in this issue. Ed.]

The first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, poignantly eulogized his wife Paula at her funeral, using the classic phrase from Jeremiah 2:2: (zakharti lakh hesed ne'urayikh), "I remember the affection of your youth."

Can a language be either pessimistic or optimistic? The forget-me-not, a flower that in English pleads negatively for love, is in Hebrew a (zikhrini), which asks one's beloved, in the most positive of terms, to "remember me."


Dr. Joseph Lowin is Executive Director of the National Center for the Hebrew Language (NY). He has written extensively (in both popular and scholarly formats) on Jewish narrative, modern Jewish literature, and Hebrew language. His most recent book is Hebrewspeak: An Insider's Guide to the Way Jews Think (Jason Aronson, 1995). You can visit his site at.

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