The mnemonic of the Ramchal

Having found the Sefer hadiqduq of the Ramchal, I began to study it with a sephardi scholar at the kollel Bobov. The kehila of Antwerp is well-known for his friendly atmosphere.

The tree structure of the Sefer hadiqduq is eye-catching and even ear-catching.

But we remarked some inconsistencies and some phrases without real significance, the kind of phrases that you can find in conversation but not in a book. The Rav Brieger writes in his introduction that he used two different manuscripts written by the talmidim of the Ramchal.

At the first sight, I was a little bit disappointed but I understood that this sefer gives a  living picture of the structured memory of the Ramchal.

Let’s have a trip in Amsterdam in the years 1730. We are in a classroom of the portuguese synagogue. The Ramchal teaches diqduq to his talmidim. He does not have a book or manuscript. He has everything in his mind’s eye and he dictates to his talmidim.

I think it is a proof that the Derech Tevunos is not a book about logic but about mnemonic or, more exactly, about ramist mnemonic, a mnemonic based on logic unlike the ciceronian mnemonic, also called method of loci, based on visualization of three dimensional images.

A bit of history : In 1966, Dame Frances Yates, researcher at the Warburg Institute publishes a book called The Art of Memory and the world discovers a forgotten science.

The Greeks and the Romans, as any traditional cultures, attached special significance to memory. Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, was the mother of the nine muses, the goddesses of sciences and arts. Since the rise of modern science, memory seems to be just a tool and with the rise of computers, memory seems to be obsolete.

The traditional Art of Memory is based on the use of mental three dimensional images. The orator or the poet builds in his memory such images where he attaches the topics and the words of his texts. The Art of Memory was used first and foremost for composition. Poets like Petrarch and Dante Alighieri gave very precise information about how they used the Art in their works. The Ramchal knew those authors because he studied latin and italian authors with the Rav Isaac Chayyim Cantarini.

In the middle ages, the Art of Memory was used by theologians and when printing came, a lot of textbooks about the Art became available. The baroque aesthetics produced huge catalogs of images that are sometimes quite weird and therefore inadequate for bnei torah…

You can find here a very funny Memory Palace designed by Robert Fludd to teach music theory. Perhaps some user interface designers could find here some inspiration…

Came a reaction : Pierre de la Ramée, a devout protestant, was horrified by the use of images. He build a mnemonic based on logic by using the tree structure as fundamental pattern.

And then the Ramchal discovered the Ramist mnemonic, a natural mnemonic for a brain trained by the gemara. This has been proven by Charles Manekin in his seminal paper On Moses Hayyim Luzzatto’s Logic and on Ramist Influence in His Writings.

By the way, the tree structure was known by the Ramchal since his childhood. We can see a tree used for the classification of metaphors in his Leshon Limudim (on the page 84 of the pdf). A book about rhetoric and poetics he wrote at the age of 17 when he was in Padua.

The Derech Tevunos is therefore a book about mnemonic : how to organize memory by the logical analysis of the texts to be learned.

A framework to ease the analysis of the gemara

This framework is just a method to parse the text in a tabular form in order to ease understanding, memorization and communication.

This method is neutral : it does not imply a particular hashkafa.

The basic idea is explained by the Ramchal zt”l in the Derech tevunos.

The idea of a tabular structure comes from the theory of relational databases.

Here a text becoming viral in the Kollel Bobov and other hot places in Antwerp.

And here my commentary of Bava Kamma 2a.

Leshon limudim veDerech chochma

Last night, divine p.rovidence allowed me to find two books of the Ramchal that my heart had long desired but my hands could not reach.

At the Kollel Bobov, I see a light on the first floor. I look and I see shelves of books! Thousands of books !

In a moment, I am on the spot. A delicious scent of old books greets me ! I am in the same state as Duvid when he saw Bat Sheva for the first time (the text (II Samuel 11) says that she came out of her bath) !

A young chossid said he has to close because his wife is waiting for him. He says that the library is accessible only by appointment and it gives me a phone number. I leave the place backwards to still enjoy a few moments of this edenic vision.

And my eyes fall on books of the Ramchal ! I have just enough time to acquire two of them. I arrive at the Kollel. I have in my hands the Leshon Limoudim and Derech chochma. Burich shaïm kovoïd le oïlom vued !

It was at the age of seventeen that the Ramchal wrote the Leshon Limoudim , a treatise on rhetoric which, unlike its Latin counterparts, is not trying to teach eloquence to ambitious youngsters looking for prominent positions but to teach how to read prophetic books. (The Pirqe Avos teaches that it is better to be at the tail of the foxes that to be at the head of lions and Julius Caesar said that it is better to be first among the barbarians than second among the Romans.)

The book’s title comes from a pussik of Yeshaya (50,4) : ה’ נָתַן לִי לְשׁוֹן לִמּוּדִים, לָדַעַת לָעוּת אֶתיָעֵף (Hashem gave me the tongue of them that are taught, that I should know how to sustain with words him that is weary)

The Leshon limoudim teaches, among others, rules of versification and different types of metaphors classified by keys that come from the Kabbalah.

With the Leshon Limoudim the Ramchal continues the process of kasherisation of the Seven Liberal Arts (liberals because they are studied by love of knowledge and not for practical application). The Ramchal wrote about the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) but not about the Quadrivium (Algebra, Geometry, Astronomy, Music).

The kasherisation of the Trivium started at the time of the Middle Ages with Yehuda Messer Leon Mantua (Messer means physician in the language of this time). He gave to his books very poetic titles :

– Livnat hasapir (The Pavement of sapphire) : Grammar

– Miklal Yoffi (The Perfection of beauty) : Logic

– Nofet Tsufim (Honeycomb’s flow) : Rhetoric

The titles of the last two books come from Tehilim. The first title comes from the vision of Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the seventy elders of Israel (Mishpatim 24, 10).

Messer Leon lived in the fifteenth century and he was inspired by scholasticism for logic and by Cicero and Quintilian for rhetoric. The wind of the Renaissance blows and everyone is passionate about recently rediscovered latin classics.

Latin and Italian sources of the Ramchal are more difficult to identify because he never cites foreign authors (a wise precaution because you can study his books today in the fiercest orthodox institutions). We know that he studied chol since his childhood with Rabbi Isaac Cantarini. Everything seems to indicate that the readings of the Ramchal were very eclectic.

The Derech chochmah was composed during the stay in Amsterdam. It is a dialogue that exposes the utility of the study of logic. The Ramchal writes that a yid must share its study into two parts : the traditional teachings and the “universal method of seeking truth” that is, of course, higayone : logic !

The Ramchal and Pierre de la Ramée

In his works written in Amsterdam, the Ramchal followed the ramist method.

This is obvious to anyone who knows the ramism and this has been proved by irrefutable argument.

The Ramchal himself says in the introduction to his Sefer hahigayone he used a book written in another language. This book has been identified by Professor Charles Manekin. This is a treatise on logic written in Latin according to ramist principles.

Pierre de la Ramée lived in Paris in the sixteenth century. He was a logician and a teacher. Protestant, he was killed in the Saint Barthelemy. He reformed the pedagogy of his time.

His method is simple. He organizes the topics in a tree, a data structure that is now familiar.

In this way, the klalim (general principles) are always presented before pratim (derived principles).

This allows the Ramchal to realize his grand vision : to make judaism a deductive science.

What says the halacha ?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 224: 6-7) reports two blessings :

– To the sages of Israel : “Blessed are You … who shared his wisdom with those who fear You”
– To the sages of the nations : “Blessed are You … who has given of His wisdom to humans”

According to the Mishnah Berura, the blessing on the sages of the nations is about the seven liberal arts (the school curriculum in the antiquity and in the Middle Ages) :

– The Trivium : grammar, logic, rhetoric
– The Quadrivium : algebra, geometry, astronomy, music

The kasherisation the trivium had already a long history before the Ramchal. The Vilna Gaone worked for the kasherisation of the quadrivium.

The writings of the Italian period do not carry the ramist fingerprint because Pierre de la Ramée was a protestant : in catholic countries, his teachings were not broadcast whereas, in protestant countries, Ramism supplanted scholasticism.

Sefer haDiqduq leRamchal

The Ramchal zt”l wrote the Sefer haDiqduq in 5303 in Amsterdam.

But this treatise was edited for the first time twenty years ago by the Rav Elazar Brieger of Brooklyn who wrote a commentary. An important event for the medaqdeqim – the students of the diqduq (the hebrew grammar) !

I knew for a long time that the Ramchal wrote a treatise on grammar and I learned a few months ago the existence of the edition of the Rouv Elouzer but I was unable to find this book.

To find it, I sent dozens of men worldwide. For months, they drew a blank. And the book was found in the house just in front of mine ! Boru’h Hashem !

Anyway …

As in all his treatises written during his stay in Amsterdam, the Ramchal uses the ramist method.

Pierre de la Ramée is a French logician of the sixteenth century who routinely used the tree diagrams like Ramist diagramthe one you can see here. This graph was all the rage at the time. Everyone loved them. The tree diagrams are now ubiquitous in logic and linguistics. They allow to represent easily and naturally the whole hierarchy of concepts from what is first to what is derived : the whole to its parts, the premises to the conclusions, the principles to their applications, the rules to their exceptions, the terms to their definitions, etc.

A science exposed according to ramist manner is thus structured as a tree. Which greatly facilitates learning, understanding and memorization. This requires some effort to the author but it provides great comfort to the reader.

In 5303 (1742), the Ramchal wrote in fact a complete Trivium to the use of his talmidim of the Yeshiva Etz Haym in Amsterdam:
– Grammar : Sefer haDiqduq
– Logic : Dere’h tevounos and Sefer haHigayone (I think that the first book is actually a treatise on Mnemonic but I am perhaps alone in the world to believe that.)
– Rhetoric : Sefer haMelitza

For French speaking readers, the best start for the logic of the Ramchal is, at present, the translation of Dere’h tevunos of Rabbi Yo’hanan of Yerushalayim published under the name La logique du talmud. Unlike his American colleagues who translated this sefer in English, Rabbi Lederman knows ramism !

Not very long ago, the haredim were afraid of Diqduq because it reminded them the time the Haskalah used historical criticism to try to destroy the tradition. But nowadays, the Diqduq is coming back in the haredi world. The maskilim disappeared because their descendants are assimilated and they are not interested in Diqduq. Knowing the great zeal with which sifrei Ramchal are studied by haredim and by the dati leumi, one can be certain that the Sefer haDiqduq will also be part of the program studies.

It is surprising that this book of Ramchal took so long to know the honors of printing. But the Sefer haHigayone was not printed until 1896 and Sefer haMelitza was printed after the war. It is very surprising that these books written for ba’hurim took so long time to be known. The history of the reception of the Sifrei Ramchal has many mysteries.