Memory and history: Liturgical time and historical time

History and Theory 41 (2):149–162 (2002)
This article investigates the differential structure and representation of time in memory and history. It examines two moments in Jewish historical thought--in the Middle Ages, and in works written within and after the Holocaust--and demonstrates the fundamentally liturgical nature of Jewish historical memory in selected texts from these two periods. Following the groundbreaking work of Yerushalmi, it seeks to demonstrate that for Jews, historical experience is incorporated into the cyclical reenactment of paradigmatic events in Jewish sacred ritual. Recent or contemporary experiences acquire meaning only insofar as they can be subsumed within Biblical categories of events and their interpretation bequeathed to the community through the medium of Scripture, that is to say, only insofar as they can be transfigured, ritually and liturgically, into repetitions and reenactments of ancient happening. In such liturgical commemoration, the past exists only by means of recitation; the fundamental goal of such recitation is to make it live again in the present, to fuse past and present, chanter and hearer, into a single collective entity. History, in the sense that we understand it to consist of unique events unfolding within irreversible linear time, is absorbed into cyclical, liturgical memory.This article argues that the question of Jewish history--both medieval and post-Holocaust--poses in a compelling fashion the question of the relationship between memory and history more generally, and serves to contest the current tendency in academic historiography to collapse history into memory. It claims that to the extent that memory "resurrects," " re-cycles," and makes the past "reappear" and live again in the present, it cannot perform historically, since it refuses to keep the past in the past, to draw the line, as it were, that is constitutive of the modern enterprise of historiography
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DOI 10.1111/0018-2656.00196
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