Memorial Evening 2019

5779/2019 Memorial Evening of learning

The Memorial Evening of Learning to mark the twenty-fourth Yahrzeit of Etta Ehrman Kossowsky z.l. bat moreinu haRav Zvi Ehrman z.l. was held on motzaei Shabbat Mishpatim, February 2nd 2019 in Bet Shemesh.

Esther Ehrman


Esther Ehrman, Etta’s mother, welcomed everyone, and especially the guest speaker, Dr Charlotte Katzoff, a distinguished Bible scholar, emeritus member of Bar Ilan University. Esther mentioned, once again, the many reasons for our Torah learning, singling out the fact that the more we learn about historic events, the easier it becomes to identify with our Jewish personality; the classic case is Yetziyat Mitzrayim, our childhood, as it were; another example could be Temple times, the period of our education, when, as Maimonides suggests, sacrifices taught us how to be weaned from idol worship. Esther wondered whether it was possible to identify with the time of our forefathers, before we had a national identity. Esther reported that 2 new Etta Kossowsky study groups were about to start, one in Yerucham and one in Modi’in. She mentioned that the finances of the Fund were winding down, but still enabled us to continue for a while.

Michi Kossowsky


Michi Kossowsky opened the learning with a devar Torah about the different role of our rational and our intuitive self in the conduct of our lives. His source was the book, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. The book questions the belief that our rational self is in control; just as a rider on a wild elephant thinks he is directing the animal, when actually it is the elephant who determines matters, driven by intuition. Reason tends to justify reality and that makes it less capable of influencing others, since their intuitive values have been rationally justified in a different direction. As Jews, we celebrate the intuitive self on the upcoming festival of Purim, drowning out our rational values of right and wrong (Haman and Mordechai) with drinking. On the other hand, in Egypt, Egypt’s power, manifest in its intuitive/emotional pride, is finally defeated when its army and its chariots drown in the crossing of the sea. Haidt’s subtitle, ‘Why Good People are divided by Religion and Politics’ reflects the analysis that our values are mostly influenced by a rationalisation of intuitive values, as when a husband may want to believe that his wife is unfaithful.

Charlotte Katzoff


Wanting to believe something is a significant theme in the talk given by the Guest Speaker.’The Stealing of the Blessing; a Tale of Deception and Self-Deception’. To what extent was Isaac ‘deceived’ when he blessed Jacob? Did he co-operate in the deception? Why would he? Is there evidence for such self deception? These were the questions that Dr Katzoff examined. Clearly, Isaac was highly suspicious. He asks repeatedly whether it is Esau in front of him, even at the point of actually giving the blessing. Did he believe it was Esau? Dr Katzoff suggested that he very much wanted to believe that it was Esau, whom he loved and for whom it would be good to be blessed - it might make him want to take a wife that his parents approved of, for instance. So, he persuades himself that it is Esau, even though he realises that it is probably Jacob and that it is Jacob to whom the blessing is due. Dr Katzoff suggested that G-d may have interfered, so that it is Jacob who receives the blessing, regardless of what Isaac believes. This was probably the case when Isaac himself, the younger brother, replaced Ishmael only because Ishmael had been sent away and when Jacob conferred the status of first born to Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son. Isaac did not simply fall into a trap, as the Abarbanel points out. G-d could have programmed Isaac, Dr Katzoff said, allowing him to co-operate in the self-deception.

Eli Ehrman


Eli thanked the speaker for her fascinating talk before giving his Devar Torah on whether one is allowed to address the dead. Eli suggested that, in this context, the word ATAH is the one most important word in our prayers. Indeed, it should, strictly be used only to address G-d or one’s fellow human beings. Citing the Rambam’s lo tidrosh al ha meitim, and his view that one should not even visit a cemetery, Eli stressed that this view was not shared by many people. The Maharil points out that, if what people seek from the dead is that they intercede for you, this can be achieved without the use of the second person, Atah. We can, and do, recall the merits of our ancestors in our prayers. We do not need intermediaries in our relationship with G-d, - unlike other religions. When we speak of ‘elim’, we refer to forces in the universe that are mute and passive, without the choice that characterises ‘kedusha’. Eli noted that questions might arise with robots. Do we just operate them? (We do not operate our children with our words). Since there is only one power in the world, our dialogue is with Him and we can call upon the merits of our loved ones, particularly if they have left writings that ‘speak’ to us, in support of our dialogue.

As usual, people enjoyed meeting and talking over refreshments.