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Memorial Evening 2018

5778/2018 Memorial Evening of learning

The Memorial Evening of Learning to mark the twenty-third Yahrzeit of Etta Ehrman Kossowsky bat haRav Dr Zvi Ehrman was held on February 11th in Bet Shemesh.

Esther Ehrman, Etta’s mother, welcomed and thanked all those who came and then said a few words about the custom of honouring a life by learning Torah. Apart from the fact that we see it as appropriate to remember someone with this, the highest mitzva, one might see Torah learning as participating in an ongoing quest to understand our relationship with the Almighty; we see Etta,z.l. as inspiring that quest.

Introduction by Esther Ehrman

 

'Devar Torah' by Michi Kossowsky

Michi Kossowsky, in his devar Torah, focused on a chapter of the book ‘The Limits of Orthodox Theology - Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised’’ by Dr Mark Shapiro. The author claims that, while the eighteen principles are true, they are not dogma. The illustration he uses is the principle that the Torah is ‘from heaven’, meaning that the text we know is ‘from heaven’. It is known that we are uncertain, in a few cases, whether certain words have an extra ‘yud’ or ‘vav’ or are missing a ‘yud’ or a ‘vav’. Such a textual question could make Torah scrolls unfit. There are also question marks about the authorship if the last twelve verse of the Torah, which, one tradition has it, were written by Yehoshua after the death of Moshe Rabbenu as well as the possibility that Ezra may have made additions. While the Rambam states that his Eighteen principles are inviolate, the author suggests that, according to our sources, his is not the last word on the subject.

 

The Guest Speaker, Evida Fenster, spoke about ‘Jewish Jousting - Debating as Duelling’.

Evida, with many years of experience in education, spoke about the troubling situation where, in the name of Torah learning, discussions have and do become arenas for ‘emotional bloodshed’. This is not a new phenomenon, as Evida demonstrated, taking several Talmudic stories as illustrations. Whether it is R. Yochanan referring to Resh Laqish as a former bandit, or a discussion about the merits and dangers of ‘kavod’ accorded in the Bet Midrash, or declaring a person worthless because he looks ugly, this kind of violent speech, sometimes expressed in military imagery, and often shaming, is clearly reprehensible and the Almighty punishes it, even with death. Interestingly,the Babylonian Talmud version of these stories is more confrontational than other versions. ‘Stepping on people’, as R. Ishmael did, even if it is to come closer to his teacher, cannot be condoned in a physical or a metaphorical sense . We would be well advised to follow Resh Laqish who said that Torah students who listen to each other, Ha Kadosh Barudh Hu listens to their voice.

 

'Devar Torah' by Eli Ehrman

Eli then, in his ‘devar Torah’, considered the philosophical question,’who - or what - am I?’. Rejecting for the moment the usual models of an animal that is good at things, a piece of G-d, having a divine spark, or a machine - perhaps a computer, Eli suggested that what lies beneath our physical surface could be seen as a kind of software, - but broken; broken because the programme lacks a valid goal, something beyond eating,surviving and procreating. We then create models - and these can differ. Eli suggested that ’the stories we tell’ reflect who we are as e.g. that our soul belongs to an outer reality, as in Bereshit, when G-d breathes spirit into some earth or as in the theory that we have two souls,one animal and one divine. The models we accept, as in scientific models, explain observations and we can learn as we grow older. Etta, z.l., in her twenties, may not have agreed to these ideas; the person she might have become to-day, in her forties, may well have changed - may her memory be blessed.