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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
Section - Question 12.22: What is the Jewish position on communicating with the dead?

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   Judaism has a strong prohibition against sorcery and divination. Deut.
   18:10 says "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his
   son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth
   divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a
   charmer, or one that consulteth a ghost or familiar spirit, or a
   necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto
   the Lord".
   The Hertz commentaries note that in Judaism the spritual part of man
   was not conceived as ghostly, but under the attribute of holy. It
   notes that stories of ghosts or apparitions are almost absent from the
   Torah, and necromancy is considered especially abhorrent.
   There is one instance in the Torah where communication with the dead
   is mentioned. In the first Book of Samuel, (Chapter 28, we read about
   Saul the first monarch of Israel seeking out the witch of Endor
   (Baalat Ov at Ein Dor) to perform a "seance" and call up the dead
   prophet Samuel on the eve of a battle with the Philistines. The witch
   seemingly succeeds but the blistering message supposedly imparted by
   Samuel can hardly bring comfort to Saul: "..For G-d has rent the
   kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, to David." [1
   Samuel 28:17]
   Does this incident imply that consultation with the dead is acceptable
   in some situations? No. Rabbenu Samuel Ben Chafni Gaon (in the
   Responsa of the Gaonim, Ginzai Shechter, part 1, pages 299-30) writes
   as follows: "In actuality (the witch) did not raise up Samuel from the
   dead, but the BAALAT OV deceived Saul; it is impossible that G-d would
   bring Samuel back to life with the strength of witchcraft, because
   this is against nature, and the only ones who have mystical powers are
   prophets, and she was not a prophet. She deceived him [Saul] into
   believing that she had that power."
   Further, the incident did not leave Saul in good standing. Regarding
   Saul it is written, "Wherever he turned, he did badly" (Samuel I
   14:47) [i.e., he did not merit rendering decisions in accordance with
   the Halachah --Rashi] (Eruvin 53a)
   Judaism has no need to communicate with the dead; G-d has given us
   prophets instead. This is confirmed in Rashi, 18:14: He has not
   permitted you to hearken to diviners and enchanters, since He has
   caused the divine presence to rest upon the prophets and the Urim
   The above is the traditional view. There appear to be no specific
   Reform Responsa on the subject; it appears that in this area Reform
   Judaism does not differ from traditional Judaism.

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