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    Ghosts – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Does Judaism believe in ghosts?

    GhostbustersA. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the answer is No.

    This applies regardless of whether the living try to summon up the ghost or whether the ghost appears on its own initiative.

    The Jewish belief as summed up by Maimonides (Guide 3:46) is that when you die, your body is buried and your soul returns to God (however, Nachmanides is more inclined to think that in the afterlife, people have both bodies and souls).

    In Maimonides’ view, your soul is immortal but as it no longer has a body, it can only “appear” in a spiritual or metaphorical way.

    Joseph was unable to sin once he saw the d’mut d’yukno shel aviv, “the appearance of his father” (Rashi on Gen. 39:11, based on Sotah 36b). The thought of his father Jacob came into his mind and steeled his conscience. His father had taught him morality and courage, and as his father’s son he could strengthen himself against sin.

    Many people ask themselves, ”What would my father or mother think (or say)?” and have a strong feeling of how the parent would handle a specific situation.

    In folklore there are references to spirits and demons, but the rationalist tradition deny that they have any authentic physical shape, form or presence.

    The Torah forbids enquiring to or of the dead (Deut, 18:11), though some say that communicating with the dead is not impossible though it is forbidden. Maimonides regards such communication as witchcraft and pagan.

    It is true that the Bible reports contacts with the dead, e.g. King Saul using the Witch of En-Dor to summon the deceased judge Samuel (I Sam. 28), but whilst Hai Ga’on thought this was a one-of-a-kind miracle, Shmuel ben Chofni Ga’on said the witch was an imposter who fooled Saul.

    Roaming ghosts figure in many traditions, but the stories are generally dismissed as imagination.

    Even Australia has Jewish ghost stories such as Abraham Davis of Broome, who (as a tall bearded figure wearing a tallit) haunted his former house when it became the home of an Anglican bishop. After 1980 when the house was demolished there were no further sightings of the ghost.

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