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Let no one be found among you who consigns his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead. - Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18:10-11

Speaking to the dead is forbidden. You're not allowed to attempt such things.

This being said, is there a Rabbinically defined line as to what constitutes a sinful exercise in the dark arts vs innocent grief?

Example:

Some people speak to their dead relatives. They don't literally light candles, draw a pentagram, and conduct some exercise in the dark arts. They may just speak out loud or speak in their minds during moments of grief or hardship.

"Mom, I really hope you think I'm doing the right thing. I wish you were here to help me right now."

Does that count as communicating with the dead or is there a specific definition for what constitutes this sort of activity?

  • Relevant Rambam sefaria.org/… – mroll Nov 21 at 5:27
  • IIRC, it's asking from the dead, that's prohibited, not talking to. – Al Berko Nov 21 at 14:19
  • There's a big difference between talking to oneself as if talking to another person (e.g. just as one might discuss something with one's pet dog, with no expectation of a real response) and taking to a dead person or a physical object in the hope of receiving a supernatural response. – Ray Butterworth Nov 21 at 14:33
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The Rambam in הילכות עבודת כוכבים פרק יא:י״ג says the following: כללו של דבר כל העושה כדי שיבוא המת ויודיעו לוקה. It is clear from his language that one has to be attempting to communicate in order to get a response. In the example you give, and what is common among people, the person is not seeking a response, but is rather just speaking to the ether and hoping someone’s listening or perhaps just seeking therapeutic comfort.

Furthermore the very word of the posuk “דורש” implies that the person is seeking something from the dead, as the Targum translates it as תבע demanding or even more clearly in Jerusalem Targum תבע אולפן demanding instruction.

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