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According to Devarim 18:11 we are forbidden to beseech the dead. However, there is a long Jewish tradition of visiting the graves of tzadikim who have died and asking that the tzadikim petition G-d on our behalf. Every time I look for an explanation of why this is permissible, I read something different. (For example, that a Jew may serve as an intermediary between another Jew and G-d; that our conversation with the tzaddik is understood as unilateral and therefore is not "beseeching"; that we are only asking G-d to have mercy on us for the sake of the tzadikim; and many other miscellaneous explanations, such as the handful listed here.) All this seems a bit like we're trying to explain away a practice we just really, really want to do and have a tradition of doing, despite the fact that it is is prohibited by Torah. So, what is the "canonical" explanation for why one may beseech a dead Jewish tzaddik, if indeed one may?

Related: Speaking to a deceased person

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    related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/44719/759 – Double AA Nov 22 '16 at 3:43
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    It's probably most fair to note that some people think this practice is not at all OK and the "long Jewish tradition" is actually a long non-Jewish tradition which some Jews unfortunately do. (I'm not trying to endorse a position here, but just give perspective.) – Double AA Nov 22 '16 at 3:46
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    In line with what @DoubleAA said, those that explain it as asking for mercy in the merit of the tzadik, usually also say that one's prayers at the grave should reflect that (ie. 'Have mercy on me in the merit of the tzadik buried here'). – iKay Nov 22 '16 at 4:25
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    It doesn't seem fair to describe it as explaining away something we want to do just because there are multiple explanations. Its also unnecessary - it doesn't add anything meaningful to your question. – Jay Nov 22 '16 at 5:00
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    It is worth noting that mimetic behaviour, is acquired, by definition, via osmosis. So the real reason people do so, is that it is a long standing practice. Explanations are ex post facto, like backronyms, and hence, unsurprisingly, varied. || This does not necessarily invalidate the practice. – mevaqesh Nov 22 '16 at 6:01
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The most simple answer to the question as formulated here is that even praying directly to a dead person would appear to not be in violation of 'beseeching the dead' as defined by the Gemara. See Sanhedrin 65b where it defines the prohibition as referring to fasting and sleeping in a cemetery in order to attain an impure spirit (this is explained by the commentators as either an attempt to receive help from a demon, or to receive information regarding the future from the spirit of a dead person). This is also how the prohibition is defined by Rambam (M.T. Avodat Kochavim 11:13 and Sefer Hamitzvot L.T. 38) and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 179:13.

(However, this prohibition is not the only potential issue - there is also the problem of praying to an intermediary, which is a separate concern. And there are a few Achronim who do mention 'beseeching the dead' as being relevant. So not only are there multiple explanations for permissibilty, there are also multiple explanations for why it should be prohibited in the first place!

Practically speaking there are two camps: those who say you cannot ask the dead to pray on your behalf, but should rather daven in the zchut of the deceased tzaddik, and those who permit asking the tzaddik to pray on your behalf. No one, however, permits davening to the tzaddik that he help you instead of God.

I strongly recommend seeing Minchas Elazar 1:68 for a lengthy and in-depth discussion about all this.)

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As the first answer in the linked question at the end of your question says one way communication does not violate the verse

See rambam
Mishneh Torah »Sefer Madda » Avodat Kochavim Chapter Eleven - halacha 13

Who is one who seeks [information] from the dead? A person who starves himself and goes to sleep in a cemetery so that a deceased person will come to him in a dream and reply to his questions. There are others who wear special clothes, recite incantations, burn a particular type of incense, and sleep alone so that a deceased person will come to them and speak to them in a dream. To summarize: Anyone who performs a deed in order that a deceased person should come to him and give him information is [liable for] lashes, as [Deuteronomy 18:10] states: "There shall not be found among you one who passes..., one who seeks [information] from the dead."


The idea that we pray to Hashem and not to the dead is not regarding your verse,
but regarding prayer, that we do not pry to other entities

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    Quoting this Rambam as support for praying to the dead presents a very grave problem; Rambam could easily hold there is a problem, even if the particular lav you allude to isn't present. In fact, In Hilkhot Evel (4:4) he states that one should avoid cemeteries. ולא יפנה אדם לבקר הקברות. There are different texts of this statement, and different explanations, but R. Qafih and others are the opinion, that he holds that it is forbidden to frequent cemeteries, lest one come to beseech the dead! – mevaqesh Nov 23 '16 at 4:59

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