The Torah tells the story of King Saul who, out of desperation, used the expertise of a witch to communicate with the spirit of the departed prophet Samuel. In the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 179) there is an entire section that deals with the manner in which it is permissible to communicate with the dead.
Clearly there is an entire level of spiritual existence, including spirits and ghosts that we don’t usually get insight into. What is not clear is how, if at all, these spirits manifest to us humans. So I am often skeptical about believing ghost stories.
My former house – haunted
It was therefore surprising to see the story reported on Ynet this week about a London rabbi’s residence that was apparently haunted by the spirit of one the synagogues’ previous rabbis. I was even more surprised to learn that the house in question was one that I lived in.
In the four years we spent living in the apartment above the Enfield and Winchmore Hill Synagogue in North London we never suspected that the house was haunted, neither do we recall hearing unidentifiable noises or finding windows left open. But I know the current rabbi of the synagogue well and he is certainly not one to make such things up and I doubt that he is imagining these things.
But as the story unfolded this week I have found out new information about my former house that I previously had not known. According to the Chairman of the board of the Synagogue, Alan Sless, about 30 years ago a visiting psychic claimed to have sensed spirits in the house. In addition, I have learned that another rabbi of the synagogue, one who served before me, claimed to have felt in the house the spirits of prominent departed synagogue members and that of the deceased founding Minister Reverend Lewin.
A cursed synagogue?
It is entirely possible that the spirits were there, just we did not sense them, and if this is the case I am not sorry. However, there are a number of things that were peculiar about this particular synagogue. As opposed to every other long standing synagogue in London, in the entire 73 year history of the Enfield and Winchmore Hill Synagogue not one of its rabbinic leaders transitioned from that synagogue into further careers in congregational rabbinics.
In addition, despite the fact that it has had a number of capable and dynamic rabbis and is in a good location the synagogue has not been able to grow much over the last 40 years. Admittedly there could be numerous reasons for these and other anomalies that the synagogue has. Over time I have put forward some hypotheses why the Enfield and Winchmore Hill Synagogue is different from others in London. Now I have another one—lost spirits in need of healing having a negative effect on the synagogue.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts