The Witch of Endor

Debate about this biblical story raises key theological issues.

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Samuel ben Hophni is prepared to go to the lengths of preferring his rationalistic interpretation to the unanimous view of the Rabbis. The other Geonim could not agree to go so far.

Scriptural Authenticity

The second point at issue, and this is stated explicitly by Samuel ben Hophni and the other Geonim, is the attitude the Jew should adopt towards Scripture as a whole. What was at stake was not simply the correct interpretation of a single chapter. If, as Samuel ben Hophni has argued, the scriptural references to Samuel 'saying' this or that mean no more than that someone imagined him as saying it, what guarantee is there that other scriptural references to someone 'saying' something are authentic; for example, when Moses 'said' something or when God 'spoke' to Moses?

In the whole debate problems emerge about which Jews agonized in later periods, such as the question of reason versus revelation; the way in which Scripture is to be interpreted; whether Aggadah is to be understood in as rigorous a fashion as Halakhah; and the whole question of biblical criticism.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.