Jewish Views on Miracles

To what extent should Jews believe that miracles occurred in the past and continue to occur today?

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Some modern Jewish theologians have incorrectly read a Talmudic debate (Shabbat 53b) as implying that there is a degree of spiritual vulgarity in hankering after miracles. The passage tells of a poor man whose wife had died, leaving him with a little babe. A miracle happened in that his breasts became as a woman's that he might suckle the infant.

One Rabbi remarked: 'How great this man must have been that such a miracle was performed for him,' but his colleague retorted: 'On the contrary! How unworthy this man must have been that the order of creation was changed on his behalf.'

However, the second Rabbi is not denigrating holy men on whose behalf miracles happen, only this particular man and this particular kind of miracle involving a reversal of the roles and nature of male and female.

Evidence & Belief

The real question for moderns is not can miracles happen, but did they and do they happen. As Hume recognized, the question is one of evidence. Many events that were seen in the past as miracles can now be understood as due to the operation of natural laws, even though Hume himself is less than categorical about the absolute necessity of cause A always to produce the effect B it usually seems to produce.

Undoubtedly, a modern Jewish believer will be far less prone to attribute extraordinary events to a supernatural intervention, but his belief in God's power will not allow him to deny the very possibility of miracles occurring.

A Hasidic saying has it that a Hasid who believes that all the miracles said to have been performed by the Hasidic masters actually happened is a fool, but anyone who believes that they could not have happened is an unbeliever. The same can be said of miracles in general.

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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.