Religious Beliefs

Do Jews believe in miracles?

Belief in miracles depends a great deal on what people think are the ordinary limits of nature, since a commonly accepted conception is that miracles presuppose some divine intervention in the order of nature. The Hebrew Bible tells of dozens of events, great and small, that appear to fit that broad definition. But what people took for the ordinary limits of nature were in all likelihood significantly narrower in biblical times than they are now. In fact, ancient Middle Eastern societies do not seem to have considered the natural world as a coherent, integral system. Virtually all unusual events were to some degree attributed directly to a divine power simply because by definition the deity had all power. In that world, secondary causes were practically negligible. Everything was cause for wonder.

Hebrew scripture calls important events several things signs: wonders or portents of the future, or simply prodigies or unexpected phenomena. The category of signs includes, for example, the plagues visited upon the Egyptians and the appearance of the rainbow as a sign of Noah’s covenant with God. Wonders or portents include the unusual works of a false prophet. And such things as God’s creative and redemptive deeds the scripture calls extraordinary events. On some curious happenings, such as the bodily “ascensions” of figures like Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (II Kings 2:11), the scripture makes no evaluative comment, merely describing the occurrence briefly. Reference works on Judaism provide few entries on “miracles.” But numerous religious figures in Jewish history and lore, particularly rabbis and mystics, are said to have occasioned or mediated marvels of all kinds.


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