The very idea of a miracle is difficult for most people today to accept as an event that occurred in the past or could occur today. Even for those who believe in the general concept of a G-d find it hard to believe the notion of the occurrence of a supernatural event, whether in modern times or even in Biblical times. People tend to be skeptical of that which they have never seen. Since a miracle has never been part of their experience, many human beings tend to doubt if such events as described in the Bible took place. In addition, modern man has been trained to think logically, to be analytical, and to believe only in that which has been proven scientifically. People find the notion of a miracle that defies natural law, impossible to accept, as they need logic and proof before believing in something. The Talmud [1] seems to indicate that each succeeding generation is less spiritual than the generation before it, starting with Revelation. Since then, world is moving further and further away from the most spiritual moment for the Jewish people, when G-d spoke to entire people at Mount Sinai. Each generation is less spiritual, and, therefore, believes less in spiritual concepts such as miracles.

The very idea of a miracle has different meanings to different people. Do miracles even occur today in Jewish thought? Was the founding of the Jewish state in Israel in 1949 a miracle? The Six Day War in 1967? Should we view the transporting of 14,000 Ethiopia Jews to freedom and safety in Israel from Ethiopia, in the middle of a war zone, in one day in 1991, as a miracle?  To some, all of these or some of these events may be considered a miracle.  To others, there is nothing miraculous about these events in modern Jewish history. Can an event be considered a miracle if the laws of nature are not violated? To answer these questions, we need to define the Jewish concept of a miracle. In order to help understand and define a miracle, however, we should first analyze and define its purpose.


Many people feel that the purpose of any miracle is to convince its witnesses to believe in G-d. Although this may be a Christian notion, Judaism and the Torah do not accept this as the explanation. The Torah itself implies this, [2] in its description of any prophet who arises and tells the people that G-d appeared to him. Then He performs miracles to “prove” that he is a true prophet and then tells the people not to follow G-d and the ways of the Torah. The Torah instructs the Jews how to react to this situation. Despite the miracles openly performed, one may not believe this person as a true prophet, and he should be killed.

If the prophet is not legitimate, the question arises, then, why G-d would allow this false prophet to perform the many miracles? The Torah continues and answers this unwritten question by saying that G-d is testing the people to see if they truly believe in Him or not. This entire passage shows that the people’s belief in G-d cannot and should not be based on the performance of a miracle, but must be based on a commitment that goes beyond what the eye can see and that which can be proven only through experience. A miracle cannot prove the existence of G-d, as G-d himself allows false prophets to do miracles in order to test the people’s faith. This notion is codified by Maimonides [3] where he rules that a person may not base his or her belief in G-d upon the existence or performance of miracles. He explains that many magicians and charlatans can perform what appears to be miraculous but is only a sleight of hand or a trick. Miracles, then, cannot form the basis of belief in G-d. (It should be noted that miracles can and should be used to verify if a prophet is a true prophet, providing that he or she does not instruct the people to violate any aspect of the Torah. This is the general procedure for any Jewish prophet, in general, [4] and was specifically demonstrated in Moses’ attempt to prove his legitimacy to the people. [5] But a miracle is not a means test to prove the existence or legitimacy of G-d.)

What, then, is the main purpose of miracles in Jewish thought? 

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[1] Berachot 35b

[2] Deuteronomy 13:2-6

[3] Maimonides, Hilchot Yesodai HaTorah 8:1

[4] Deuteronomy 18:21-22

[5] Exodus 4:1-9 and 4:30-31


Rabbi Dr. Nachum Amsel currently works with Rabbi Berel Wein and the Destiny Foundation as the Director of Education, whose mission is “to bring Jewish history to life in an exciting, entertaining and interactive way.” Rabbi Amsel has also served as a teacher, a school principal, and an adjunct professor. He has also taught over 2000 educators how to teach more effectively. Rabbi Amsel has worked in all areas of formal and informal Jewish education and has developed numerous curricula including a methodology how to teach Jewish Values using mass media. Recently, he founded the STARS Program (Student Torah Alliance for Russian Speakers), where more than 3000 students in 12 Russian speaking countries learn about their Jewish heritage for five hours weekly. Rabbi Amsel previously served as the Educational Director of Hillel in the Former Soviet Union. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and has four children and four grandchildren.

This essay is from the forthcoming book, “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Values: Man to G-d Issues and Rituals.”  This essay is not intended as a source of practical halachic (legal) rulings. For matters of halachah, please consult a qualified posek (rabbi).

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