Jewish and Christian miracles: Equal measures, please

Why, asks someone on Chabad.org, don’t we see miracles today like the Jews saw in the story of Chanukah? And don’t tell me that every day is a miracle, childbirth is a miracle, and the sunrise is a miracle. I am talking about splitting seas, dead people coming alive, and voices-from-heaven and hand-writing-on-the-wall type of miracles. The really supernatural stuff — what happened to that? Here are a few different answers:

Martin Buber

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was born in Vienna where he lived for a time with his father, Solomon Buber, a famous midrash scholar. He was a member of the Third Zionist Congress of 1899. At the age of 26 he began a study of Chassidic literature. During World War I, he founded the Jewish National Committee, which helped Eastern European Jews who were suffering under the Axis powers. Buber was an idealist and promoted the establishment of a joint Arab-Jewish state. In 1938 he settled in Palestine and was appointed a professor of philosophy at Hebrew University. He died in in Israel 1965.”

In any good philosophy course, you’re bound to find Buber’s most famous work I and Thou (1923) which focuses on two kinds of relationships: the I-It and the I-Thou. In the I-It relationship, objects and people are viewed in terms of their functions; for example, when it comes to diseases, people are often best regarded as organisms rather than as individuals. Scientists learn about the world through observation, measurement, and examination. For Buber, all such processes are I-It relationships. In the I-Thou relationship, people are best viewed as individuals. That is what I learnt in my philosophy course at university. What I did not come across was Buber’s view on miracles, not normal fare in a philosophy course. Buber was greatly influenced by chassidic literature.

“On miracles” by Martin Buber

Here is Buber, “On Miracles.” (italics are added for emphasis, and square brackets for clarity):

“The concept of miracle which is permissible from the historical approach can be defined at its starting point as an abiding astonishment. The philosophizing and the religious person both wonder at the phenomenon but the one neutralizes his wonder in ideal knowledge, while the other [the religious person] abides in that wonder; no knowledge, no cognition, can weaken his astonishment. Any causal explanation only deepens the wonder for him. The great turning points in religious history are based on the fact that again and ever again an individual and a group attached to him (an individual] wonder and keep on wondering at a natural phenomenon, at a historical event, or at both together… They sense and experience it as a wonder. This, to be sure, is only the starting-point of the historical concept of wonder but it cannot be explained away.

Miracle is not something “supernatural” or “superhistorical,” but an incident, an event which can be fully included in the objective, scientific nexus of nature and history; the vital meaning of which, however for the person to whom it occurs, destroys the security of the whole nexus of knowledge for him and explodes the fixity of the fields of experience named “Nature ” and “History.” Miracle is simply what happens; in so far as it meets people who are capable of receiving it, or prepared to receive it, as miracle. The extraordinary element favors this coming together, but it is not characteristic of it; the normal and ordinary call also undergo a transfiguration into miracle in the light of the suitable hour.

The historical reality of Israel leaving Egypt cannot be grasped if the conception of the accompanying, preceding, guiding God is left out. This is the ” God of the Fathers”, with whom the tribes have now established contact. He has always been a God who wandered with his own and showed them the way. But now he has been revealed to them afresh through the secret of his name as the one who remains present with his own. He leads them by a way differing from the customary one of the caravans and armies. He has his own ideas of guidance, and those who follow him find welfare….

Following his leader; Moses comes to the shore, he steps on the sands that are barely covered by shallow water; and the hosts follow him as he follows the God. At this point occurs whatever occurs, and it is apprehended as a miracle. It is irrelevant whether “much” or “little,” unusual things or usual, tremendous or trifling events happened; what is vital is only that what happened was experienced, while it happened, as the act of God. The people saw in whatever it was they saw “the great hand” and they “believed in YHVH” or, more correctly translated, “they gave their trust to YHVH.”

(Martin Buber, Moses, (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books), 1988) (See Christian and Jewish faith: Martin Buber and Jewish bubus).

Reconstructionist Judaism

In contrast, Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of “Reconstructionist Judaism” did not believe in miracles, nor do any of the adherents of the movement. In Reconstructionism, God is not the supernatural personal being of the Torah, with a mind, a will, who loves, who judges, and so forth, but is a transcendent power, which evolves. (The Torah: shared myths and other stories in Reconstructionist Judaism).

Recall the question that began this examination: “And don’t tell me that every day is a miracle, childbirth is a miracle, and the sunrise is a miracle. I am talking about splitting seas, dead people coming alive, and voices-from-heaven and hand-writing-on-the-wall type of miracles. The really supernatural stuff — what happened to that?”

Tim Hegg’s “Apostolic Judaism”

Here is an answer that our desperate enquirer made abundntly clear he didn’t want to hear:

In his “Historic Christianity & Apostolic Judaism: The Core Difference,” Tim Hegg maintains that historic Christianity is a dualistic religion. One of it dualisms involves an opposition between the world and heaven. One example of this split, he says, is “miracles,” In his “Miracles as the evident hand of God in everyday life versus miracles as a taste of “heaven” he says:

“In the dualism of Historic Christianity miracles fall into the realm of the “heavenly” and transport man into a world in which he does not presently dwell. In contrast, miracles are seen by Apostolic Judaism as the evidence of God in our midst. Surely Historic Christianity would agree that the birth of a child, for instance, is in fact a miracle. But these “common” miracles are not given their due because they are just that, common. Apostolic Judaism, however, confesses that the miracles of God are with us everyday, evening, morning, and afternoon… One might argue that if the common events of life are in fact miracles, then the very concept of “miracles” has lost its meaning. But such an argument betrays the very difference I’m attempting to point out. For the biblical record accords all of man’s existence to the miraculous hand of God: “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). Biblical faith gives the believer the eyes to see that what others call “common” is, in fact, the miraculous hand of God. It is for this reason that Apostolic Judaism finds the necessity of blessing God for everything: “pray without ceasing” (lThess 5: I7); “in everything give thanks” (which means, “pronounce a blessing,” called a brachah in Hebrew [1 Thess 5: l]). Historic Christianity views life as mundane and hopes to be elevated by the miraculous; Apostolic Judaism lives life as sacred and expects the presence of God’s miraculous hand because He dwells with us. Indeed, the call of faith upon God’s children is that they should live with the expectation that God will bless them as He has promised He would. Our hope is not that God will act out of the ordinary (i.e., give us miracles) but that since God dwells with us we may anticipate His miraculous hand in the everyday events of our lives. Growing in faith means the ability to see God’s miracles in what others only call common.

Chabad (de facto) Judaism

And “de facto” Judaism, what does it say about miracles. (According to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Chabad Judaism is “de facto Judaism”). Of the different kinds of Judaisms, Chabad is the closest to rabbinical Judaism. One of the notable dimension of Chabad Judaism is the chassidic dimension, which, as we saw above, purportedly had a great influence on Martin Buber, who, ironically, is closer to Hegg’s position on miracles than Buber is to the chassidism of Chabad, which does believe in the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, where the latter only are defined as miracles. For example, the chassidic literature abounds in miracles, defined as supernatural occurrences. “No sage since Biblical times is more known than Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov [the founder of Chassidism] as an incredible miracle worker” (Stories of Baal Shem Tov at Chabad.org).

Another example from Menachem Posner for Chabad.org on the 10 miracles in the Temple enumerated in Ethics of the Fathers 5:5:

“Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in the Holy Temple: No woman ever miscarried because of the smell of the holy meat. The holy meat never spoiled. Never was a fly seen in the slaughterhouse. Never did the High Priest have an accidental seminal discharge on Yom Kippur. The rains did not extinguish the wood-fire burning upon the altar. The wind did not prevail over the column of smoke [rising from the altar]. No disqualifying problem was ever discovered in the Omer offering, the Two Loaves or the Showbread. They stood crowded but had ample space in which to prostrate themselves. Never did a snake or scorpion cause injury in Jerusalem. And no man ever said to his fellow ‘My lodging in Jerusalem is too cramped for me.'”

Chabad will go on to argue that although there were miracles in ancient Israel, these hardly occur today. Here is their response to the question:

(My comments appear in italics)

“What is the Jewish standpoint on miracles? How important or unimportant is miraculous phenomena to the Jewish believer?

Answer:

Allow me to rephrase your question in the opposite manner: “What is the Jewish standpoint on nature? How important or unimportant is natural phenomena to the Jewish believer?”

G-d manages every aspect of creation at every given moment. There are no rules He must follow. There are no forces He must contend with. All is in His hands.

The above is the historic Christianity view, as well as Hegg’s “apostolic Judaism” view.

Nonetheless, He chose to create a system called “nature.” An arrangement of fixed rules. An order of causes and effects. Why did he create nature? In order to conceal His identity and hide His footprints. He wanted a world in which things would appear as if they run on their own, and thus, force Man to discover G-d on his own. In fact, the very word for nature in Hebrew, “tevah,”1 also translates as “sunk.” Nature is G-d’s way of submerging His presence under a sea of scientific laws and patterns. And Man is a deep-sea diver given the task of finding G-d’s hand which lurks behind the veil of nature.

And so, life is very similar to a game of “Hide and Go Seek.” But every now and then, G-d emerges from His hiding place and breaks through the self-imposed shackles of nature. The sea is split. A scientific rule is broken. Mother Nature is proven wrong. Perhaps, a child is cured from an incurable disease. Or our nation is saved from a seemingly hopeless situation. And it is through these supernatural events that we realize that nature too is merely a creation of G-d.”

Chabad equates “nature” with “hidden” (sunk below the surface) because, they say, God plays “hide ‘n seek” with humanity. Judaism’s (Chabad) view of nature as “G-d’s way of submerging His presence under a sea of scientific laws and patterns” is certainly not the view found in the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” (and I would imagine in “apostolic Judaism).”

For example, the psalms are packed with peons of praise to God for his natural creation.Psalm 19:2 (Hebrew Bible) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork (19:1 in English translations).

Indeed, God’s very first words to Israel, and the world, are “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

In Romans 1 we read:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18-21).

Biblical Christianity contains two kinds of revelation: general (nature) and divine revelation (the New Testament of which miracles are a part).

As far as miracles are concerned both “de facto” Judaism (Chabad) and historic Christianity, in contrast to Apostolic Judaism (Hegg), distinguish between God’s natural creation and his supernatural intervention, where only the latter is regarded as miraculous.

It may, Chabad continues, also be interesting to note that while most missionaries will cite Jesus’ performance of miracles as proof that he is the messiah, the New Testament itself indicates that there could be false messiahs who present miracles in order to trick God’s people, but they are false. Matthew 24:24: “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.

This being the case, miracles prove nothing, and the fact that the New Testament claims that Jesus did miracles prove nothing concerning Jesus’ role as messiah or his alleged divinity. But we don’t need the New Testament to tell us this, thousands of years before Jesus came on the scene, we were warned that there may come some teachers who would claim to be prophets and who would do miracles, whose ultimate goal would be to lead us to worship differently from what was handed down to us through Moses.

Apply equal measures, please. By the same token, we should also be wary of modern Jewish miracles, for example from Chabad: “Publicizing the miracles which G-d has done in our times is relevant to bringing the true and complete Redemption in actuality” – “The Rebbe” (Schneerson). Photo below.

rebbe

The last verse in John’s Gospel explains the reason for the miracles described in the book:

21:30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

De facto Judaism concurs that miracles are signs. Recall the ten miracles in Temple times described above. So, it is not true that mainstream Judaism would say that miracles prove nothing. If, however, some Jews insist that miracles prove nothing, where do they go to prove that they have God’s revelation? Why, to the miracle of miracles, of course; to the hundreds of thousands of Israelites who witnessed God in the thunder and the lightning of the revelation at Sinai.

Here is a Chabad’s cinematic description of the revelation at Sinai:

“The dawn of the third day broke amid thunder and lightning that filled the air. Heavy clouds hung over the mountain, and the steadily growing sounds of the Shofar made the people shake and tremble with fear. Moses led the children of Israel out of the camp and placed them at the foot of Mount Sinai, which was all covered by smoke and was quaking, for G-d had descended upon it in fire. The sound of the Shofar grew louder, but suddenly all sounds ceased, and an absolute silence ensued; and then G-d proclaimed the Ten Commandments…”

Here is a comment on my site from an anonymous Jew:

“Consider that perhaps the reason you’re so fascinated with the Jews and their teachings is because you recognize that, before the publication of Paul’s dreams and the Nicene committee that gathered to vote on a new religion, long before that, there was a revelation at Sinai. That was something unprecedented in human history, and it has never been repeated since then. An entire nation stood together at the base of a mountain and experienced collective prophecy. Not one person having a dream, but all of them. Theirs is thus the only credible religion in the world.”

So, the – quite popular Jewish – claim to the falsity of Christianity is based on two mind-blowing dreams: 1 the collective dream at Sinai and 2. Paul’s dream on the road to Damascus.

John Owen (1616-1683) on Miracles

john owen

A Jew will tell you that no Gentile can understand the Hebrew scriptures as well as he. You’ve only to read a bit of Owen – after reading a lot of the rabbinical literature – to discover the unreality of such a claim. Here is a small selection of his “miracles in the Bible” from Volume 1 of his seven-volume “An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews”:

His 17th century English idiom is unfamiliar and his style a bit difficult, but I think it is preferable that he speak for himself. I have entitled this excerpt, “What is good for the Jewish goose is good for the Christian gander.”

(My italics)

All true and real miracles are effects of divine power. Many things prodigious, marvellous, led or monstrous, differing from the common and ordinary productions of nature, may be brought forth by an extraordinary concurrence of causes. Many marvellous things may be wrought by the great, hidden, and to us unknown power of wicked spirits : many things may have an appearance of prodigy and wonder, by the force of some deceit, pretence, or delusion, which attends the exhibition of them. But real miracles are effects so above, beside, or contrary to the nature and efficacy of any or all natural causes, that by no application or disposition of them, though never so uncouth and unusual, can they be produced. Miracles, therefore, must of necessity be the effects of an almighty creating power, causing somewhat to exist in matter or manner out of nothing, or out of that which is more adverse unto the being or manner of existence given unto it. Such are the works of raising the dead, opening the eyes men born blind. And this position the Jews will not deny, seeing they make it the foundation of their adherence to the law of Moses.

When God puts forth his miracle-working power, in the confirmation of any word or doctrine, he avows it to be of, and from himself; to be absolutely and infallibly true, setting the fullest and openest seal unto it which men, who cannot discern his essence or being, are capable of receiving or discerning. And therefore when a doctrine, in itself such as becometh the holiness and righteousness of God, is confirmed by the emanation of his divine power in the working of miracles, no greater evidence of the truth of it can be given, even by God himself.

The Lord Jesus, in the days of his fiesh, wrought many great, real miracles, in the confirmation of the testimony that he gave concerning himself, that he was the Christ, the Son of God : see John v. 20, vii. 31, X. 25, xii. 37- Greater confirmation it could not have. Now, that the Lord Jesus wrought the miracles recorded by the evangelists, with others innumerable that are not recorded, (see John xx. 30, xxi. 25,) we have in general all the testimony, evidence, and means of certainty, that any man can possibly have of things which he saw not done with his own eyes. And to suppose that a man can have no assurance of any thing but of what he sees or feels himself, as it overthrows all the foundations of knowledge, and of all human society, yea, of every thing that as men we either do, or know; so when this is granted, it will necessarily follow that we know not the things that we see, any longer than whilst we see them ; and perhaps not even then, seeing the evidence we have of knowing anything by our senses proceeds from principles and presumptions which we never saw, nor ever can see. These things, however, need not be insisted on, for in reasoning with the Jews, we have all the advantage for the confirmation of what we affirm, that we either need to desire, or that the subject can admit of.

We plead our own records, that are written by the evangelists. And here we have but one request to make to the Jews, namely, that they would lay no exceptions against them, which they know to be of equal force against the writings of Moses and all the prophets. If they declare themselves to be such bedlamites, as to set their own houses on fire, for no other end but to endanger those of their neighbours; if they will destroy the principles of their own faith and religion, to cast the broken pieces of them at the heads of Christians… I desire then to know what objection the Jews can make to this record, which mutatis mutandis [only changing what has to be changed] may not be made to the Mosaic writings. And if they have always held all such objections to be invalid, when opposed to the evidences on which they believe those writings, why will they not give us leave to affirm the same of these objections, when urged against the New Testament Scriptures, which we receive and believe on no less certain testimonies and evidences ? Unless, then, they can plead something against the credit of these writers, or disprove that which is written by them, from records of equal weight with them, (which they can never do, nor do they attempt it,) they have nothing reasonable to plead in this cause. To tell us that they do not believe what is written by them, and that their forefathers did not believe it, is, as to themselves, no more than what we know, and as to their forefathers, is nothing but what those very writers testify concerning them. To expect, then, a proof of the consent of their fathers to that record, while the record itself witnesseth that they dissented from it, is to overthrow the record and all that is contained in it. The Jews, then, have nothing to oppose to this testimony, but only their own unbelief; which, for all the reasons that have been insisted on, cannot be admitted as any just objection. History or circumstance they have none to oppose to it.

We plead the notoriety [prominence] of the miracles wrought by Christ, and the tradition delivering them down unto us. This also the Jews plead concerning the miracles of Moses. They were, say they, openly wrought in the sight of all Israel, and that they were so wrought, the testimony of Israel in succeeding ages is, next to the writings themselves, the best and only witness which they can produce. And wherein doth our testimony come short of theirs ? Nay, both on account of their first notoriety, and also of succeeding tradition, our evidence far exceeds what they have to plead. For the miracles of Moses were indeed wrought openly, but the most of them were wrought only in the sight of that one people, whom he had under his own conduct, and in a wilderness remote from any converse with other nations; and that in the dark times of the world, when men were generally stupid and credulous, as having not been imposed on by the delusions by which the following ages were awakened. The Jews also lay no greater weight on any miracles, than on those which were in the wilderness of Midian, which had no witness unto them but that of Moses himself. But the miracles of Jesus were all, or most of them, wrought before the eyes of multitudes, envying, hating, and persecuting him ; and that in the most knowing days of the world, when reason and learning had improved the light of the minds of men to the utmost of their capacity. They were wrought upon multitudes for sundry years together, and were all of them sifted by his adversaries, to try if they could discover any thing of deceit in them. And although his personal ministry was confined to one nation, yet the miracles wrought by his disciples in his name and by his power, for the confirmation of his being the Messiah, were spread all the world over; so that all mankind were first filled with the report of them, and then satisfied with their truth: and lastly, the generality of them with faith in him, whom they directed unto. The notoriety [prominence], therefore, of his miracles far exceeds that of those of Moses. And for the means whereby the certainty of them is continued unto us, whether we respect the number of persons confirming it, or their quality, or their having no temptation from any carnal advantage, or their suffering for their testimony ; it is notorious [well-known] that the secluded circumstances of the Jews could not provide evidence which can in any way be compared with it. So that we may truly say, that no Jew can on any rational account give credit to the truth of the miracles wrought by Moses, and deny it to the record of those which were wrought by the Lord Jesus.

1Tevah” should be Teva (the “h” is the ה (Hei)

In Hebrew there is

teva (טבע) – “nature”.

tevah (תבה) – “box” or “ark”

Chabad.org is thinking of teva not tevah; tevah is not “nature” but “ark”(Noah) or “box” (baby Moses on the river).

nature” derives from teva (טבע), which has the following meanings (I stress the last one one): following meanings (I stress the last one):

to sink, sink into, sink down, pierce, settle down, drown, be settled, be planted

Psalm 69:14

Deliver me from sinking [teva טבע]in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

to sink, sink into, sink down, pierce, settle down, drown, be settled, be planted

Psalm 9:15

טָבְעוּ גֹויִם בְּשַׁחַת tav-oo (have sunk) goyim (nations) b’shachat (in pit)

The nations have sunk (down) [teva טבע] in the pit

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3 thoughts on “Jewish and Christian miracles: Equal measures, please

  1. Pingback: THE REAL MARK OF THE BEASTS AMONG US | Low-Hanging Fruit
  2. Thank you for this wonderful and thought-provoking article. I was prompted to read it following a morning reflection on an article in The Glenstal Book of Readings for the Seasons which featured the same extract from Buber included here. The inference was similar. However, your article has further expanded my horizons and offered new perspectives. As a Christian I am a strong believer in reading Christian texts through a Jewish lens. Jesus (Yeshua) was a Jew and thought like a Jew, despite what later Christianity made of him.

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