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Poster Commentary
"A miracle cannot prove what is impossible. It only confirms what is possible."Maimonides
Poster design:Seymour Chwast


by Daniel Gordis•   •   •

At first blush, we might find it surprising that Maimonides, the famed 12th-century Jewish philosopher, would write about miracles. Maimonides, after all, is known as a great rationalist, as the man who sought to square as much of Jewish thought and tradition as possible with the teachings of Aristotle. How could a man so devoted to rationality include miracles in his highly systematic work of reason?

In large measure, Maimonides was being faithful to his tradition. The Torah and many other classical Jewish texts speak of miracles as a matter of course. Creation itself was a miracle—God merely spoke, and our universe was created. The Exodus from Egypt was preceded by miracles—the 10 plagues. Other examples abound. As a traditional Jewish philosopher, Maimonides was in no position to deny their possibility.

But for many of us, the very notion of miracles can be an obstacle to taking religious life seriously. If engagement with Judaism is going to require that we suspend our rationality, many of us are not interested. We seek a religious experience that augments our humanity, not one that diminishes it.

Perhaps, though, Maimonides can actually help us here. For Maimonides suggests that miracles can be found in what is possible. What might that mean for us? Perhaps religious experience can enrich us not only through our intellect, but also by highlighting those portions of our experience that reason cannot fully account for. How can two cells plus nine months render something that can smile? How can we account for the devotion of a life partner when one is dying or is rendered helpless by disease? From where comes the human capacity for making music, writing poetry, creating great art?

“For Your miracles that are with us every day,” says our liturgy, as we thank God for the unique experience which is human life. In our hyper-rational age, perhaps we ought to embrace Maimonides and his belief in miracles. For what is miraculous, he teaches us, is not just what can be, but what already is.


Conversation Guide


The commentary to this poster seeks to understand how Maimonides, the twelfth-century rationalist philosopher, could accept the possibility of miracles. Maimonides finds miracles in what already exists and has been proven possible.

What examples of miracles can you point to that involve something “impossible,” something not yet in existence? 

What other examples can you suggest of miracles that confirm “what is possible”? How do we identify both types of miracles?

Are you equally comfortable accepting both categories of miracles? Why or why not?

What other conflicts exist between science and faith?



Each image calls out to us to examine it, to note our thoughts and feelings, and relate these impressions to the quotation. Often clues in the artwork suggest meaning and invite interpretation.

Designer and illustrator Seymour Chwast offers a vivid depiction of Maimonides and his teaching about miracles. 

How does the image present the quotation? Was this how you interpreted the quotation without the illustration?

Which “miracle stories” are depicted in this illustration? Is there any significance in their placement?  

Which category of miracles is depicted? How does the artist’s interpretation of the quotation compare with Daniel Gordis’s commentary? Would you have expected other examples of miracles based on the commentary?


Copyright© 2012 Harold Grinspoon Foundation

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Masters Series©2012, Seymour Chwast, Quote: Maimonides,

Harold Grinspoon Foundation, West Springfield, MA