The legends of Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad feature an elaboration of the concept of “miracle,” a category which is extended to include occurrences which are generally not considered miracles elsewhere. The three stories discussed in this article reflect a unique discourse on earthly and spiritual reality and its “natural laws,” and the possibility that through the intervention of divine providence, there can be a deviation from, and even violation, of these laws. The hero of these stories, for whose benefit miracles are performed, wins recognition as a tzaddik (righteous person) and an agent of rectification of reality, although from the usual perspective, the events that befall him would not be interpreted as miracles, and might even lead to a decline in his status. But in the context of the narrative discussed here, the kabbalist earns special recognition as possessing divinely endorsed authority, both for the acts of rectification that he performs and for his understanding of reality. Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad’s empowering interpretation of these events and their protagonists reflects his religious and social worldview as a man of his time and place.
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* This study is supported by “Da’at Hamakom”: I-CORE Center for the Study of Cultures of Place in the Modern Jewish World (ISF grant no. 1798/12).
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