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Rashi on Shemos 1 (17) comments on the expression “... but they enabled the boys to live” and says “They provided water and food for them.”

If these were new-borns what sort of food could they have provided?

We see later that the infant Moshe Shemos 2 (7) used a wet-nurse, not food.

  • Also, assuming that it's distinct from simply not killing the babies (as that would perhaps be redundant with "they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them," why not just interpret it to mean that they provided, generally, the care that babies need in order to survive? – Isaac Moses Dec 28 '15 at 17:29
  • the rashi on Sotah 11b (which is the source for the Rashi on the pasuk) is a bit blurry on the e-daf page but it seems to say that the midwives would keep the boys in their houses and actually raise them, so the food would be sustenance for a while. If anyone can read a clearer printing of the Rashi (I don't have time right now), that would make for a good answer. – rosends Dec 28 '15 at 17:30
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    @Danno: sefaria.org/… – Isaac Moses Dec 28 '15 at 17:31
  • Egypt had a vast supply of fish, garlics, melons, leeks and cucumbers, as derived from parshat Beha'alotcha. They could have eaten any combination of these. – DanF Dec 28 '15 at 17:33
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    @DanF The unweaned children would eat "fish, garlics, melons, leeks and cucumbers"?? – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 28 '15 at 17:36
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The braitta (Sotah 11b) is suggesting that they provided for them even beyond their initial infancy, to the point where they could be self-sufficient (i.e. "וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ" suggests that "they enabled the boys to live").

Possibly, at that stage of the anti-Hebrew decrees, Pharaoh was only requiring feticide or partial-birth abortion, not outright infanticide (Exodus 1:16: 'And he said, "When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death, but if it is a daughter, she may live."'). So once the infants were fully born, the mothers would be able to nurse them. The chiddush of the braitta is that they provided for them even beyond that point, when their care might have otherwise been prohibitively expensive for the Hebrew slaves.

Rashi ad loc (hattips @Danno and @IsaacMoses):

ותחיין - הוה ליה למיכתב ולא המיתו הילדים. ותחיין משמע שהיו מסייעין להחיותן שהיו טומנות אותן בבתיהן ומגדלות אותם:

and they enabled the boys to live - He should have written "and they did not kill the children". "and they enabled the boys to live" implies that they helped keep them alive - that they hid them in their houses and raised them.

(A counterpoint: The fact that Rashi says "they hid them" suggests that this was also illegal at least by then. If that is the case, there's still no reason to assume that they could not have smuggled in the infants' mothers to nurse them or provided a wet-nurse by other means. The chiddush of the braissa is that they indeed went even beyond that.)

  • and what nourishment did the children have in their initial infancy? – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 28 '15 at 17:37
  • @AvrohomYitzchok while it isn't optimal, cows' milk is often fed to babies. One would imagine sheeps' milk would be available as well. Also, women who gave birth would still be available to sneak over and nurse the babies. (just realized - is your argument that a liquid diet is "drink" and not "food"?) – rosends Dec 28 '15 at 18:04
  • @AvrohomYitzchok "once the infants were fully born, the mothers would be able to nurse them" (a quotation from this answer) – msh210 Dec 28 '15 at 19:22
  • @Loewian I am rightly rebuked by msh210. Forget my question about initial infancy. – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 28 '15 at 19:41
  • The idea of "feticide or partial-birth abortion, not outright infanticide" is supported by the Ohr Hachaim ad loc "כי קודם שיוודע הנולד מה הוא אם בן אם בת יראו המילדות על האבנים אם בן הוא ימיתוהו ויאמרו נולד מת ולא יניחו עד שיצא " – Avrohom Yitzchok Dec 29 '15 at 19:06

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