In parashat shemote, Pharaoh explicitly commands the midwives to allow the females to live (וְאִם-בַּת הִוא וָחָיָה). What are the traditional commentaries explaining the order to allow the girls to survive?


4 Answers 4


Commentaries available here:

Rashi (verse 16) - Pharaoh's stargazers had told him that a boy who would lead the Jews out of Egypt was being born.

Chizkuni (verse 16) - men were generally those involved in warfare, and Pharaoh was worried about the Jews joining in a war against Egypt. Note that in verse 22, he adopts the "Rashi approach", based on the context of killing all males, even Egyptians.

Ralbag (verse 22) - they assumed they could just marry the women and assimilate them (See Netziv)

  • Does this mean there is an authentic and true knowledge of astrology (somewhere in the world) that is actually reliable or did those wizards just happen to get something true by chance?
    – quantum231
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 23:43

Rashi to Exodus (1:16) quotes a Midrash that the Pharaoh decreed to specifically kill males since his astrologers predicted that a male would save the Jews. This Midrash is pretty old, and is present in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews (2:9:2).

Hizkuni (1:16) and Hadar Z'kenim (1:22) suggest that Pharaoh was worried that males in particular would do battle against him.

The Midrash Exodus Rabba (1:18) explains that the Egyptians wanted to keep the girls to marry, since they were lustful.

  • 3
    Pharaoh decreed to specifically kill males since his astrologers predicted that a male would save the Jews. Don't they ever learn that no matter what you do, astrologer's predictions will always come true? Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:06
  • 1
    @Shmuel classical trope in Greek literature.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:07

Why did Pharoah order the killing of only the Hebrew boys? It apparently was to be an act of genocide with multiple purpose:

  1. Of terminating all Hebrew all lineages, both by nullify and interbreeding its genetic heritage, and
  2. In the latter aspect, of usurping and taking inheritance of whatever Godly endowment of which the Hebrews had been observed, rumored, or purported to have been bestowed; a kidnapping by one almighty of a feared and yet admired, alien god, so to speak.
  • 3
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thank you for your answer! Consider adding sources to your answers, so as to allow others to look up the solutions you offered. Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 19:25

Chatam Sofer: Pharao did want the Hebrews as useful servants for his construction work, and therefore he wanted strong servant women, so that he can marry of to Egyptians and let them give birth to strong servants. (The name "Shifra" is explained as expert in making a strong baby after delivery, and Pharao wanted this "strengthening" for the women.)

Also, the women wanted to resist this plan of the Pharao, since they wanted to have Jewish husbands only. Therefore, they were "making themselves ugly", appearing as if, in the eyes of the Egyptians, and also Hashem helped them in this respect (היו כקוצים בעיניהם).

This is why Pharao told the midwives to "make the girls live": see that they should look better and be more attractive in the eyes of the Egyptians.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .