The word appears in the Torah (ex. Bereishis 10:5, 36:40, Devarim 29:17, etc.) and is in common usage today.

closed as off-topic by rosends, aBochur, Alex, sabbahillel, mbloch Jun 2 '18 at 18:15

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  • I have heard three possibilities: 1. That the word is related to the word שִׁפְחָה, shifchah, meaning "a female slave" (although I have no idea why these two words would be related) 2. That the word is a play on the word שָׁפָה, shafah, meaning "language" (Jastrow) 3. That the word is of uncertain etymology. Take your pick! – ezra Jun 1 '18 at 15:23
  • 1
    Hi @YehudaW! Since Hebrew questions are only on-topic as they pertain to Judaism, I added a few examples from the Torah to keep this a bit more on-topic. – DonielF Jun 1 '18 at 18:41

Perhaps ספח, meaning something gathered or attached, as in וְנִסְפְּח֖וּ עַל־בֵּ֥ית יַעֲקֹֽב (Isa. 14:1). Shin is interchangeable with sin and sin with samech, and we already find the root spelled with a sin in וְהִנֵּ֣ה מִשְׂפָּ֔ח (Isa. 5:7). A family consists of biologically gathered or attached individuals.


According to Jastrow, the root is שפח (shafach). If that root is checked in Jastrow, he points to the root ספח (safach and also to safiach) which means to be added to. He also connects this to aftergrowth and also to spontaneous growth.

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  • The comment above says Jastrow said something different. Can you provide more support to your claim that this is what Jastrow indeed held? – Double AA Jun 1 '18 at 16:06
  • @DoubleAA The first root reference in Jastrow is exactly as I stated. The reference to language is as a play on words from midrash. – Yaacov Deane Jun 1 '18 at 16:13

The following is the entry for the word "mishpacha" in Gesenius's Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon p. 519:

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As he says that the root is the word "shafach", here is the entry for "shafach" p. 844:

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He thus claims that the word for "family" comes from the word for "spread out" and, as pointed out in one of the comments, is related to the word for "maidservant.


Rabbi Hirsch in Bereshis 8 19 writes about the word משפחה. He says it has a meaning of

plentitude, of the accumulation, the gathering of many to a mass.


root שפח, related to שפע, שבע, שבע, ספח, ספה, שפה, סבא, צבא etc. All of which have the meaning of plentitude, of the accumulation, the gathering of many to a mass. (By way of parenthesis note how the שפחה, that person who, in the non-Jewish put of view, stands at the very lowest social grade, in the Jewish point of view, as is expressed in the name they give her, is raised to a member of the family).

  • Rav Hirsch is following the view expressed by Marcus Jastrow, the Polish born, Orthodox Jew and Talmudic scholar. Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, the Lutheran Christian, disagrees. Consider contemporary experience with the Qumran scrolls. The Christians, who tried to block Jewish access to the actual scrolls, said they were clearly evidence of early Christianity. Once Jews saw the originals, they understood them in the context of traditional Judaism. There was no evidence of Christianity. – Yaacov Deane Jun 1 '18 at 21:05
  • Hirsch was following the opinion of someone 20 years his junior? That is a statement that could use some proof. – user6591 Jun 1 '18 at 21:15
  • No, They are both understanding the meaning of the word according to traditional Orthodox Judaism. The point is that Gesenius does not have that background. Hirsch and Jastrow are coming from the same place. Gesenius, the source quoted by Alex, is trying to interject a non-Jewish opinion about Hebrew word usage. It's worth pointing out that according to Gesenius' bio onWikipedia, he also tried to teach the Jewish people how to pronounce G-d's 4 letter name (incorrectly). – Yaacov Deane Jun 1 '18 at 21:52
  • As can be seen from how Rabbi Hirsch, like Jastrow, understands the root meaning. He says it means "the gathering of many to a (single) mass." Gesenius understands the word to be the exact opposite. Gesenius says it is derived from Ethiopian and means to spread out, not to gather together. – Yaacov Deane Jun 1 '18 at 22:06

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