Birthings and Beginnings

Shiphrah and Puah's defiance of Pharaoh's decree and allegiance to God set the stage for the liberation of the Israelites.

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Further, it is no coincidence that midwives are the featured players in this episode. In their everyday lives, Shiphrah and Puah literally aid the birthing process of individual women. In their refusal to obey Pharaoh, they assume a key role in the collective birthing of the people of Israel. Fearing God rather than the political authority of the day, Shiphrah and Puah are rewarded for their insistence on life rather than death. As the Talmud says: "It was the reward of the righteous women of that generation that caused Israel to be redeemed from Egypt." (Tractate Sotah 11b).

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Hannah Pressman is a doctoral student in modern Hebrew literature at New York University, where she has earned an advanced certificate in Poetics and Theory. An alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship program, she is currently a MacCracken Fellow at NYU. She has presented her research at National Association of Professors of Hebrew conferences, and her reviews of contemporary Israeli literature have appeared in Lilith Magazine.