SHIPHRAH AND PUAH (Heb. פּוּעָה, שִׁפְרָה), two Hebrew women who served as midwives for the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 1:15ff.). Ordered by Pharaoh to kill all male children at birth, Shiphrah and Puah, being God-fearing, disobeyed him, under the pretext that the vigorous Hebrew women were able to dispense with the services of a midwife. In reward for their heroic and virtuous behavior, God "established households" for Shiphrah and Puah (ibid., 5:21), which probably means that they became the matriarchs of enduring families in Israel.
The name Shiphrah, which also appears in an Egyptian list of slaves in the form Š-p-ra, probably means "fair one." Puah may be related to the Ugaritic pḡt, meaning "girl."
Shiphrah is identified with Jochebed, the mother of Moses (Sot. 11b). The name refers to the fact that as a midwife, she beautified (meshapperet, מְשַׁפֶּרֶת) the children which she delivered; and Israel multiplied exceedingly (she-paru, שֶׁפָּרוּ) as a result of her actions; and that she performed deeds which were pleasing (shafru, שָׁפְרוּ) to God (Ex. R. 1:13).
Albright, in: JAOS, 74 (1954), 229 and note 50; Ginzberg, Legends, index; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 424.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.