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ZIPPORAH (Heb. צִפּוֹרָה), wife of Moses. The name of Zipporah's father is variously given as Reuel (Ex. 2:18, 21) and *Jethro (18:2; cf. 3:1), priest of Midian. She was one of seven daughters (2:16). Zipporah bore Moses two sons, Gershom and Eliezer (2:22; 18:3–4). She appears to have accompanied her husband on his return to Egypt when, at a night encampment on the way, she averted his imminent death by circumcising her son with a flint (4:24–26). Zipporah seems to have returned with her children to her father's home in Midian, rejoining Moses at Mt. Sinai after the Exodus from Egypt (18:1–6). Nothing further is recorded of her.

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

Zipporah is praised in the Midrash both for her piety and virtue (mk 16b; Ex. R. 1:32) and for her beauty (Mid. Ps. 7:18). Various explanations are given of her name ("bird"): When questioned by her father about Moses, she ran after him like a bird and returned with him (Ex. R. 1:32); she cleansed her father's house from every vestige of idolatry as a bird collects the smallest crumbs from the ground (ibid.); she is compared to the bird used in the purification rites of the leper (Tanḥ. B., Ex. 6). As soon as Jethro realized that Moses was the Hebrew who had fled from Egypt he had him thrown into a pit. During the ten years he spent in the pit, however, Zipporah provided him with food until he was set free (Targ. Jon., Ex. 2:21). The "sending away" of Zipporah after the Exodus is interpreted as meaning that Moses gave her a bill of divorce (Mekh., Amalek, 3). Identifying the "Cushite woman" (Ethiopian) in Numbers 12:1 with Zipporah whom he remarried, the rabbis explain that as a Cushite woman is distinguished by her skin, so was she distinguished by her virtuous deeds (mk 16b).


S. Talmon, in: Eretz Israel, 3 (1954), 93–96 (Heb.), 4 (Eng. summ.); J. Blau, in: Tarbiz, 26 (1956/57), 1–3 (Heb.), 1 (Eng. summ.); S. Ben-Shabbat, ibid., 213 (Heb.), 7 (Eng. summ.); H. Kosmala, in: vt, 12 (1962), 14–28 (incl. bibl.); J. Morgenstern, in: huca, 34 (1963), 35–70; Ginzberg, Legends, index.

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