Avatar Anon asked Staff ago

Hi ,

I wonder if you know why tefilin are called in greek FILACTERIUS (amulets)?



São Paulo – Brazil

1 Answers
Avataradmin Staff answered 11 years ago

Dear Ariel,

First of all, the standard transcription of the Greek word is phylaktêria (this is a plural form). The singular form is phylaktêrion, and the basic meaning of this word is “a guarded post, fort, safeguard, security.”

Under the category of “safeguard” go also all kinds of amulets and magical symbols – e.g., the protective symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt mentioned in Greek sources written in Egypt in the last centuries BCE (go to http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph.jsp?l=fulakth%2Fria&la=greek#lexicon and click there on the link “LSJ” under phylaktêrion in order to find information about the attestations and meanings of this word as given in the standard dictionary of ancient Greek by Liddell, Scott and Jones).

The designation of tefillin as phylaktêria was evidently based on the notion that these objects possess a magical protective force. The earliest mention of tefillin as phylaktêria appears in the New Testament, Matthew 23:5. From there this word, as a designation for tefillin, was borrowed into other European languages (e.g., English “phylacteries”).

Interestingly, in the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 96b) there is a mention of the custom to make tefillin-shaped amulets. Also, it should be noted that there is no clear biblical source for making and wearing tefillin, and connecting this commandment to the biblical text requires word-plays such as this: “Rabbi Akiva says [on the Hebrew word totafot in Exodus 13:6, Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18]: tot means ‘two’ in [the language of Katpi]; fot means ‘two’ in the language of Afriki” (Sanhedrin 4b). On the other hand, Rashbam (on Exodus 13:9), wrote: “‘[Let it be] a sign on your arm’ – according to the deep sense of its plain meaning, this means that you should remember these things forever, as though they were written on your arm. It is similar to ‘Put me like a seal on your heart’ (Song of Songs 8:6).” That is, the words of the Torah are only an allegory implying that the commandments should be deeply ingrained in the mind of a Jew.


Daat Emet

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