Phylacteries are small boxes containing certain verses of Scripture worn by Jews at prayer. The term is derived from the Greek word φυλακτήριον (safeguard, amulet). The Jewish name for them is tefillin (Heb. t epillîn, which probably represents an Aramaic word meaning "attachments" but which was popularly connected with the Hebrew word t epillâ, "prayer"). A minor pseudo-Talmudic tractate also is called Tefillin; it discusses the laws regarding the preparation and wearing of phylacteries. Most of the material in this tractate has been taken from the talmud proper.
According to the prescriptions of the Talmud, phylacteries are two small leather boxes with leather straps attached; in each box is a piece of parchment on which are written four passages from the Scriptures: Ex 13.1–10 (the law, on the use of unleavened bread at the Passover in memory of the Exodus from Egypt); Ex 13.11–16 (the law on the first born in memory of the sparing of Israel's first born at the Exodus); Dt 6.4–9 (the Shema Yisrael or the Great Commandment of the love of God); Dt 11.13–21 (the promise of a bounteous harvest as a reward
for keeping the Law). Jewish men, when they say their morning prayers on weekdays (but not on Sabbaths or feasts), are to tie (literally "lay") one of the phylacteries on the forehead and one on the left arm. The custom of thus wearing phylacteries is still observed by Orthodox Jews, but not by Reform Jews.
The institution of the phylacteries is based on a literal interpretation of the injunctions in Ex 13.9 ("It shall be as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your fore-head") and Dt 6.8, 11.18 ("Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead"); hence the choice of the four passages for the phylacteries. Originally, however, these injunctions were no doubt intended to be understood in a figurative sense, like the modern expression, "Tie a string on your finger that you don't forget"; the Israelites were never to forget Yahweh's laws or His mighty deeds in rescuing them from bondage in Egypt. There is no evidence for the custom of wearing phylacteries before the last few pre-Christian centuries. But several phylacteries have been found at Qumran and further south in the Desert of Judah, e.g., at Murabba’āt, that come from about the time of Christ. The words of Jesus in Mt 23.5 show that the wearing of phylacteries was a common custom at His time; He did not condemn the custom as such, but only the hypocritical display of "wide phylacteries." Among ignorant people phylacteries might have been regarded primarily as amulets; hence their name in Greek. It is possible that the wearing of phylacteries had certain affinities with the apotropaic practices of the ancient Near East; E. A. Speiser seeks to establish this connection by means of the words used to describe phylacteries in Dt 6.8, 11.18: 'ôt (sign) and ṭôṭāpōt (pendants).
See Also: mezuzah.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 1853–54. j. h greenstone et al., The Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. j. singer, 13 v. (New York 1901–06) 10:21–28. m. joseph, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 10 v. (New York 1939–44) 8:522–523. j. schmid, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (Freiburg 1957–65) 4:554. e. a. speiser, "TWTPT," Jewish Quarterly Review 48 (1957–58) 208–217. k. g. kuhn, Phylakterien aus Höhle 4 von Qumran (Heidelberg 1957).
[s. m. polan]
phylacteries (fĬlăk´tərēz) [Gr.,=safeguard], two small leather boxes worn during morning prayers by Orthodox and Conservative Jews after the age of 13 years and one day. Each box contains strips of parchment inscribed with verses from the Scriptures: Ex. 13.1–10; 13.11–16; Deut. 6.4–9; 11.13–21. One box is fastened to the forehead and the other to the left arm; they are intended to serve as a reminder of the constant presence of God and of the need to keep Him uppermost in one's thoughts and deeds, thereby safeguarding the wearer against committing a sin. They are not worn on the Sabbath or holy days, since these days are in themselves a reminder of God. Phylacteries are also called tephillin [Aramaic,=attachment].
The two boxes are worn on the arm (usually the left) and the forehead, with the same four texts inserted into each. These are Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 13–21 and Exodus 13:1–10 and 11–16.
Recorded from late Middle English, the word comes via late Latin from Greek phulaktērion ‘amulet’, from phulassein ‘to guard’.
phy·lac·ter·y / fīˈlaktərē/ • n. (pl. -ter·ies) a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law.