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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Phylactery

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PHYLACTERY ( 4 u)aicriipcov), a Greek word meaning "guard" ( sc. against misfortune), i.e. an amulet. It is applied in the New Testament to the tefillin or "prayer-thongs" worn by orthodox Jews daily at morning-prayer (whether at home or in the synagogue). The title employed in Hebrew, tefillin, seems really to be derived from an Aramaic term meaning "attachments," "ornaments"; it corresponds to the Biblical Hebrew word rendered "frontlets" ( totafoth). The tefillin or phylacteries are worn, one on the left arm (the "hand-tefilla"), and the other on the head (the "head-tefilla"). In each case the leather thongs support a small satchel which is fastened to the arm and the forehead respectively, and contains certain passages of the Law written (in Hebrew) on parchment, viz. Exod. xiii. i-io amd 1 i-16; Deut. vi. 4-9 and xi. 13-21. The custom of wearing phylacteries seems to have been derived in the first instance from the Pharisees. By the Sadducees and the generality of the people in the time of Christ it seems not to have been practised. Later it became - not without protest - one of the badges of orthodox Judaism. It is significant that the custom is entirely unknown to the Samaritan community.

The phylacteries, together with the "fringe" (tsitsith ) and door-post symbol (mezuza) - which latter consists of a piece of parchment, containing the Hebrew text of Deut. vi. 4-9 and xi. 13-21 enclosed in a glass or metal tube, and fixed upon the right hand post of the door of each dwelling-room in a house - form the three sets of visible signs by which the Israelite is constantly reminded of his duty to God (cf. Num. xv. 39-4 0; Deut. vi. q; xi. 20). The "fringe" (or "tassels") was originally attached to the common outer garment - a large square wrap - the loose end of which hung over the left shoulder. This garment with tassels is mentioned in the New Testament (cf. Matt. ix. 20; xiv. 36; xxiii. 5 and parallels). Among modern Jews it has survived in two forms: (r) the fringed praying shawl called talith worn by every male orthodox Jew at the synagogue morning service; and (2) an under-garment, shaped like a chest-protector, one part covering the chest, the other the back, which is worn continuously by male orthodox Jews. It is called Arba Kanfoth (i.e. " Four Corners," Deut. xxii. 12) or "little Talith," and is, of course, "fringed." Both phylactery and mezuza were supposed to keep off hurtful demons (Targ. on Cant. viii. 3) .

See Surenhusius, Mischna, i. 9 seq.; and Bodenschatz, Kirch. Vc f. d. heutigen Juden, iv. 9 seq. (W. R. S.; G. H. Bo.)


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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Phylactery'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/p/phylactery.html. 1910.

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