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[fi-lak-tuh-ree] /fɪˈlæk tə ri/
noun, plural phylacteries.
Judaism. either of two small, black, leather cubes containing a piece of parchment inscribed with verses 4–9 of Deut. 6, 13–21 of Deut. 11, and 1–16 of Ex. 13: one is attached with straps to the left arm and the other to the forehead during weekday morning prayers by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish men.
(in the early Christian church) a receptacle containing a holy relic.
an amulet, charm, or safeguard against harm or danger.
Origin of phylactery
1350-1400; < Late Latin phylactērium < Greek phylaktḗrion outpost, safeguard, amulet, equivalent to phylak-, stem of phylássein to protect, guard + -tērion noun suffix denoting place; replacing Middle English philaterie < Medieval Latin philatērium, for Late Latin, as above
Related forms
[fil-ak-ter-ik] /ˌfɪl ækˈtɛr ɪk/ (Show IPA),
phylacterical, adjective
phylacteried, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for phylacteries
Historical Examples
  • I am thinking of the orthodox Jews I used to know, who used to bind their phylacteries on their arms and foreheads every morning.'

  • It was customary to tie certain kinds of phylacteries into a knot.

  • Indeed, the Rabbis assert that the single precept of the phylacteries is equal in value to all the commandments.

  • The phylacteries of the Jews were originally worn for the same purpose.

    Demonology and Devil-lore Moncure Daniel Conway
  • His devotions over, he hurriedly took the phylacteries from his head and hand.

    A Ghetto Violet Leopold Kompert
  • I drink, I smoke on the Sabbath, I do not lay the phylacteries.

    Against the Current Edward A. Steiner
  • These phylacteries (tefillin in Hebrew) are still used by orthodox Jewish men.

  • The smith laid aside his book and his phylacteries and grasped his hammer.

    I.N.R.I. Peter Rosegger
  • For example, a Jew will go over to his neighbour, at prayers, and straighten out the "Frontispiece" of his phylacteries.

    Jewish Children Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich
  • My dear fellow, we make broad our sympathies, not our phylacteries.

    Hilda Sarah Jeanette Duncan
British Dictionary definitions for phylacteries


noun (pl) -teries
(Judaism) (usually pl) Also called Tefillah. either of the pair of blackened square cases containing parchments inscribed with biblical passages, bound by leather thongs to the head and left arm, and worn by Jewish men during weekday morning prayers
a reminder or aid to remembering
(archaic) an amulet or charm
Word Origin
C14: from Late Latin phylactērium, from Greek phulaktērion outpost, from phulax a guard
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for phylacteries



late 14c., "small leathern box containing four Old Testament texts," from Old French filatiere (12c.) and directly from Medieval Latin philaterium, from Late Latin phylacterium "reliquary," from Greek phylacterion "safeguard, amulet," noun use of neuter of adjective phylakterios "serving as a protection," from phylakter "watcher, guard," from phylassein "to guard or ward off," from phylax (genitive phylakos) "guard," of unknown origin. Sometimes worn on the forehead, based on a literal reading of scripture:

Ye shall bind them [my words] for a sign upon your hands, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. [Deut. xi:18]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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