• synonyms


noun, plural phy·lac·ter·ies.
  1. 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.
  2. (in the early Christian church) a receptacle containing a holy relic.
  3. an amulet, charm, or safeguard against harm or danger.
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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 formsphyl·ac·ter·ic [fil-ak-ter-ik] /ˌfɪl ækˈtɛr ɪk/, phyl·ac·ter·i·cal, adjectivephy·lac·ter·ied, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for phylacteries

amulet, talisman, reminder, charm

Examples from the Web for phylacteries

Historical Examples of phylacteries

  • His devotions over, he hurriedly took the phylacteries from his head and hand.

    A Ghetto Violet

    Leopold Kompert

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

  • The Jews had regard for their phylacteries, and the Greeks and Romans had their amulets.

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

    Demonology and Devil-lore

    Moncure Daniel Conway

  • I drink, I smoke on the Sabbath, I do not lay the phylacteries.

    Against the Current

    Edward A. Steiner

British Dictionary definitions for phylacteries


noun plural -teries
  1. Also called: Tefillah Judaism (usually plural) 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
  2. a reminder or aid to remembering
  3. archaic an amulet or charm
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Word Origin for phylactery

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

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]
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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper