What did the Jews wear phylacteries on their foreheads?


Thank you for contacting BibleAsk.

Phylacteries (Gr. Phulaktēria) means “to watch,” “to keep,” or “a safeguard.” The concept of wearing phylacteries was based on the Jews’ literal interpretation of the following verse, “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8 also Exodus 13:9). The Jews wore phylacteries upon the head and the the left arm. They called them tephillin, which mean “prayers,” whereas the Greek designation was phulakterion (Matthew 23:5), from which the English word phylactery is derived.

These phylacteries consisted of little buckets made from the skin of clean animals, sewed to leather bands and fastened to the forehead and to the left arms of males who had reached the age of 13. The four compartments of the head phylactery each contained a strip of parchment having one of the four following passages: Exodus 13:2–10; 13:11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21. The prayers consisted of 30 scriptural verses.

The arm phylactery had only one pocket and had the same four passages written on one piece of leather. It was attached to the inside of the left arm above the elbow and close to the heart. This was done according to the verse, “These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). Phylacteries were customarily worn by pious Jews during the daily morning prayer and by the most pious all day.

Jesus criticized those that pretended of being pious by widening their head bands: “They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matthew 23:5) for these were designed to call attention to the wearer as being pious. But God never intended that these words would be carried out literally on the forehead and the arm. He commanded that His words will be accepted in the mind and applied in the life of His believers.

To many ,the phylactery had served as merely a protecting charm against evil. The Jerusalem Talmud speaks of “shoulder-Pharisees who carry all their performance of commandments on their shoulders” (Berakoth 9, 14b, 40, cited in Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, vol. 1, p. 914). It is known that Egyptians wore amulets on their bodies in the form of small papyrus scrolls with magic enchanted words. After the Exodus, the Israelites apparently imitated these superstitious practices. Bible student believe that this was observed literally during the era of the kings, the Maccabees to the time of Christ.

In His service,

Sign Up for Our Updates

Get notified of our latest updates. Don't worry, they're occasional :)

You May Also Like