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Recorded since circa 1380, Middle English, philaterie, either from Old French filatiere (12c.), or via Medieval Latin philaterium, an alteration of Late Latin phylacterium ‎(reliquary), from Ancient Greek φυλακτήριον ‎(phulaktḗrion, safeguard, amulet), via adjective φυλακτήριος ‎(phulaktḗrios, serving as a protection), from φυλακτήρ ‎(phulaktḗr, watcher, guard), itself from φυλάσσω ‎(phulássō, guard or ward off), from φύλαξ ‎(phúlax, a guard).[1]



A phylactery in a painting.

phylactery ‎(plural phylacteries)

  1. (Judaism) Either of the two small leather cases, containing biblical scrolls, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer; the tefilla.
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Matthew XXIII:
      They sett abroade there philateris, and make large borders on there garmenttes, and love to sytt uppermooste at feastes [...].
    • 2005, Edward Mack, Phylactery, Nextbible.[1]
      "Every male, who at the age of 13 becomes a "son of the Law" (bar mitswah), must wear the phylactery and perform the accompanying ceremonial."
  2. Any small object worn for its magical or supernatural power; an amulet or charm.
    • 2006, Don Skemer, Binding Words Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages. Penn State Press, 2006. p. 136n:[2]
      "According to the decreta issued by the archbishop of Utrecht in 1372-75, the word phylactery pertained either to amulets on separate sheets or to entire books."




  1. ^ Archbishop of Utrecht, Arnold II van Hoorn, 1372-1375.