The gemara in Menachos 34b learns the number of parshiyos in tefillin in various ways. One is

ר"ע אומר אינו צריך טט בכתפי שתים פת באפריקי שתים
Rabbi Akiva says: ... four compartments can be derived from "totafot" itself: "tot" in Katfi means two, "pat" in Afriki also means two [and therefore totafot can be understood as a compound word meaning four.]

I once heard Rav David Cohen shlit"a speak, and he noted that the whole gemara there likes to divide the parshiyos of tefillin into two groups - see for example the ברייתות there of which parshiyos are used, and the machlokes Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam on it, whether the second group of two is in order or switched. Also גר"ז או"ח סי' כ"ז: the reason that tefillin must be precisely centered on the head is so that these two batim should be on his left, and those two on his right.
Rav David said [the rest is my memory or reconstruction]: It makes sense. The first two parshiyos קדש and והיה כי יביאך are in Shemos Parshas Bo as Israel entered the desert, and have to do with Israel leaving Mitzrayim, discussed in those sections a lot. The last two שמע and והיה אם שמוע are way off in Devarim in Parshiyos Va'Eschanan and Eikev, just before Israel leaves the desert and enters Eretz Yisrael.
Therefore, the first two are represented by כתפי, Coptic, the language of Egypt. The last two are represented by אפריקי. [See the Yalkut at the end of Parshas Bo, that the Canaanites who fled before Israel were rewarded with another good land - אפריקי. And similarly Sanhedrin 91a.]

It was a wonderful idea. But I wanted to ask, Does anyone know of a reference that identifies כתפי with Coptic (consonants switched)?

  • Related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/82769/759
    – Double AA
    Jan 28, 2021 at 14:12
  • Thank you, interesting. It doesn't affect my pshetl, I think, but perhaps I should amend the attempted translation?
    – MichoelR
    Jan 28, 2021 at 15:14
  • Two is "esnav" in Coptic. So, I would guess not. Jan 28, 2021 at 15:39
  • @MichaBerger See b a's comment below.
    – MichoelR
    Jan 28, 2021 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


Jastrow does, with a question mark:

כַּתְּפִי m. (sub לשון) Coptic language (?). Snh. 4ᵇ; Zeb. 37ᵇ; Men. 34ᵇ (Ar. s. v. טט, some ed. גדפי, cmp. גִּיפְטִי).

No word resembling either טט or פת meaning "two" seems to exist in any dialect of Coptic (which is possible to search using this online dictionary).1 I think that the language that we refer to as Coptic is probably not the one Rabbi Akiva was referring to, even if we're using the same name to refer to it. The names "Coptic" and "African" can be connected with the provinces of Aegyptus and Africa respectively, so maybe "Coptic" refers to one of the other languages that were spoken in that province at that time.

1 ϫⲫⲟⲧ, glossed as "a part of body wherof there are two" at first seems promising, but looking at the source of the gloss, it turns out that the word is not a general term for "a part of body wherof there are two" but an uncertainty on the part of the lexicographer as to which part of body.


According to the book "Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew", by a fellow MY user, Coptic is referred to in the gemara as גיפטית. Rabbi Steinsaltz to Megillah 18a says the same.

  • @reb-chaim-haqoton
    – robev
    Jan 28, 2021 at 19:45

Moshe Mykoff, of the Breslov Research Inst., in his translation of Likkutei Moharan, translates it as such:

וְזֶה שֶׁגִּלּוּ חֲכָמֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה, וּפָתְחוּ לָנוּ פֶּתַח, שֶׁהַמַּשְׂכִּיל יֵדַע וְיָבִין שֶׁבְּכָל הַדְּבָרִים גַּשְׁמִיִּים יֵשׁ אֱלֹקוּתוֹ וְחִיּוּתוֹ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמְרוּ חֲכָמֵינוּ זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה (מנחות לד:): טַט בְּכַתְפִי שְׁתַּיִם, פַּת בְּאַפְרִיקֵי שְׁתַּיִם; לְהוֹדִיעַ שֶׁבְּכָל לְשׁוֹנוֹת הָעַכּוּ"ם יֵשׁ שָׁם אֱלֹקוּתוֹ הַמְחַיָּה אוֹתָהּ.

This is as our Sages revealed, opening a way for us so that the discerning will know and understand that all corporeal things have His Godliness and His life-force in them. As our Sages said: Tat in Coptic means two, pat in Afriki means two (Menachot 34b), indicating that every one of the nations’ languages contains His Godliness, which is what gives it life.

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