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Rashi, on Shemot (13:16): "...וְהָיָה לְאוֹת עַל יָדְכָה וּלְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ " writes:

and for ornaments between your eyes: Heb. וּלְטוֹטָפֹת, tefillin. Since they are [composed of] four compartments, they are called טֹטָפֹת, ‎טט in Coptic meaning two, and פת in Afriki (Phrygian) meaning two (Men. 34b) [thus 2+2=4 boxes of tefillin]...

The second part of this Rashi derives the word 'totafot' from a different source:

...Menachem (Machbereth Menachem p. 99), however, classified it [טוֹטָפֹת] with “Speak (הַטֵף) to the south” (Ezek. 21:2) and “Preach not (אַל-תּטִּיפוּ)” (Micah 2:6), an expression of speech, like “and as a remembrance” (Exod. 13:9), for whoever sees them [the tefillin] bound between the eyes will recall the miracle [of the Exodus] and speak about it.

Why does the Torah 'choose' to ascribe a non-Hebrew word for such a holy symbol/item as the tefillin (according to the opinion that the word is of Phrygian origin)?

Furthermore, if the Torah documents the tefillin as being 'totafot', when is the first instance that they are referred to as tefillin, and why?

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    I think it's important to distinguish between a drasha to explain a known halachah (4 compartments) and the absolute foreignness of a word. IMHO, the Talmud is using linguistics to give textual source to a Halacha Le'Moshe MiSinai (something it often does), NOT to tell us that this is de facto a foreign word. – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 23 '16 at 20:43
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    As for your last question, the first instances of "תפילין" are in the two Aramaic translations of the Torah (Yontan ben Uziel, Onkelos), both from the period of the Tannaim. – Cauthon Feb 23 '16 at 20:44
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    To add another point, the Torah view of linguistics (migdal bavel, etc.) enables the use of other languages when useful as they are, ipso facto, descendants of the Lashon HaKodesh used in the Torah. – Isaac Kotlicky Feb 23 '16 at 20:46
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  • That’s how you’re reading this? I always thought the word was Hebrew, and for exegetical purposes R’ Akiva expounds it as if it were African and Coptic. The word does make several appearances in Mishnayos, for instance Shabbos 6. Even if it is African and Coptic, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a word to be from a foreign language: see, for instance, Rashi to Bereishis 6:14 and 31:47, to Vayikra 20:17, and to Devarim 21:14. – DonielF Jan 31 '18 at 15:41

Be’er Mayim Chaim, by the brother of the Maharal, to Deuteronomy 6:8 explains that Chazal had a tradition that these two words actually originate from before the story of the Tower of Bavel (Genesis Chapter 11). Back then everyone spoke loshon hakodesh, Hebrew. After the dispersion and the creation of new languages, these two words remained and were used by the people who spoke Katpi and Afriki.

So really the Torah is using a Hebrew word, but in Rabbi Akiva's time it was more in use by other nations.

Your second question is I think suitable for its own post, but I'd venture to say Targum Onkelos is the first source...

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Arguably, because טוטפות is actually a Hebrew word. It's used twice in Mishnayos Shabbos, chapter 6. In Mishnah 1, it says (translation follows Sefaria):

לֹא תֵצֵא אִשָּׁה ... וְלֹא בְטֹטֶפֶת וְלֹא בְסַנְבּוּטִין בִּזְמַן שֶׁאֵינָן תְּפוּרִין

A woman may not go out [on Shabbos] ... nor with a frontlet [on her forehead] nor with bangles if they are not sewn.

And in Mishnah 5:

יוֹצְאָה אִשָּׁה ... וּבְטֹטֶפֶת וּבְסַנְבּוּטִין בִּזְמַן שֶׁהֵן תְּפוּרִין

A woman may go out [on Shabbos] ... with a frontlet [on her forehead] or with bangles if they are sewn.

Why, then, does the Gemara expound based on African? I imagine that's just normal exposition.

On the other hand, I could be looking at this entirely backwards, and the frontlets that women would wear got their name based on this not-Hebrew word ordinarily ascribed to Tefillin...

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You might want to look at the following website.


It is possible that Totafot or Totaf is an Egyptian word signifying the Ureaus (a Greek term) - referring to what the Pharaoh wore in court. If that is correct, Totaf or Totafot was an Egyptian word - and everyone in Egypt knew what it meant - and so did the Jews leaving Egypt. So the Torah felt no need to explain the word - but used it without comment.

Where the term Tefillin arose - most likely in the Talmud - a Bar Ilan search can easily discover these appearances.

All of this (so far) conjecture is explained at the link above

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    Welcome to the site. This seems to be your own website you're linking to; if so, you need to explicitly state so. Please read the help center for more information about this. – Glorfindel Dec 30 '17 at 18:30

This is tentative answer. I found two clues in Tanakh. It is 1 Melachim 4:11 and Iyov 29:22. It seem that the word "totafot" probably comes from the word "nataf" (Shemot 30:34). totafot probably means "inspirations/prophecies" (plural). So perhaps the proper translation of Shemot 13:16 should be "and it becomes for a sign on your hand and for inspirations/prophecies between your eyes, for in strength of a hand brought us Yahuah from Mizraim". "for inspirations" because you can't see it, only others can see it and would be inspired by it. What do you think?

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    Are you looking at טפת in Kings 1:4:11? That's a name, not a verb. – Double AA Feb 25 '16 at 4:20

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