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They're called Totafot in the Torah, so why do we call them Tefilin?

3 Answers 3

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Totafot is Hebrew Tefilin is Aramaic

Why there is no revival to call them Totafot, you'd have to be Gd to know why. Maybe because most of the people who like to bring back hebrew weren't themselves particularly religious. Or because Totafot only applies to the Tefilin shell Rosh... but still, nobody calls the tefilin shell rosh Totafot either.

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    Isn't it unusual that even the brochos use the Aramaic?
    – yoel
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 14:59
  • It doesn't seem all that unusual to me. Kadish is in Aramaic, the passages we say before removing the Torah from the ark is in Aramaic. Parts of Tanach are written in Aramaic.
    – avi
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 10:30
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    @yoel, how about the berachah on blossoming trees? It's got שלא חיסר בעולמו כלום (where in Biblical Hebrew the last word would be דבר - and indeed I think there are some versions that say that instead), and ואילנות טובות, which is definitely an Aramaism (the Biblical Hebrew equivalent would be ועצים טובים).
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 16, 2011 at 17:28
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    @DoubleAA Afrikanas? Do you mean ancient Egyptian? Afrikanas is a dutch language that they speak in South Africa.
    – avi
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 7:03
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    @alicht Onkeles
    – avi
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 11:00
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In addition to Avi's answer, that "t'fillin" is the Aramaic targum of "totafot," in the Torah "totafot" is used to refer to the shel rosh, and "ot" refers to the shel yad.

In the Mishnah (and therefore in the Talmuds) "t'fillin" is used for both the shel yad and shel rosh; the singular is "t'fillah." My feeling is that the reason everyone calls them "t'fillin" nowadays is because everyone called them "tf'illin" back then, also.

Some sources for t'fillin in the Mishnah (not an exhaustive list!):

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I would venture to say that since Tefilin was originally meant to be worn all day, which we do not do as we can not keep our D'aas on them, now we only wear it by Tefila, that is why it is called Tefilin.

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  • Those who say we wear it all day, also called/call it Tefilin.
    – avi
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 10:31
  • Pardon me - however do you know of more than 3 people that wear it all day? Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 14:02
  • @Gershon, maybe not nowadays, but they did in the era of the Mishnah - and yet they're consistently called "tefillin" there.
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 14:27
  • However even then it was not the Hamon Am only Yechidei Segula Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 14:40
  • The ruling was made that we don't wear it all day anymore. So that means at some point in History, they wore it all day. When the ruling was passed down, they didn't call them Totafot.
    – avi
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 18:18

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