Monday, September 17, 2007

How Isis Wearing Tefillin Increases My Emunas Chachamim

While some bloggers think the article about Isis wearing tefillin while standing behind the Pharaoh Osiris poses a problem, for here we have a Jewish practice based on Egyptian practice, I am not bothered in the least. Indeed, it strengthens my emunat chachamim.

In the past, Chazal had a tradition that bein enecha meant not literally between the eyes, on the bridge of the nose, but rather on the forehead over the hairline. For centuries and more, this was simply tradition. But then, in the Baal Chronicles, we saw it paired up in poetry against kodkod, head-pate, such that it was clear that bein einecha was an idiom which meant this. Thus, confirmation for this oral tradition of the meaning of the phrase. Similarly, this Egyptian "tefillin" is situated above the hairline.

Furthermore, there was another tradition that tefillin should be square. And indeed, so it is apparently depicted in the Egyptian drawings. (I will address circular tefillin shel yad in a later post.) Not to mention, as the article does, an Egyptian connection to the strange Biblical word totafot.

Much Biblical law is taking what was already present in the Ancient Near Eastern culture and adapting it, making use of it. I see no problem with their having taken Egyptian totafot and investing it with a a specific meaning, and a specific internal text, as the Bible does.

It is also a good response to Karaites. The Torah tells us (Devarim 11):

יח וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת-דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה, עַל-לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל-נַפְשְׁכֶם; וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל-יֶדְכֶם, וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם. 18 Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

Rather than taking the commandment to put these words between your eyes and on your heart literally, as we Pharisees do, they took it figuratively. Proof to this understanding are other Biblical verses such as in Mishlei 3:

ג חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת, אַל-יַעַזְבֻךָ:
קָשְׁרֵם עַל-גַּרְגְּרוֹתֶיךָ; כָּתְבֵם, עַל-לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ.
3 Let not kindness and truth forsake thee; {N}
bind them about thy neck, write them upon the table of thy heart;
Yet, if it was actual Egyptian practice, then it greatly increases the odds that Chazal are correct in their understanding of the relevant verses in Torah, that it means something literally between the eyes and upon your hand.

On the other hand, I wonder whether the Sages protested when Isis wore tefillin. It is a dispute whether they did when Michal bat Kushit (or bat Shaul) did.


Sammy W. said...

Curb your enthusiasm. This headgear (which it isn't) has nothing to with tefillin..

joshwaxman said...


though "These ancient Egyptian depictions were enough to convince an apparently previously wavering believer" is not precisely the most accurate of summaries.

yes, the article itself mentions that it represents the throne. and this is the theory of one person, and subject to challenge based on the reasons you mentioned.

yet, IF it was an actual Egyptian practice, then it bolsters rather than harms.

kol tuv,

Seth said...

It looks like you miswrote your penultimate paragraph. I looks like you wrote the opposite of what you meant.


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