Tefillin’s an Egyptian amulet: Museum


The Metropolitan Museum of Art is under fire for identifying a    head piece of tefillin, with the Hebrew letter shin   clearly visible, as  an Egyptian “amulet.”

The object, which the Met says it acquired in 1962 and is dated from 500 to 1000 CE, is listed in a Twitter post as a sixth-century amulet from Egypt.

When it was first publicized by the Met, in 2019, it generated just one complaint on Twitter, from an account belonging to a New York rug gallery which posted, ““That is not an Amulet it is a Jewish tefillin,”

The second, third, fourth and fifth times the Islamic art collection shared the image, no one responded at all.

But over the weekend the image became the subject of an explosion of interest on Twitter. One of the first to post it, a Jewish genealogist named Caitlin Hollander, offered a correction and tagged people who might be able to work with the Met to revise the museum’s description.

Other people who shared the image were more aggressive in their criticism. And after the account  @StopAntiSemites amplified the issue, criticism of the labeling included charges that the museum’s categorization was offensive to Jews.

@StopAntiSemites tweeted:

Hey @metmuseum we have a slight problem ... why are you calling #teffilin an ‘amulet’ and then categorizing it as #islamic art when it’s literally the most sacred religious item for men in Judaism?!

Raphael Magarik, English professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago whose studies have included the understanding of tefillin by non-Jews, posted a thread Sunday explaining that while the object pictured is likely mislabeled, there are historical arguments for the label.

“There’s no reason not to call tefillin an amulet,” Magarik wrote. “Lexically, the Greek term now commonly used to refer to them (‘phylactery’) originally meant just that, and had a long history of usage in that sense before referring to the specific Jewish items.”