Some form of quipu or knot-alphabet appears to have been adopted in Biblical, or, at least, in Talmudical times, to judge from the form taken by the ẓiẓit. Whether any mystical influence was connected therewith is uncertain, but tefillin are not knotted, except with the permanent knot of the head phylactery. It was even disputed down to the time of R. Tam whether the head knot should be tied afresh every day (Responsa, No. 132). To the rigid Sabbatarians of the Talmudic period, to make a knot was an act of labor, and, therefore, forbidden on the Sabbath (Shab. 111b), and this forms part of the Jewish law to the present day. Not alone is the making of a knot forbidden, but also the loosing of one. Consequently ultra-Orthodox Jews who will not carry a handkerchief except in the form of a girdle merely twist it around and do not tie it in a knot. Children, however, might go out on the Sabbath with stalks of madder knotted together, seemingly as an amulet (Shab. 66b). In the discussion on the restriction of martyrdom some of the extremists held that one should suffer martyrdom rather than tie even the knots of one's shoes like the Romans (Sanh. 74b). It is stated that Ex. xxxiii. 23 really means that God showed Moses the knots of the tefillin (Ber. 7a); the passage, however, is interpreted by Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) as referring to the knowledge of the physical laws of nature (comp. Maimonides, "Moreh," i. 35).
In Jewish folk-lore knots play a certain part, though how far the folk-lore is Jewish in origin generally remains uncertain. Among the children of Kiev one of the ways of determining who shall be "it " is to tie a knot in a handkerchief; the children pick out the corners, and the one selecting the knotted corner is "it." In Kovno, when a wart isremoved, a knot is tied around it with a thread, and this knot is placed under the threshold. To cure a person who is possessed one counts nine knots ("Sefer Ḥasidim," § 1159): this seems to be German (comp. Wuttke, "Deutscher Aberglaube," p. 157).
- Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. iv. 399-400;
- Güdemann, Gesch. ii. 205.