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Goy (Hebrew: גוי, regular plural goyim גוים or גויים) is the standard Hebrew biblical term for a "nation", including that of Israel. Long before Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of "gentile". The latter is also its meaning in Yiddish. It is also used to refer to individuals from non-Jewish religious or ethnic groups; when used in this way in English, it often (though not always) has pejorative connotations.
The word "Goy" means nation in Biblical Hebrew. In the Torah, goy and its variants appear over 550 times in reference to Israelites and to Gentile nations. The first recorded usage of goy occurs in Genesis 10:5 and applies innocuously to non-Israelite nations. The first mention in relation to the Israelites comes in Genesis 12:2, when God promises Abraham that his descendants will form a goy gadol ("great nation"). In Exodus 19:6, the Jewish people are referred to as a goy kadosh, a "holy nation". While the books of the Hebrew Bible often use goy to describe the Israelites, the later Jewish writings tend to apply the term to other nations.
Some Bible translations leave the word Goyim untranslated and treat it as the proper name of a country in Genesis 14:1, where it states that the "King of Goyim" was Tidal. Bible commentaries suggest that the term may refer to Gutium. In all other cases in the Bible, "Goyim" is the plural of Goy and means "nations".
One of the more poetic descriptions of the chosen people in the Old Testament, and popular among Jewish scholarship, as the highest description of themselves: when God proclaims in the holy writ, goy ehad b'aretz, or "a unique nation upon the earth!" (2 Samuel 7:23 and 1 Chronicles 17:21).
The Rabbinic literature conceives of the nations (goyim) of the world as numbering seventy, each with a distinct language and purpose.
On the verse, “He [God] set the borders of peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel”, (Deut., 32:8) Rashi explains: “Because of the number of the Children of Israel who were destined to come forth from the children of Shem, and to the number of the seventy souls of the Children of Israel who went down to Egypt, He set the ‘borders of peoples’ [to be characterized by] seventy languages.”
Chaim ibn Attar maintains that this is the symbolism behind the Menorah: “The seven candles of the Menorah [in the Holy Temple] correspond to the world's nations, which number seventy. Each [candle] alludes to ten [nations]. This alludes to the fact that they all shine opposite the western [candle], which corresponds to the Jewish people.”
As noted, in the above-quoted Rabbinical literature the meaning of the word "goy" shifted the Biblical meaning of "a people" which could be applied to the Hebrews/Jews as well as to others into meaning "a people other than the Jews". In later generations, a further shift left the word as meaning an individual person who belongs to such a non-Jewish people.
In modern Hebrew and Yiddish the word goy is the standard term for a gentile. The two words are related. In ancient Greek, τα έθνη (pronounced ta ethne) was used to translate ha goyim, both phrases meaning "the nations". In Latin, gentilis was used to translate the Greek word for "nation", which led to the word "gentile".
In English, the use of the word goy can be controversial. It is often used pejoratively to refer to a non-Jew. To avoid any perceived offensive connotations, writers may use the English terms "gentile" or "non-Jew".
- James Orr, ed. (1939). "Goiim". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 2. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. OCLC 819295. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
- The Cambridge history of Judaism, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 193. ISBN 978-0-521-24377-3
- Or N. Rose; Margie Klein; Jo Ellen Green Kaiser; David Ellenson (2009). Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice. Jewish Lights Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-58023-414-6. Retrieved 18 November 2010.
- On Numbers 8:2
- Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 1988
- Random House Unabridged Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition
- Rich, Tracy R. "Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews". Judaism 101. Retrieved January 13, 2012. "There is nothing inherently insulting about the word "goy." In fact, the Torah occasionally refers to the Jewish people using the term "goy." Most notably, in Exodus 19:6, G-d says that the Children of Israel will be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," that is, a goy kadosh. Because Jews have had so many bad experiences with anti-Semitic non-Jews over the centuries, the term "goy" has taken on some negative connotations, but in general the term is no more insulting than the word "gentile.""
- Wolfthal, Diane (2004). "III - Representing Jewish Ritual and Identity" (Google Books). Picturing Yiddish: gender, identity, and memory in the illustrated Yiddish books of Renaissance Italy. Brill Publishers. p. 59 footnote 60. ISBN 978-90-04-13905-3. Retrieved January 13, 2012. "The word goy means literally "nation," but has come to mean "Gentile," sometimes with a derogatory connotation."