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A page from Elia Levita's Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (16th century) including the word goy (גוי), translated to Latin as ethnicus, meaning heathen or pagan.[1]

In modern Hebrew and Yiddish, goy (/ɡɔɪ/; גוי‎, pl.: goyim /ˈɡɔɪ.ɪm/, גוים‎ or גויים‎) is a term for a gentile, a non-Jew.[2] Through Yiddish,[3] the word has been adopted into English (pl.: goyim or goys) also to mean "gentile", sometimes in a pejorative sense.[4][5][6] As a word principally used by Jews to describe non-Jews,[5] it is a term for the ethnic out-group.[7]

The Biblical Hebrew word goy has been commonly translated into English as nation,[8][9] meaning a group of persons of the same ethnic family who speak the same language (rather than the more common modern meaning of a political unit).[10] In the Bible, goy is used to describe both the Nation of Israel and other nations.

The meaning of the word goy in Hebrew evolved to mean "non-Jew" in the Hellenistic (300 BC to 30 BC) and Roman periods, as both Rabbinical texts and then Christian theology placed increasing emphasis on a binary division between Jews and non-Jews.

In modern usage in English, the extent to which goy is derogatory is a point of discussion in the Jewish community.

The word "goy" is sometimes used by white supremacists to refer to themselves when signalling a belief in conspiracy theories about Jews.[11]

Hebrew Bible[edit]

The word goy means "nation" in Biblical Hebrew.[12][13] In the Torah, goy and its variants appear 560 times in reference to both the Israelites and the non-Israelite nations.[14]

The first recorded usage of goyim occurs in Genesis 10:5 and applies to non-Israelite nations. The first mention of goy in relation to the Israelites comes in Genesis 12:2, when God promises Abraham that his descendants will form a goy gadol ("great nation").[15]

One exception is 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 the meaning of goyim is 'nations.'[16][8]

In Exodus 19:6, the Israelites are referred to as a goy kadosh, a "holy nation".[12][17] One of the more poetic descriptions of the chosen people in the Hebrew Bible, and popular among Jewish scholars is goy ehad b'aretz, or "a unique nation upon the earth" (2 Samuel 7:23 and 1 Chronicles 17:21)[18]

Translations of 'goy' in English-language Christian Bibles[edit]

In English language Christian bibles, nation has been used as the principal translation for goy in the Hebrew Bible, from the earliest English language bibles such as the 1530 Tyndale Bible and the 1611 King James Version.[19][20]

The King James Version of the Bible translates the word goy/goyim as "nation" 374 times, "heathen" 143 times, "Gentile" 30 times (see Evolution of the Term below) and "people" 11 times.[19] The New American Standard Bible translation uses the following words: "every nation" (2 times) Gentiles (1) Goiim (1), Harosheth-hagoyim* (3), herds (1), nation (120), nations (425), people (4).[21]

Evolution of the term[edit]

While the books of the Hebrew Bible often use goy to describe the Israelites, the later Jewish writings of the Hellenistic Period (from approximately 300BCE to 30BCE) tended to apply the term to other nations.[12]

Goy acquired the meaning of someone who is not Jewish in the first and second century CE. Before that time, academics Adi Ophir and Ishay Rosen-Zvi have argued, no crystallized dichotomy between Jew and non-Jew existed in Judaism.[22] Ophir and Rosen-Zvi state that the early Jewish convert to Christianity, Paul, was key in developing the concept of "goy" to mean non-Jew:

"This brilliant Hellenist Jew [Paul] considered himself the apostle of the Christian gospel "to the gentiles," and precisely because of this he needed to define that category more thoroughly and carefully than his predecessors. Paul made the conception that "goyim" are not "peoples," but rather a general category of human beings, into a central element of his thought... ...In the centuries that followed, both the Church and the Jewish sages evoked Paul's binary dichotomy."

— Haaretz journalist Tomer Persico discussing views of Ophir and Rosen-Zvi[13]

The Latin words gentes/gentilis – which also referred to peoples or nations – began to be used to describe non-Jews in parallel with the evolution of the word goy in Hebrew. Based on the Latin model, the English word "gentile" came to mean non-Jew from the time of the first English-language Bible translations in the 1500s (see Gentile).

The twelfth century Jewish scholar Maimonides defines goy in his Mishneh Torah as a worshipper of idolatry, as he explains, "Whenever we refer to a gentile [goy] without any further description, we mean one who worships false deities".[23] Maimonides saw Christians as idolators (because of concepts like the Trinity) but not Muslims who he saw as more strictly monotheistic.[24]

As a slur[edit]

Goy can be used in a derogatory manner. The Yiddish lexicographer Leo Rosten in The New Joys of Yiddish defines goy as someone who is non-Jewish or someone who is dull, insensitive, or heartless.[25] Goy also occurs in many pejorative Yiddish expressions:

  • Dos ken nor a goy דאָס קען נאָר אַ גױ - Something only a goy would do or is capable of doing.[25]
  • A goy blabt a goy אַ גױ בלאַבט אַ גױ - "A goy stays a goy," or, less literally, according to Rosten, "What did you expect? Once an anti-Semite always an anti-Semite."[25]
  • Goyisher kop גױישער קאָפּ - "Gentile head," someone who doesn't think ahead, an idiot.[25][26]
  • Goyishe naches גױישע נחת - Pleasures or pursuits only a gentile would enjoy.[27]
  • A goy! !אַ גױ - Exclamation of exasperation used "when endurance is exhausted, kindliness depleted, the effort to understand useless".[28]

Several authors have opined on whether the word is derogatory. Dan Friedman, executive director of The Forward in "What 'Goy' Means, And Why I Keep Using It" writes that it can be used as an insult but that the word is not offensive.[29] He compares it to the word "foreigners" which Americans can use dismissively but which isn't a derogatory word.[29] Similarly, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) has stated that "goy" is "Not an insult, just kinda sounds like it."[30]

Rebecca Einstein Schorr argues that the word has an established pejorative overtone. She refers to the observation "the goyishe groomsmen were all drunk and bawdy; of course, you'd never see that at a Jewish wedding" and "goyishe kop" where the word is used in a pejorative sense. She admits that the word can have non-pejorative uses, such as "goyishe restaurant" - one that doesn't serve kosher food - but contends that the word is "neutral, at best, and extremely offensive, at worst." She advocates that the Jewish community stop using the word "goy."[26] Andrew Silow Carroll writes:[27]

But the word "goy" has too much historical and linguistic baggage to be used as casually as "non-Jew" or "gentile." It starts with the obvious slurs – like "goyishe kopf," or gentile brains, which suggests (generously) a dullard, or "shikker iz a goy," a gentile is a drunkard. "Goyishe naches" describes the kinds of things that a Jew mockingly presumes only a gentile would enjoy, like hunting, sailing and eating white bread.

Nahma Nadich, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations of Greater Boston writes: "I definitely see goy as a slur — seldom used as a compliment, and never used in the presence of a non-Jew" adding "That's a good litmus test: if you wouldn't use a word in the presence of someone you're describing, good chance it's offensive."[27]

In antisemitism[edit]

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, white supremacists have ironically used the term "goy" in reference to themselves as a signal of their belief in conspiracy theories about Jews.[11] For example, a Hungarian antisemitic motorcycle association refers to themselves as the Goyim riders,[31] and in 2020 Kyle Chapman tried to rename the far-right group the Proud Boys to the Proud Goys.[32] In a similar vein, in 2017, the far-right American Traditionalist Worker Party created the crowdfunding platform called GoyFundMe, a wordplay on the popular crowdfunding platform GoFundMe.[33] The Goyim Defense League and its website, GoyimTV, are another example. Europol's 2021 report on Terrorism Situations and Trends discusses the German Goyim Partei Deutschland ('Goyim Party Germany'), "a right-wing extremist organisation" founded in 2016 which "used its website to publish anti-Semitic and racist texts, pictures and videos."[34]

The word also features in the alt-right catchphrase or meme "The Goyim Know, Shut It Down" associated with online forums such as 4chan and 8chan. In this context, the speaker assumes the role of a panicking Jew who reacts to an event that would reveal Jewish manipulations or Jewish deceitfulness. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the meme first appeared on 4chan in 2013.[35] Einstein Schorr cites the meme as an instance of "linguistic appropriation" whereby white supremacists have incorporated "pseudo-Yiddish phrases" into their vocabulary in order to ridicule and impersonate Jews. Schorr describes that as a way to propagate the "anti-Semitic myth that we are a cabal with our own secret language and agenda."[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Meaning of ethnicus (ethnici, ethnica, ethnicae, ethnicam, ethnicarum, ethnicas, ethnici, ethnicior, ethniciora, ethniciore) in Latin-English dictionary". World of Dictionary (in Latin). November 16, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  2. ^ גוי. Morfix מילון מורפיקס (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2020-08-15.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Definition of Goy". Collins Dictionary Online. Retrieved 21 September 2021.
  5. ^ a b "goy noun". Oxford Learner's Dictionaries. Retrieved 2020-08-15.
  6. ^ "Definition of GOY". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2020-08-15.
  7. ^ It is sometimes compared to similar terms in other cultures such as the Japanese word Gaijin or the Arabic Ajam. Magid, Shaul (7 December 2019). "Theorizing 'Jew" 'Judaism' and 'Jewishness': Final Reflections", The Journal of Jewish Identities 11:1 (January 2018): 205-215". Academia.edu. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  8. ^ a b James Orr, ed. (1939) [1915]. "Goiim". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. OCLC 819295. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  9. ^ Wiseman, D. J. "Genesis 10: Some Archaeological Considerations." Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute (1955).
  10. ^ "Nation". Etymoline.
  11. ^ a b Hayden, Michael Edison (August 30, 2020). "Wisconsin Man Who Says He Marched With Rittenhouse in Kenosha Was Immersed in White Supremacist Propaganda". Hatewatch. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved August 30, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c Rosen-Zvi, Ishay; Ophir, Adi (2015). "Paul and the Invention of the Gentiles". The Jewish Quarterly Review. 105 (1): 1–41. doi:10.1353/jqr.2015.0001. JSTOR 43298709. S2CID 143788215. pp. 3–4: In the Hebrew Bible, goy simply means "nation," with Israel too being a goy, a "holy goy" indeed but still a nation among nations".."During the Hellenistic period, however, a semantic differentiation takes place, and goyim begins to be used mostly for foreign nations.
  13. ^ a b Persico, Tomer (9 November 2019). "How the Jews Invented the Goy". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 7 November 2022.
  14. ^ "Frequency Lists for NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew". Brooke Lester. 2011-03-10. Retrieved 2022-11-07.
  15. ^ Lazarus, David (20 March 2022). "When Did "Goy" Become a Dirty Word?". Israel Today. Retrieved 7 November 2022.
  16. ^ Frank Moore Colby; Talcott Williams (1917). The New International Encyclopædia. Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 264.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ See, for instance: Maroof, Rabbi Joshua (9 November 2018). "Pittsburgh Reflections - OU Life". OU Life. Retrieved 7 November 2022.
  19. ^ a b Henderson, Melissa; Baker, Lisa Loraine; Verrett, Bethany; Brodie, Jessica; Haynes, Clarence L. Jr.; Dunn, Betty (8 November 2022). "Gowy Meaning in Bible - Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon - King James Version". biblestudytools.com. Retrieved 9 November 2022.
  20. ^ Tyndale Gen 10
  21. ^ Baker, Lisa Loraine; Leake, Mike (18 October 2022). "Gowy Meaning in Bible - Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon". biblestudytools.com. Retrieved 12 November 2022.
  22. ^ Rosen-Zvi, Ishay (June 10, 2016). "What if We Got Rid of the Goy? Rereading Ancient Jewish Distinctions". Journal for the Study of Judaism. 47 (2). Brill: 149–182. doi:10.1163/15700631-12340458. ISSN 0047-2212. S2CID 163738717.
  23. ^ Maimonides. Ma'achalot Assurot. Translated by Touger, Eliyahu. chapter 11 verse 8.
  24. ^ Yanover, Yori (15 November 2013). "Maimonides: Islam Good, Christianity Bad, Muslims Bad, Christians Good". JewishPress.com. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
  25. ^ a b c d Leo Rosten (April 14, 2010). The New Joys of Yiddish: Completely Updated. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. pp. 131–3. ISBN 978-0-307-56604-1.
  26. ^ a b c Schorr, Rebecca Einstein (August 21, 2017). "Goy: Origin, Usage, and Empowering White Supremacists". The Forward. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  27. ^ a b c Silow-Carroll, Andrew (April 22, 2019). "Is 'goy' a slur?". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  28. ^ Johnnetta B. Cole (1988). Anthropology for the Nineties: Introductory Readings. Simon and Schuster. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-02-906441-2.
  29. ^ a b "What 'Goy' Means, And Why I Keep Using It". The Forward. August 25, 2017. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  30. ^ "Understanding Antisemitism: An Offering to our Movement" (PDF). Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Retrieved 2022-06-04.
  31. ^ Molnár, Virág (October 30, 2015). "Civil society, radicalism and the rediscovery of mythic nationalism". Nations and Nationalism. 22 (1). Wiley: 165–185. doi:10.1111/nana.12126. ISSN 1354-5078.
  32. ^ "Proud Boys leader trying to rebrand the group as explicitly antisemitic". JPost.com. The Jerusalem Post. 12 November 2020. Retrieved 2020-11-12.
  33. ^ "Nazi sympathizer profiled by NYT loses job, asks for donations on racist fundraising site". ThinkProgress. November 29, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  34. ^ "Terrorism Situations and Trends" (PDF). Europol. 2021. p. 83.
  35. ^ "The Goyim Know/Shut It Down". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved December 6, 2020.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of goy at Wiktionary