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A page from Elia Levita's Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (16th century) contains a list of nations, including the word goy (גוי) translated to Latin as ethnicus.

Goy (/ɡɔɪ/, Hebrew: גוי, regular plural goyim /ˈɡɔɪ.ɪm/, גוים or גויים) is the standard Hebrew biblical term for a nation.[1] The word nation has been the common translation of the Hebrew goy or ethnos in the Septuagint, from the earliest English language bibles such as the 1611 King James Version[2] and the 1530 Tyndale Bible,[3] following the Latin Vulgate which used both gentile (and cognates) and nationes. The term nation did not have the same political connotations it entails today.[4][5] The word "gentile" is a synonym for the Hebrew word Nokri (Hebrew: נָכְרִי) which signifies "stranger" or "non-Jew".[6]

Long before Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of someone who is not Jewish.[7] It is also used to refer to individuals from non-Jewish religious or ethnic groups. The term goy is not inherently any more or less offensive than the term gentile,[8][9][10] unlike the term shegetz.

As the Jews considered all of the non-Jewish nations in biblical times as polytheistic and idolatrous, the Hebrew word goy had for some time acquired the meaning "heathen". In a more comprehensive definition, the word goy corresponds to the later term ummot ha-olam (nations of the world).[6]

Hebrew Bible[edit]

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 goyim occurs in Genesis 10:5 and applies innocuously 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"). In Exodus 19:6, the Israelites are referred to as a goy kadosh, a "holy nation".[11] 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.[citation needed]

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".[1]

One of the more poetic descriptions of the chosen people in the Hebrew Bible, 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).

Because of the idolatry and immoralities of the surrounding nations, the biblical writings show a passionate intolerance of these nations. Thus the seven goyim, i.e., nations (Deuteronomy 7:1, 12:2), were to be treated with but little mercy; and, more especially, marriages with them were not to be tolerated (Deut. 7:3; comp. Exodus 34:16).[12]

Rabbinic Judaism[edit]

The rabbinic literature conceives of the nations (goyim) of the world as numbering seventy, each with a distinct language and purpose.

Chaim ibn Attar[13] 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.[14]

Maimonides defines plain goy in his Mishneh Torah as a worshipper of idolatry, as he explains, "Whenever we say plainly 'goy', we mean a worshipper of idolatry".[15]

Modern usage[edit]

In modern Hebrew and Yiddish the word goy is the standard term for a gentile.[8][9][10]

The term shabbos goy (literally "Sabbath gentile") refers to a non-Jew who performs duties that Jewish law forbids a Jew from performing on the Sabbath.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b James Orr, ed. (1939) [1915]. "Goiim". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 2. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. OCLC 819295. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  2. ^ KJV Gen 10
  3. ^ Tyndale Gen 10
  4. ^ Wiseman, D. J. "Genesis 10: Some Archaeological Considerations." Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute (1955).
  5. ^ Guido Zernatto & Alfonso G. Mistretta (July 1944). "Nation: The History of a Word". The Review of Politics. 6 (3): 351–366. doi:10.1017/s0034670500021331. JSTOR 1404386.
  6. ^ a b "Gentile". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  7. ^ The Cambridge history of Judaism, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 193. ISBN 978-0-521-24377-3
  8. ^ a b Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition
  9. ^ a b 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."
  10. ^ a b 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Gentile." Jewish Encyclopedia.]
  13. ^ On Numbers 8:2
  14. ^ https://goy.askdefine.com
  15. ^ Hilchot Ma'achalot Assurot 11:8