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Goy or Gentile (English /ɡɔɪ/, Hebrew: גוי‎, regular plural goyim /ˈɡɔɪɪm/, גוים or גויים) is the standard Hebrew biblical term for a "nation", including that of Israel.[1] The word nation has been the common translation of the Hebrew "goy", or "ethnesin" (ἔθνεσιν) in the LXX, from the earliest English language bibles such as the 1604 King James Version[2] and the 1530 Tyndale Bible,[3] following the Latin Vulgate which used both gentile (and cognates) and nationes / nationibus. The term "nation" did not have the same political connotations it entails today.[4][5]

Long before Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of someone who is not Jewish.[6] 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 occasionally has pejorative connotations. However, many people do not see the term "goy" as any more or less offensive than the term "gentile".[7][8][9] However, to avoid any perceived offensive connotations, writers may use the better-known English terms "gentile" or "non-Jew".

Biblical Hebrew

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".[10] 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".[1]

Rabbinic Judaism

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, "When the Most High [...] set the borders of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel" (Deuteronomy 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[11] 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."

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" (Hilchot Ma'achalot Assurot 11:8).

Modern usage

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

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".[12]

In English, the use of the word goy can be controversial. It is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to a non-Jew, but in general the term is perceived as no more insulting that the term gentile.[7][8][9] However, to avoid any perceived offensive connotations, writers may use the better-known English terms "gentile" or "non-Jew".

The term shabbos goy (lit. Sabbath Gentile) refers to a non-Jew who performs duties that Jewish law forbids a Jew from performing on the Sabbath, such as turning on and off lights.


  1. 1.0 1.1 James Orr, ed. (1939). "Goiim". International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 2. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. OCLC 819295. Retrieved January 13, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. KJV Gen 10
  3. Tyndale Gen 10
  4. Wiseman Gen 10
  5. Guido Zernatto and Alfonso G. Mistretta (July 1944). "Nation: The History of a Word". The Review of Politics. Cambridge University Press. 6 (3): 351–366. doi:10.1017/s0034670500021331.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. The Cambridge history of Judaism, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 193. ISBN 978-0-521-24377-3
  7. 7.0 7.1 Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition
  8. 8.0 8.1 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."<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Wolfthal, Diane (2004). "III - Representing Jewish Ritual and Identity". Picturing Yiddish: gender, identity, and memory in the illustrated Yiddish books of Renaissance Italy (Google Books). 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. On Numbers 8:2
  12. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 1988