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Goy (Hebrew: גוי‎, regular plural goyim גוים or גויים) is a Hebrew biblical term for "nation". By Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of "non-Jew".[1] The latter is also its meaning in Yiddish.


In Biblical Hebrew

File:Page from Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary by Elijah
A page from Elia Levita's Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (16th century) contains a list of nations, including word "גוי", translated to Latin as "Ethnicus"

In the Torah/Hebrew Bible, 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"). While the earlier books of the Hebrew Bible often use goy to describe the Israelites, the later ones 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. Bible commentaries suggest that the term may refer to Gutium.[2] The "King of Goyim" was Tidal.

In 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!'.

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

On the verse, “He [God] set the borders of peoples according to the number of the Children of Israel,”[3] 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.”

The Ohr Hachayim[4] 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.”

Modern usage

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 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, 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".[5]

In English, the use of the word goy can be controversial. Like other common (and otherwise innocent) terms, it may be assigned pejoratively to non-Jews.[6][7][8] To avoid any perceived offensive connotations, writers may use the English terms "Gentile" or "non-Jew".

In Yiddish, it is the only proper term for Gentile and many bilingual English and Yiddish speakers use it dispassionately [1] or even deliberately.[2]

The term shabbos goy refers to a non-Jew who performs duties that Jewish law forbids a Jew from performing on the Sabbath, such as lighting a fire to warm a house.

In Israel, secularists rarely use the term, preferring reference to foreign countries and nations by their specific names.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ The Cambridge history of Judaism, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 9780521243773, p. 193.
  2. ^ Goiim in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
  3. ^ Deut., 32:8
  4. ^ On Numbers, 8:2
  5. ^ Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 1988
  6. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
  7. ^ "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.' Jewish Attitudes Toward Non-Jews, Retrieved January 30, 2007.
  8. ^ "The word goy means literally "nation", but has come to mean "Gentile", sometimes with a derogatory connotation." Diane Wolfthal. Picturing Yiddish: gender, identity, and memory in the illustrated Yiddish books of Renaissance, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004, ISBN 9004117423, p. 59 footnote 60.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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From Hebrew גּוֹי (goi), nation).

Cf. Exodus 19:6: ממלכת קהנים וגוי קדוש (mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh) "... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (referring to the Jewish people). The word "goy" technically refers not to non-Jews, but rather to a nation per se; the Jews are said to constitute a "goy". But through common usage - namely referring to "the [other non-Jewish] nations" - the word came to colloquially refer to non-Jews.




goyim or goys

goy (plural goyim or goys)

  1. A non-Jew, a Gentile.
    • 1988, Anthony Burgess, Any Old Iron:
      I don’t think that marriage is working, but I’m not going to be stupid about it and say she shouldn’t have married a goy.

Usage notes

  • This noun is sometimes taken to be offensive; speakers wishing to avoid offense may prefer the term gentile (sometimes capitalized as Gentile) or simply non-Jew.


Goy (Chinese Pinyin ní (ni2), nì (ni4))

  1. a Chinese Surname

Simple English

Goy is a Yiddish word that means "nations". It is used for referring to non-Jewish groups of people. If it is used for multiple groups or nations, the plural word Goyem is used instead.

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