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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

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"). On one occasion, the Jewish people are referred to as a goy kadosh, a "holy nation."[2] 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.[3] 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,”[4] 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[5] 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.”

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