Goy (English /ɡɔɪ/, Hebrew: גוי‎‎, regular plural goyim /ˈɡɔɪɪm/, גוים or גויים) is the standard Hebrew biblical term for a nation.[3] The word nation has been the common translation of the Hebrew goy or ethnesin (ἔθνεσιν) in the Septuagint, from the earliest English language bibles such as the 1604 King James Version[4] and the 1530 Tyndale Bible, 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.[5][7]

Long before Roman times it had also acquired the meaning of someone who is not Jewish. 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.[9][10] 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 and applies innocuously to non-Israelite nations. The first mention in relation to the Israelites comes in , when God promises Abraham that his descendants will form a goy gadol ("great nation"). In , the Jewish people 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.

Some Bible translations leave the word Goyim untranslated and treat it as the proper name of a country in , 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".[3]

Rabbinic Judaism

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!" ( and ).

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" (), 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[12] 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".[13]

Modern usage

As noted in the above-quoted rabbinic literature, the meaning of the word goy shifted the Biblical meaning of "a people" which could be applied to the Hebrews and 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. 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.[9][10] However, to avoid any perceived offensive connotations, writers may use the better-known English terms gentile or non-Jew.

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, such as turning on and off lights.