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    Origin of the term “goy” – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Today goy means a non-Jew, but isn’t it true that in the Bible it means a Jew?

    A. The word means “nation” or “people”.

    In Biblical Hebrew it applies both to Jews and gentiles. “The nations of the earth” are goyei ha’aretz (Gen. 18:18). The Israelites are to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” – mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh (Ex. 19:6). Israel is “a unique nation on the earth” – goy echad ba’aretz (I Chron. 17:1).

    However, quite often the word means a non-Israelite group. Hagoyim asher s’vivotechem are “the nations that surround you” (Lev. 25:44). Chukkot hagoy are “the (pagan) customs of the gentile” (Lev. 20:23; II Kings 17:8).

    Gradually, therefore, the word came to denote “them”, not “us”.

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