Goyim – Meaning, Origin and Usage

If you’ve ever wondered what Jewish people might call a group of non-Jews, the answer is “goyim”.

That succinct answer shouldn’t dissuade you from reading the rest of this post, however, as there’s a lot more to unpack.

Meaning

The Hebrew plural goyim can best be translated to English as “gentiles”, which means people who are not Jewish. Since it is a plural, goyim refers to multiple non-Jewish people.

The singular of goyim is goy, which translates to gentile or non-Jew. Hebrew is a gendered language; plural nouns can end in “-ot” (feminine) or “-im” (masculine). This does not mean that goyim only refers to male gentiles, however, as “-im” is purely added because the noun “goy” is grammatically masculine.

The word goy, and its plural goyim, can be purely descriptive. It can also be used in a derogatory way.

Example Usage

To better understand how goyim, and its singular (goy) can be used, let’s take a look at some sentences:

  • Some Orthodox Jews employ a Shabbos goy, who is not obliged to rest during Shabbat, to perform fobidden tasks like carrying items to Synagogue or pressing elevator buttons.
  • (Addressing non-Jewish coworkers in a joking manner.) I’ll be off work for the high holidays, so I’ll see you goyim in a few days!
  • Please come to our Shul for Purim, and I’ll show you goyim how we Jews enjoy the holidays!

Origin

The words “goy” and “goyim” appear in the Torah, the Jewish holy book — which is similar to the Christian Old Testament, though translations have meant that certain meanings have diverged over time, and interpretations may also differ.

In this context, the word “goyim” meant “nations”, and is also translated as such in the King James Version of the Christian Bible. The word first makes an appearance in Genesis, where it refers to nations other than the ancient Israelites without any negative meaning.

In other places in the Torah, Israelites are also referred to as a nation, so the word goyim did not originally exclusively refer to non-Jews. This is, however, the meaning goyim took on over time.

The English-language equivalent of goy and goyim are gentile and gentiles. These are simply catch-all terms to refer to non-Jewish people. In a modern context, however, goy and goyim often have a slightly insulting tone to them.

As the word “goy” entered the English language, an Anglicized plural — goys — also became used, often by people who are, themselves, goyim.

Those people who are reading about the meaning of the word goyim because they found it online somewhere should be aware that it is sometimes used by anti-Semitic trolls, specifically in the meme “the goyim know; shut it down”.

This anti-Semitic meme refers to the idea that Jews are plotting to take over the world and seems to have originated on 4chan.

Words Similar to Goyim

Other words that Jewish people may used to describe those who are not Jewish include:

  • Gentile(s).
  • Shiksa, a Yiddish word that refers to a non-Jewish woman.

Words Opposite to Goyim

The opposite of goy (singular) and goyim (plural) would be Jew or Jews in English.

What Is the Correct Word?

The correct singular for gentile or non-Jew in Hebrew is “goy“, while the plural is “goyim“.

Ways People May Say Goyim Incorrectly

Those who have recently become familiar with the word “goyim” may incorrectly assume that it can apply to one non-Jew. This is not true; goyim is always plural and therefore refers to at least two gentiles.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Goyim

You can use the plural noun goyim, which is Hebrew, to refer to any group of two or more non-Jewish people. If you are not Jewish, you can refer to yourself and one or more other gentiles as “goyim”. If you are Jewish, you can call any group of gentiles goyim — but be aware that some may be insulted.

If you are looking for a more Anglicized version, you can choose “goys” or “gentiles” instead.

 

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