Sunday, September 03, 2006


The word "goy" is a Hebrew word meaning "nation." The word appears in the Tanakh with that intended usage, which we can derive from Isaiah's oft-used phrase, "No nation shall lift sword against another nation and no longer will they learn war," which comes from the Hebrew "lo isa goy el goy kherev; lo ilmedu 'od milkhama." The Tanakh refers to the nation of Israel as a "goy kadosh," a "holy nation."

Later, the Yiddish word "goyishe," meaning "of or related to the nations" (in practice, thought, behavior, theology, ethics, etc...) was produced from the Hebrew word "goy." Although I'm not totally sure, so don't quote me, the word probably came around sometime during the European Jews' "contact" with Christianity in Europe, for the term largely refers to ideas and practices belonging to Christianity, such as the Trinity and transubstantiation - the concept that Jesus' blood and body are literally and physically manifested in the wine and the wafer used in Catholic service. The term was not used beforehand (during the 7th, 8th, 9th centuries BCE), again, to the best of my knowledge, because the distinction between monotheism and polytheism was clear (and we know that 'goyishe' is a Yiddish word, a langauge arising in 'Jewish Europe'). The word "goyishe" is meant to belittle the concepts which it describes, indicating that there is a clear association between the concepts/practices of the nations and polytheism and this is the case when the word is used in the context of Christianity. For example, if I say that Christianity is "goyishe" I am saying that there is a common strand between the polytheistic concepts found both in many of the religions of the nations and in the religion of Christianity. In other words, Christianity is yet another another expression of the concepts found in the world's polytheistic faith systems. Later, probably during this time, it developed to describe the individual state of being a part of the(se) nations; a goy.

Very, very generally speaking, "goyishe" also refers to concepts found in the secular world which seem to have a common root with polytheistic concepts. It seems to me that this association is based on the underlying and subtle link between secular and polytheistic concepts given that both reject, or at least do not consider the importance of, the centrality of the existence of the One G-d and His Imminence in the world. "Goyishe" is a belittling adjective referring to the concepts espoused by a polytheistic religion; it is Yiddish but is a term belonging to the Jewish lexicon, at least by Ashkenazi Jews.

A testament to the dynamics of the word, Muslims are also a nation (the Jewish concept of 'nation' transcends ethnicity, apparent in that Jews are a nation but of many ethnicities) but are not necessarily "goyishe," a word which I have never heard applied in the Muslim context. In purely technical terms Muslims are also a goy, a nation, but the word "goyishe" cannot be used to describe them unless one wished to confer polytheistic association on the religion of Islam, which would be difficult to do. This also indicates that the word "goyishe" developed under Christendom due to the relationship between Jews and Christians in Europe and not by Jews under Islam. This shows that "goyishe" is a descriptive word, an adjective, sometimes totally innaccurate in describing a "goy," another nation. Therefore, we widdle the word "goyishe" down to a word basically synonymous with "polytheistic" or "polytheistic-like."

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