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GENTILE, non-Jew. It was only during the later Second Temple period that a sharp distinction and a barrier of separation was erected between the Jew and the gentile. The prohibition of marriage, which in the Bible was limited to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1–4), was extended, following the reforms of Ezra, to include all non-Jews; the acceptance of monotheism was made the distinguishing mark of the Jew (Meg. 13a, Esth. R. 6:2); the Jews were regarded as having completely discarded *idolatry which was, however, uniformly characteristic of the non-Jew. In addition to that the low moral, social, and ethical standards of the surrounding gentiles were continuously emphasized, and social contact with them was regarded as being a pernicious social and moral influence. As a result, during this period the world was regarded as divided, insofar as peoples were concerned, into the Jewish people and the "nations of the world," and insofar as individuals were concerned, into "the Jew" and the idolater ("oved kokhavim u-mazzalot," usually abbreviated to "akkum," literally "a worshiper of stars and planets" but applied to all idolaters). Only considerations of humanity, such as relief of their poor, visiting their sick, affording them last rites (Git. 61a), and discretion ("one greets a gentile on their festivals for the sake of peace" – Tosef. Av. Zar. 1:3) were reasons for breaking the otherwise impenetrable barrier. As a result, the conception of and the attitude toward the non-Jew from the Talmudic period onward are strikingly different from that during the biblical period.

For the biblical period see *Stranger.

In the Talmud

Since talmudic literature spans over half a millennium, covering a wide geographic area, attitudes toward gentiles expressed in it vary considerably. In fact, it reveals a whole spectrum of opinions from the extreme antipathy of the tormented Jew of Hadrian's time – e.g., Simeon b. Yoḥai's statement: The best of gentiles should be killed (TJ, Kid. 4:11, 66c) – to the moderate views expressed in the more friendly atmosphere of early Sassanid Babylon – witness Samuel's making no distinction between Israel and the nations on the Day of Judgment (TJ, RH 1:3, 57a). Thus all such statements must be seen in their specific geographical-historical context. Nevertheless, in general it may be said that the Jew's attitude toward the gentile was largely conditioned by the gentile's attitude toward him (see Esth. R. 2:3), so that a gentile's friendship to a Jew would be warmly and uninhibitedly reciprocated (see BK 38a, and witness the relationships between Meir and Avnimos ha-Gardi, Judah ha-Nasi and Antoninus, Samuel and Sapor, etc.).

Jewish antipathy to the gentile in talmudic times stemmed from a number of causes and functioned on several levels. Thus, gentiles were condemned for their cruelty to Jews (see BK 117a; Av. Zar. 25b, etc.), their morals were considered reprehensible (Yev. 98a; Av. Zar. 22b; Song R. 6:8, etc.), and throughout the period one finds reiterated the (theological) accusation that though they were offered the Torah, they rejected it (Av. Zar. 2b; Tanḥ. B., Deut. 54, etc.). Thus, the Jewish antipathy to the gentile was not due to the fact that he was of non-Jewish stock, i.e., it was not a racial prejudice, but rather motivated by their idolatry, moral laxity, and other such faults (see Av. Zar. 17a–b). Those that were righteous (by Jewish standards), however, were fully entitled to the rewards of the world-to-come (Tosef., Sanh. 13:2; BB 10b), and a further distinction was made by Johanan who declared that gentiles outside Palestine were not really idolaters, but only blind followers of their ancestral customs (Ḥul. 13b).


In rabbinic literature the distinction between gentile (goi, akkum) and Christian (noẓeri) has frequently been obscured by textual alterations necessitated by the vigilance of censors. Thus "Egyptian," "Amalekite," "Zadokite" (= Sadducee) and kuti (Samaritan) often stand in place of the original noẓeri, as well as goi, akkum, etc. (see Paḥad Yiẓḥak, S.V. Goi). Probably when Resh Lakish stated that a gentile (akkum etc., in existing texts) who observed the Sabbath is punishable by death (Sanh. 58b), he had in mind Christians (see A. Weiss, in Bar Ilan, 1 (1963), 143–8, xxxi–ii). The same may be so in the case of R. Ammi who ruled that one may not teach a gentile Torah (Ḥag. 13a; cf. Sanh. 59a). Numerous anti-Christian polemic passages only make real sense after noẓeri has been restored in place of the spurious kuti or ẓedoki, etc.

In Law

The gentile figures very widely in talmudic law, in various legal categories, such as laws of personal status, marriage and inheritance, proselytization, laws of accession, contract, agency, evidence and damages, purity and impurity, laws concerning the types of property, and offerings he may present to the Temple, to name but a few. The basic assumption is that all non-Jews are subject to certain universal laws, religious, moral, and social (called the seven *Noachide laws): (1) institution of courts of justice; (2) idolatry; (3) blasphemy; (4) incest; (5) homicide; (6) robbery; (7) eating the limb of a living animal, and according to other opinions, castration, mixing of breeds, witchcraft, etc. (Sanh. 56a–b, et al.).

Thus the gentile is a legal personality in Jewish law, and though sometimes discriminated against, is generally treated equitably. Thus, the Talmud relates that once the Roman government sent two officials to learn the Jewish law. After careful study, they said: "We have scrutinized all your laws and found them just (emet), except for the following instance. You say that if a Jew's ox gores that of a gentile, the owner is free from damages, while if a gentile's ox gores that of a Jew, he is obliged to pay damages. But if, as you say, 'neighbor' (in Ex. 21:35) excludes the gentile, then he should be free even when his ox gores that of a Jew. And if, on the other hand 'neighbor' includes the gentile, then the Jew should have to pay damages when his ox gores that of a gentile …" (BK 38a).

Where there is legal discrimination against a gentile, it is usually based on objective reasoning, such as the fact that he does not subscribe to the Jewish "social contract" (non-reciprocity). Thus, the Talmud rules that the commandment to restore lost property to its owner (Deut. 22:1–3) does not apply when the gentile is the owner (BK 113b). This is because gentiles do not act reciprocally in such cases. Similarly, a gentile cannot act as witness (BK 15a) because (according to one opinion) he is dishonest and unreliable (cf. Bek. 13b). Here it should be noted that Jews suspected of the same faults were liable to identical discrimination. Other apparently discriminating rulings were intended to discourage intimacy with the non-Jew, or, in other words, primarily to guard the Jews from the dangers of assimilation, such as the interdict against non-Jewish wines and cooked foods, etc. In practice discrimination against gentiles was frowned upon and even forbidden as it might jeopardize friendly relations (mi-penei darkhei shalom, Git. 5:8–9; mi-penei eivah, Av. Zar. 26a) and bring about a profanation of the Divine Name (ḥillul ha-Shem, BK 113b) – so much so, that the Talmud enjoins that gentile poor be supported with charity like Jewish poor (Git. 61a) and does not even tolerate the charging of interest to gentiles (BM 70b).


IN THE TALMUD: G.F. Moore, Judaism, 1 (1946), 274–5, 339, 453; 2 (1946), 75; B.M.H. Uzid, in: Ha-Torah ve-ha-Medinah, 4 (1952), 9–21; ET, 5 (1953), 286–366; E.E. Urbach, in: IEJ, 9 (1959), 149–65, 229–45; M.D. Herr, in: Sefer Zikkaron le-Binyamin De Vries (1968), 149–59; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal (1969), 482–3, 488–9. IN THE MIDDLE AGES: J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (1961); Y.F. Baer, in: Zion, 3 (1937/38), 37–41; E.E. Urbach, Ba'alei ha-Tosafot (19552), index, S.V. Avodah Zarah; G. Tchernovitz, Ha-Yaḥas Bein Yisrael la-Goyim le-fi ha-Rambam (1950).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.