Eliminating Offensive Language

A small item in the column “Celebrity News” of the August 1st edition of the Atlanta Jewish Times caught the attention of JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky. It was a blurb about how Barack Obama, when he was in the Illinois State Senate, shared an office suite with an Orthodox Jew. The piece, which was an excerpt from an article in Newsweek, explained that Obama was very curious about Jewish customs, and even offered to open electric doors for his suitemate. But the title above the blurb is what stood out – “Shabbas Goy.”

At JOI, one of the principles of our Big Tent Judaism coalition is to “lower the barriers to participation.” This includes defining “insider” terms like “daven” (to pray) and eliminating offensive language, such as “goy” or “shiksa.” In response to the blurb, the paper published Kerry’s letter to the editor:

In your “Celebrity Jews” column in the Aug. 1 issue, in order to make the Obama campaign relevant, your contributor uses the heading “Shabbos Goy” regarding the relationship between Ira Silverstein and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. It is time to stop the use of such language that excludes and offends. With the growing number of those from different religious backgrounds now part of the Jewish community, the term “goy” needs to be excluded from our vocabulary. No more need be said.

Are you ready to take this step with us – to use only inclusive language that will help people feel welcome in the Jewish community?


  1. Warning-actual knowledge of Hebrew coming up.

    ‘Goy’ means ‘nation’ in Hebrew. In the Torah the Israelites were told they would be a ‘goy gadol’-a great nation. Now of course you can use a word derogatorily, but to ban a word (if you could) would be rather overstretching things.

    There’s nothing derogatory about ’shabbos goy’. These are pople who work for Orthodox Jews on Shabbat, because Orthodox Jews can’t. Before the Russian revolution Kruschev was one.

    Comment by Dave — August 24, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  2. No need for the Hebrew lesson. Whatever “goy” once meant in the Torah or in mishnaic Hebrew, it no longer means that today. Meanings evolve over time and there is no way you can convince me that “shabbas goy” was not a term of derision–even if those who werent Jewish help/ed traditional Jews to circumvent the law.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — August 24, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

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