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photo by Oren Ziv, Activestills, used with permission

Four authors sound off on Ophir and Rosen-Zvi’s latest book, Goy: Israel’s Multiple Others and the Birth of the Gentile.

The binary distinction between Jew and gentile is so fundamental to Jewish tradition that it seems almost futile to try and imagine Judaism without it. Yet how did it come to happen that the Jews’ multiple others were melted into a single category, that of the goy? In their book Goy: Israel’s Multiple Others and the Birth of the Gentile, Adi Ophir and Ishay Rosen-Zvi analyze the fundamental Jewish structure of Othering, while reopening a set of burning questions which have haunted Jewish (and gentile) history from time immemorial.

Goy is first and foremost a meticulous historical and philological research into ancient rabbinic texts. Yet this research on things past is closely related with the present, what gives the discussion a sense of urgency. How deep is the Jew-goy binary opposition anchored within contemporary relationships between Jews and others? What are its political-theological repercussions in the modern world, and especially in the State of Israel?

This symposium is dedicated to the contemporary reverberations of Goy: four scholars from various disciplines examine, debate, and explore the implications of Ophir and Rosen-Zvi’s thesis through the lens of political theology. Sarah Imhoff explores how the goy/Jew distinction intersects with that of male/female, exposing the unattended structures of gender differentiation beneath the surface of this apparatus of Othering. Sergey Dolgopolski extracts a theory of political theology form the authors’ genealogy, opening the book’s horizon to argue that the figure of the goy establishes a certain relationship between theology and politics. Vivian Liska challenges the ideological impetus behind the book’s main argument, calling into attention a greater diversity of contemporary Jewish experiences which are at odds with the authors’ perception of the present as an embodiment of the ancient rabbinic perception of goy. Elad Lapidot argues that the authors participate in their own experiment, applying an external, “goyish”, apparatus of othering on rabbinic texts, which reproduces, as in a mirror, the same binary distinction. These diverse voices, at times enthusiastically embracing the book’s thesis and at others vehemently opposing it, present the gravity of Jewish Othering, in its multiple senses, as one of the central issues in contemporary Jewish political theology.

Symposium Essays

Gender and the Goy

Once you see the penis-centric phrase “the uncircumcised”— some version of it appears in many, if not most of the ancient texts in the corpora mentioned in the book— it’s hard not to notice that, however empty a signifier goy may be, it still signifies something about the male body.

The Poke Between, or the Complex Negativity of the Non-Jew

The real scope of the project emerges when its intellectual polemical core is revealed. The book— a fruit of the shared interests of its authors in philology and political theology– is an attempt to mobilize philology in order to unearth the ground of political theology.

Whose Goy?

When the authors speak of “our contemporary,” they must be wary of homogenizing the radically diversified world of contemporary Jewry and their equally diversified others.

The Goyish Goy

The Jews is the great constant of this book, persisting from Old Testament to Tel Aviv, as an ahistorical collective, undisturbed by text and politics, what the book calls ethnos, goy. This book’s apriori is the Jews as a goy.

Authors’ Response

The rabbinic formation of the goy involved a whole project of Othering, whose medium and toolkit was provided by halakhic discourse, while its ideology was supplemented by the aggadic midrash, where goy is presented as a conduit for the presence of God in the human world and a sure trace for His steps in history.