I have never understood fully the distinction between the Jewish race and the religion. I was wondering how the Chosen People/Jewish person vs Gentile is interpreted in the Jewish faith.

When the Jewish holy book (English interpretation of it) uses the word "Jew", does it mean the faithful, or the racial group? When this book says "Gentile"/"Goy", does it mean someone not practicing Judaism or everyone not born with Jewish genes? Are there multiple interpretation of this?

Thank you for any and all insights.

  • Jews are not a race. There isn't a Jewish race. Anyone, through proper procedures, can become Jewish. The Jewish Holy Books you're probably referring to, rarely, if ever, say "Jewish". They usually say bnei Yisrael(children of Israel) or kol/adath Yisrael(congregation of Israel).
    – EhevuTov
    Aug 28, 2015 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


The Torah, aka the 1st 5 books of "Old Testament" does not use the term "Jew" or in Hebrew, "Yehudi" anywhere. I think this term first appears in the book of Esther. Otherwise, the most common term in the Torah is "B'nei Yisra'el", meaning "Sons (or children) of Israel", with Israel being the name given to Jacob. At any rate, in the Torah, the term "Israel" almost always refers to the nation, or what we now call "Jews". (FYI, in the Torah, the word "Israel" is never used to refer to the country itself. That name, is used after the land of Cana'an was settled.)

The term "Gentile" might be equivalent to the term "Goy" which is a generic term used to mean "nation" or "people" and that term is sometimes used for the nation of Israel, itself. It depends on its context. Usually, the Torah would refer to a nation of non-Jews by their specific national name such as Cananites, Hittites, Anakim, etc.

regardless, when the Torah refers to "Gentiles" or those that are non-Jews, it is closer to the 2nd idea - they were not born Jewish, as describe in my point, above. A Jew who does not practice his religion, and sadly, AFAIK, that's the majority in the world, currently, is still considered Jewish. Once you are Jewish you cannot "convert" out of it. Even a non-Jew that converted properly (there are "improper" conversions. Delve through this site for details on this notion) and became Jewish, remains Jewish for life.

  • אתי גוברין יהודאין in Daniel perhaps means Jews. (although it likely just means members of the tribe of Judah).
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 27, 2015 at 23:44
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    @mevaqesh It's been a while since I viewed commentary on Esther that calls Mordechai a "Yehudi" as well as "Ish Yemini". How can he from both the tribe of Yehuda and Binyamin? See there (I think Rash"i, among others, explains it.) I didn't want to import that idea into my answer as it's tangential.
    – DanF
    Aug 28, 2015 at 1:14
  • אִיתַי גֻּבְרִין יְהוּדָאיִן = Daniel (3:11)
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 28, 2015 at 2:05
  • "A Jew who does not practice his religion, and sadly, AFAIK, that's the majority in the world, currently, is still considered Jewish." I wonder, do you think it would be worth asking a followup question: "How many Jewish people are there (based on the Biblical definition)"? From what I understand a Jew cannot lose their Jewish status? And surely none of the Jewish population statistics account for the many Jewish people who converted away thousands of years ago From what I understand all of the original Christians were ex-jews, so there actually might be a whole lot.
    – Jonathon
    Aug 28, 2015 at 17:18
  • @JonathonWisnoski Your last sentence raises a very interesting question that's worthwhile asking on this forum. It digs into the foundation of Christianity, I think, and that's something I am not too familiar with. Go for it!
    – DanF
    Sep 17, 2015 at 15:05

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