The term עכו''ם appears frequently in halachic literature, and it is an acronym of עובדי כוכבים ומזלות, which literally means "worshippers of stars and omens." However, it seems that in most contexts it should mean something closer to "non-Jew" or "gentile."

For instance, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch uses the term when laying out the halachos of food made by a non-Jew.

The term also appears in censored versions of Rambam's Mishneh Torah, but obviously it is acting as a replacement for נוצרים.

This question is not asking for the translation of a Hebrew term, but how it should be interpreted when reading halachic literature.

  • As you note, the acronym has been inserted in plenty of places where it doesn't belong by censors and the like. In which case, there is no general rule for how it should be interpreted. Why would you ask for something you just demonstrated doesn't exist? – Double AA Apr 3 '17 at 17:15
  • Usage of the term to avoid censorship is the rule not the exception. Accordingly, it has no universal implication. Most often it is used to refer to any non-Jew. – mevaqesh Apr 3 '17 at 17:25
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/47762/9682 – DonielF Apr 3 '17 at 18:06
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/77364/9682 – DonielF Apr 3 '17 at 18:08
  • When learning Talmud Avodah Zarah in my shul, my rav was careful to distinguish between the terms "Akum" and "nachri". The latter term is a more generic term that refers to non-Jews. He states that, esp. today, few Gentiles would actually be considered "Akum" as there aren't that many bowing down to idols or worshipping stars. I'm uncertain how they would consider "Horoscope gurus" or Star Trek fans (joking about last one!) – DanF Apr 3 '17 at 18:37

No easy answer here: in some halachic contexts it applies to any non-Jew; for instance, cheese made by non-Jews is called gevinas akum irrespective of their religious beliefs.

In other halachic contexts, it was intended specifically to mean pagans.

  • "is called gevinas akum irrespective of their religious beliefs. " Can you demonstrate this? Was it originally called this, or is it just an example of censorship? – mevaqesh Apr 3 '17 at 17:34
  • "In other halachic contexts, it was intended specifically to mean pagans." Could you give an example of the term being used specifically to mean idolaters in an original not censored text? – mevaqesh Apr 3 '17 at 17:34

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