In their rich and rewarding study, Goy, Adi Ophir and Ishay Rosen-Zvi present the combined results of a series of earlier articles on the emergence of the “Goy” – the radical other or binary opposite of the Jew. The current iteration of their work -- interweaving close readings with theoretical analysis and offering a veritable treasure of the best scholarship on the subject -- contains some thoughtful and salutary adjustments to their earlier claims. Nevertheless, and despite the volume’s significant achievements, problems remain at the level of overall thesis and specific details. In this circumscribed space, I will limit words of well-deserved praise and concentrate on these problems, on the theory that doing so will be more useful to the reader than listing the book’s many merits.
The authors set forth two critically important concepts operative in the Jewish conception of alterity. The first concept is that of the undifferentiated, uniform, and generalized other indicated by the term “Goy.” This generalized other contains no internal diversity – every Goy is the same and every Goy is conceived as the binary opposite of the Israelite or Jew. The second concept is that of the differentiated, pluriform, and particular other (often indicated by the plural goyim, or “nations”). This pluriform other encompasses a diverse range of ethnic or religious sub-identities rather than a single uniform non-Jewish identity. This pluriform other is different from, but not the binary opposite of, the Israelite/Jew
The authors give a diachronic account of the development of these two conceptions of the other: biblical and Second Temple period texts feature a pluriform concept of Israel’s others as a collection of diverse peoples. In the Bible, Israel is one goy (nation) among many and the difference between Israel and its others is neither binary (since there are many others) nor stable (as attested by the possibility of hybrid positions such as the biblical ger, a non-Jewish member of the covenant community). The earliest effort to stabilize a binary relationship between Israel and its many others is found in Ezra-Nehemiah (where Israel is declared holy and all others are -- according to Ophir and Rosen-Zvi -- declared essentially impure) but only in reference to collectives not individuals. Second Temple texts refer to Israel’s others but do not employ the discursive formation that would characterize the rabbinic goy. Similarly, while there are ethnic distinctions in the Dead Sea Scrolls, First and Second Maccabees, Philo and Josephus, none formulates a clear opposition between Israel and its others as individuals rather than collective nations.
According to the authors’ diachronic account, the second concept – that of a generalized, uniform other (Goy) that lumps all non-Jews into a single entity without differentiation – does not appear until the 1st c CE. The authors now assert that Paul’s writing contains the first systematic use of a generalized, abstract category of the Jew’s Other, expressed by the term ethne (= goyim) as applied to individuals rather than ethnic collectives (8, 142). Tannaitic literature consolidates this binary relation. For the rabbis, one was either Jew or Goy, a fact that led to the elimination of hybrid identities and the creation of a clear process of conversion that could move a person from one side of the binary to the other.
The authors have presented a linear development from an original pluriform conception of Israel’s others to Ezra’s generalized and essentialized collective Other, to its individuation by Paul, and finally to its consolidation in the legal texts of the early rabbis (Mishnah and Tosefta) where it functions as a stable binary that brooks no hybridity. However, as I pointed out in a response to Ophir and Rosen-Zvi’s earlier articles, a review of the evidence suggests that the two concepts of the other identified by the authors do not represent consecutive stages in a diachronic development (one pre-1st century and the other post-1st century). Rather, the evidence indicates that the two concepts were synchronic phenomena found, albeit with important differences in detail and emphasis, in both biblical and rabbinic literature. This should not surprise us. Humans tack back and forth between generalized and particularized representations of other humans (both collectives and individuals) as circumstances require. For example, when establishing a community’s identity, differentiation among those excluded is simply not salient and can be safely ignored. By contrast, when establishing regulations for intergroup trade, a community will differentiate those communities with fair trading practices from those with unfair trading practices and treat them differently. The choice to generalize or to differentiate among others is always situation specific. Thus, the two modes of conceiving of the “other” are not incompatible; indeed, they are co-occurring, invoked at different times and for different purposes by the self-same culture. And they co-occur in the Israelite and Jewish textual tradition from biblical to rabbinic times.
Whether these two discourses of the other were produced in different historical periods (the authors’ diachronic model) or inhabited all historical periods (my synchronic model) should be an easily tested empirical matter, and elsewhere I have adduced evidence for the co-occurrence of both discourses (that of the generalized other and that of the pluriform other) across biblical, other pre-rabbinic, and rabbinic sources. Regarding biblical texts: alongside the discourse of the pluriform other highlighted by Ophir and Rosen-Zvi and found throughout the Bible, there is an equally well-distributed conception of a generalized Other that is the binary opposite of Israel. In Exodus 19:3-6 and many similar texts, God sets Israel apart from all other peoples, as a collective and generalized Other, by means of his Law: “if you will obey me faithfully and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples…a holy [literally, “separate”] nation.” It is clear then, from this and similar texts, that Ezra does not innovate by establishing a binary distinction between Israel and other peoples; he innovates by employing a new principle of separation for the binary distinction, one that is essential and immutable rather than contingent. He declares Israel a holy seed, a differentiation that is grounded in biology (and in antiquity both male and female were believed to possess seed that contributed to the formation of a child). Other peoples are non-holy or profane seed (not inherently impure as Ophir and Rosen-Zvi claim). The mixture of the two seeds, one holy and one profane, in intermarriage constitutes a desecration (ma’al) that necessitates an asham sacrifice (brought for sacrilege) -- not a hatta’t sacrifice (which would be required if the holy seed were defiled and not simply profaned).
Insofar as the principle that separates Israel from its Other is contingent (e.g., based on acceptance of God’s laws as in Exodus 19:3-6) persons may opt in to the category “Israel” partially or fully (e.g., the ger or a foreign marriage partner). Insofar as the principle of separation is essential and immutable (e.g., a function of biological fact as in Ezra), persons may not opt in or out of the category “Israel.” In both cases, the conceptual categories “Israel” and “other” enjoy a stable definition: Israel is the group of persons who obey God’s laws (Exodus) or who are born of 100% holy seed (Ezra). However, the stability of the demographic distribution of human persons between the groups “Israel” and “Other” will depend on the principle of separation used to create the binary. When a contingent principle of separation is employed, as in Exod 19, the list of persons assigned to the stable category Israel is not fixed because non-native-born individuals can choose to observe God’s law and move out of the “Other” category. When an essential principle of separation is employed, as in Ezra, the list of persons assigned to the stable category Israel is fixed, because birth to two Israelites is a biological fact that cannot be lost or acquired. Thus, “Israel” and “Other” are always stable (i.e., clearly defined and perceived) categories, but the relative fixity or fluidity of the actual membership of each category is determined by the nature (contingent or essential) of the principle of separation that creates them. This point is missed by Ophir and Rosen-Zvi who conflate the degree of stability of the category with the degree of stability of the category’s human composition.
We see, then, that the biblical and later Jewish sources can be sorted according to a simple typology -- those whose principle of separation is contingent (as in Exodus), enabling some degree of movement between the two stable categories of Israel and Other; and those whose principle of separation is essential (as in Ezra), disabling all movement between the two stable categories of Israel and Other. The essential separating principle of holy seed is deployed to construct the Israel-Other binary in Ezra, Tobit, and an Aramaic fragment of the Testament of Levi. This principle is further sharpened in Jubilees (which interprets the defiling cultic act prohibited in Lev 18:21 as intermarriage, thereby converting intermarriage from an act that only profanes Israel’s holy seed into a sin that actually defiles it), 4QMMT and other Dead Sea Scrolls. By contrast, the essential separating principle of holy seed is not deployed in Philo, Josephus, or -- significantly -- in rabbinic sources. Indeed, this principle of Israel as a holy seed (no less than Jubilees’ interpretation of Lev 18:21 as a prohibition of intermarriage) is explicitly rejected in the one rabbinic source that cites it. Instead, these sources deploy the contingent principle of Torah observance to construct a Jew-goy binary. This contingent principle establishes a permeable boundary between Israel and its Other and enables (but doesn’t necessarily encourage) the relocation of human persons from one side of the boundary to the other. In time, the rabbis will formalize that relocation by developing a ritual of conversion that effects it immediately.
Thus, no straight line can be drawn from Ezra to Jubilees to the rabbis. Quite the contrary. A straight line can be drawn from the generalized binary of Exodus to the binary of various Second Temple writings including Philo and Josephus and on to the rabbis. All of these sources employ a contingent principle of separation that allows for movement of individual persons from one side of the stable boundary to the other. A second straight line can be drawn from the generalized binary of Ezra to that of Tobit, Testament of Levi, Jubilees, 4QMMT and other sectarian writings, and on to Paul who, pace Ophir and Rosen-Zvi differed radically from the rabbis in being an Ezran-style essentialist about identity. All of these employ an essential principle of separation that does not allow movement of individual persons from one side of the stable boundary to the other.
To be clear, I do not claim that these texts contain only a generalized conception of the Other. I accept the evidence detailed by Rosen-Zvi for a co-occurring conception of pluriform others in such works as Ezra, Nehemiah, Jubilees, 4QMMT. Similarly, in rabbinic literature we find both a pluriform conception and a generalized conception of Israel’s Other. The flattened and generalized conception is prevalent in legal anthologies (Mishnah and Tosefta) but this is not surprising. As a genre, law writings trade in generalized human categories. Even Israelites are minimally differentiated in the Mishnah and Tosefta, and as Ophir and Rosen-Zvi admit, gentiles are not completely undifferentiated. Moreover, some hybrid statuses do remain (including Samaritans and the convert, who is never assimilated to an Israelite in every respect) and outside of the legal genre of Mishnah and Tosefta, tannaitic texts contain multiple examples of the concept of the pluriform other.
How do Ophir and Rosen-Zvi view these biblical, Second Temple period, and rabbinic counter-examples to their overall thesis of diachronic development? While they now acknowledge the presence of a generalized binary separation of Israel from all other peoples in some pre-Pauline texts (Ezra, Jubilees, 4QMMT), and traces of a more pluriform discourse in rabbinic literature, they employ a number of not wholly convincing strategies for disabling these examples as counter-evidence for their diachronic thesis. For example, the authors insist that biblical verses that contrast Israel with all other peoples as a generalized group are not in fact binaries, but triads, since God is the one who separates Israel from the nations (42; a curious claim since the presence of an agent of separation does not render the resulting binary any less a binary). Or they concede that a binary is created by the act of separation, but claim that the two entities in the binary are God and his Other not Israel and its Other (45; to this we may respond that while God may be Israel’s significant other, the other nations remain Israel’s binary Other). Regarding Ezra and Jubilees, the authors concede that a binary separation exists but disqualify it as counterevidence for their diachronic thesis because (1) the separation is only performed and not formulated as a principle (73; how is this any less a separation?) or (2) there is no single term for Israel’s Other (68, 74, 90; why should multiple locutions instead of one single locution matter?) or (3) the Other in these works is collective but not individual (though Ezra and Jubilees clearly deem any individual non-Jew, like the collective as a whole, as non-holy seed). As for other pre-Pauline texts, their binary distinctions are disqualified because (1) they are not essentialized (101, concerning the Letter of Aristeas; but we have seen that stable binary distinctions can employ contingent or essential principles of separation) or (2) it is situation dependent (137, regarding the Temple Inscription; but the choice of a generalized or a pluriform concept of the other is always situation dependent).
Regarding tannaitic literature, the authors admit that blurred boundaries and hybrid identities “exist, of course, and may be read as traces of the failure of the binary distinction between Jews and gentiles” (11). But they state: “we will not presuppose that they necessarily undermine the Jew-goy opposition, but rather be open to the possibility that such figures fail to do so, thus betraying the resilience of the dichotomy” (11; emphasis added). This is a curious statement that amounts to a somewhat willful declaration that the authors’ will simply choose to interpret counter-evidence as a confirmation of their thesis. Would that we were free to do so! True, rabbinic passages that reject the Jew-goy binary attest to the existence of the distinction (else why would they reject it?) but they also attest to a different, more pluriform concept. These passages therefore also serve as important counter-evidence to the authors’ claim that the Jew-goy distinction in rabbinic literature was a homogenized and undifferentiated gentile other that led to the creation of stable identities and the elimination of hybrid categories.
The authors’ dismissal of counter-evidence creates a double standard for assessing evidence for or against their thesis. For example, they cite hybrid identities and differentiated others in the biblical context as evidence for the lack of a concept of a generalized Other; why, then, in the rabbinic context do they cite hybrid identities as evidence for the presence and resilience of a concept of a generalized Other (chapter 7), and dismiss a rabbinic source featuring a differentiated other as a synecdoche for the generalized Other (233)?
While my disagreements on matters large and small are many, I genuinely admire this book and know that I will return to it again and again to wrestle with its claims, test my own interpretations, and continue to improve and revise my own arguments. It is a more than worthy sparring partner. And while I believe that a better typology for tracking the genealogy of the goy turns not on the presence or absence of a generalized concept of the goy, but on the changing nature (contingent or essential) of the principle of separation underwriting the generalized binary that appears throughout the textual tradition, I acknowledge with gratitude the authors’ two concepts of the Other. This heuristic device has spurred my own further attempts to make sense of the varied evidence in the sources.
In an important statement near the beginning of the book (18), the authors speak of their own subject positions as Israelis growing up with the polarized conception of the goy and the various social ills and inequities to which this conception contributes. Their goal in this book is to denaturalize the concept in order to open it to further questioning, by showing that it has a history, that it came to be through a process of slow mutations. I am completely sympathetic to the goal of critique and for this reason alone would recommend the book to any reader; but at times the authors’ argument appears to be driven less by the evidence than by the desire to assign the goy to a late stage in Jewish textual tradition, presumably to lessen its power. Whether we like it or not, when it comes to conceptions of Israel’s other(s), the Bible cannot be acquitted of the charge of a generalized binary (whether the contingent binary of the Pentateuch or the essentialist binary of Ezra); nor can the rabbis be condemned for a wholesale adoption of the same. The generalized conception of Israel’s other occurs at all textual stages. This doesn’t make the conception of the goy any less historical, any less susceptible to critique and contestation. In fact, historically speaking, the voice of critique and contestation has also been there, all along.
Christine Hayes is the Robert F. and Patricia Ross Weis Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University.
 The authors now recognize that Ezra makes a binary separation of Israel from all other peoples. They also now credit Paul rather than the tannaitic rabbis with the “invention” of the goy as an individual categorical other.
 Here, Ophir and Rosen-Zvi move the goalposts a bit. It is not always clear whether they are claiming that the Bible and pre-1st century texts have no generalized concept of the other, or whether they are claiming that the Bible and pre-1st century texts have no generalized and individuated concept of the other such that the word “nation” (goy, ethne) can connote a single individual non-Jew who is the binary opposite of the Jew. The second version of their claim amounts to little more than the claim that Biblical and pre-1st century texts do not use a mass term (nation/goy/ethne) as a count noun (an individual non-Jew), which scholars have known and dictionaries have recorded for some time. Therefore, I focus on the point that is central to both versions of their claim: that biblical and 1st century texts do not conceive of, and lack a single term for, the other in a general, homogenized, undifferentiated sense.
 This is a revision of their earlier claim that the concept of a generalized and individuated Goy first appeared “in its crystallized form” only in tannaitic literature. See Ophir and Rosen-Zvi, “Goy: Toward a Genealogy,” Dine Israel 28 (2011): 69-122, p. 69. They wrote, “the rabbinic Goy is a new concept, grouping for the first time all humans in the world in a binary manner,” ibid., 81.
 Hayes, “The Complicated Goy in Classical Rabbinic Sources” in Perceiving the Other, eds. Michal Bar Asher Siegal, Matthew Thiessen (Mohr Siebeck, 2017), pp 147-167.
 Ibid., 157-167.
 See the fuller discussion in Hayes, “Complicated Goy” pp. 157-160).
 While some form of biological descent is a sufficient condition for inclusion in the category of Israel, it is not a necessary condition in the Bible until Ezra.
 For a detailed discussion of the common but mistaken idea that Ezra assigns an inherent moral impurity (a contradiction in terms!) to non-Israelites see Hayes, “Intermarriage and Impurity in Ancient Jewish Sources,” Harvard Theological Review 92:1 (1999) 3-36, pp. 5-13.
 In fact, two principles of separation operate in tandem in the Pentateuch -- one based on descent from at least one Israelite parent and one based on covenant -- but significantly both are only sufficient conditions for inclusion in the category of Israel and neither is the sole necessary condition. For this reason, there can be movement into the category of Israel (by entering the covenant) but not out (since descent is sufficient for inclusion in Israel, though not necessary).
In B. Yevamot 76a-77b the idea that Israel is a holy seed and cannot as a consequence marry any person, including a convert, who lacks two Israelite parents, is raised by the stam and summarily dismissed by the 4th century sage, Rava. At no other point in rabbinic discussions of intermarriage is this principle of separation entertained -- a glaringly significant absence.
 Again, descent is also used but like the covenant, it is a sufficient but not a necessary condition. See n. 7.
 For which reason he disallowed Gentile conversion to Law-observant Judaism. For a discussion of Paul’s essentialist approach to identity, see Matthew Thiessen, Paul and the Gentile Problem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 23, 70, and chapter 4; also Hayes, What’s Divine about Divine Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), chapter 4.
 Binary divisions are always performed by an agent employing a term or principle of separation. I might divide a group of people into two groups: those I wish to put on my baseball team and those I do not wish to put on my baseball team. Since I need left-handed batters, the principle of separation I use is the ability to bat left-handed. While there are three entities in this little scenario (me, people on the team, and people off the team), they are not equivalent. I am the agent of the binary division, which I effected by employing a principle of separation. I am not the object subjected to the division nor am I one of the two groups created by the division. There is, then, just one binary division -- the division between people who are on and people who are off the team. Similarly, when God separates Israel from the other nations, the result is not a triad but a simple binary of those who are and those who are not God’s people. God is the agent of the binary division, and the principle of separation (what places someone in one category and not the other) varies.
 I refer to the authors’ discussion of Sifra Qedoshim 5, 2 on p. 233. The biblical verse “and I will separate you from the nations to be for me” (Lev 20:26) is not construed by the authors as an example of a generalized concept of the Other in their discussion of biblical sources. However, the rabbinic gloss on this verse, which substitutes Babylon for “the nations,” is construed as establishing a generalized binary because Babylon -- although a term of differentiation -- can be taken as a synecdoche. Surely, if the differentiated language of the rabbinic gloss may be understood as a generalized Other, then the biblical verse itself, which explicitly refers to the contrast group as “the nations,” should all the more so be understood as a generalized Other!
 For a discussion of the unique biblical and rabbinic conception of divine line as precisely susceptible to critique, contestation and modification, see my What’s Divine about Divine Law.