ḤUKKAT HA-GOI (Heb. חֻקַּת הַגּוֹי; "law or custom of the gentiles"), term designating heathen customs of idolatrous (or superstitious) origin that Jews are forbidden to emulate. The source for this prohibition is the biblical commandment "ye shall not walk in the customs of the nation" (Lev. 20:23 and 18:3; see also ezek . 5:7 and 11:12), the purpose of which was to prevent the Israelites from being "ensnared to follow them" (Deut. 12:30). In talmudic literature the term darkhei ha-Emori ("the customs of the Amorites") is also used. It covers all heathen, superstitious, and idolatrous practices of the gentiles at that time. In general, the halakhah discerns three categories of ḥukkat ha-goi: (a) customs that are closely connected with idolatry or that form part of a non-Jewish religious ritual. These must not be followed and even gentile dress associated with religious practice is strictly forbidden; "martyrdom should be accepted rather than change even the style of a shoelace" (Sanh. 74a–b); laws and customs of gentiles which do not have any direct connection with religious worship. These, as they are a matter of general mores or civil legislation, are allowed: e.g., the execution of criminals by sword, or the burning of incense at the funeral of kings (Sanh. 52b); (c) gentile folk customs deriving from superstitious beliefs. These should not be followed, but opinions differ as to where to draw the line. Most rabbinical authorities agree that even such gentile customs as are characterized by vanity and foolishness do not automatically fall in the category of ḥukkat ha-goi, but only those customs which are conducive to unchastity and lewdness. During the Middle Ages, the tendency of the Jewish minority to distinguish between their own habits of dress and those of their neighbors contributed toward their survival and their self-assertion. The imitation of gentile garb and of their innovations in fashions was regarded as ḥukkat ha-goi. Jews who had to deal with government authorities were, however, permitted to wear "gentile clothes," and so were physicians and artisans, according to the rules of their craft guilds (Joseph Colon, quoted in Sifrei ha-Kohen to Sh. Ar., YD 178:1). The Jewish garb worn in Eastern Europe became an emblem of allegiance to traditional Judaism. The efforts of the Russian rulers (decrees of 1804, 1835, 1845) to compel Jews to dress in "German clothes" were considered as attempts to Christianize them, and Orthodox Jews regarded the wearing of "modern dress" as prohibited by ḥukkat ha-goi. The preservation of the Jewish dress was one of the struggles between the Ḥasidim and Mitnaggedim in Eastern Europe. Likewise, the many changes in Jewish ritual and ceremonies that reform judaism inaugurated such as organ music, worship without covering of the head, etc., were declared forbidden according to ḥukkat ha-goi by opponents of Reform (e.g., D.Z. Hoffmann, responsa Melammed le-Ho'il, 1 (1926), no. 16). In modern times, with the exception of some radical Orthodox circles, traditional Jews have adopted a more lenient approach to ḥukkat ha-goi, based on the talmudic maxim which forbids only the emulation of immoral and superstitious customs of gentiles, but allows the imitation of those gentile ways of life which promote the welfare of society. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Maim. Yad, Akkum, 11:1–3; 12:1; Sh. Ar., YD 178; Eisenstein, Dinim, s.v. (Meir Ydit)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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