Friday, December 08, 2006

Eating the Nerve

After describing Jacob's battle with the Angel of Esau and his ensuing injury in the thigh, the Torah says, "Therefore, the Sons of Israel do [or shall] not eat the Sciatic sinew, which is on the hip socket, until this day, because he [Samael] hit Jacob's hip socket at the Sciatic nerve.[1]" The Sefer HaChinuch explains[2] that this verse does not merely tell a story that after Jacob's injury, his sons stopped eating that nerve on animals; this verse is actually a Biblical prohibition that HaShem enjoins all future descendants of Jacob from eating that nerve. The Mishnah records[3] a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages regarding whether this prohibition applies to non-Kosher animals as well. It is further revealed in the Mishnah that the cause of this disputation between the Tannaic authorities is a dispute as to whether the prohibition of eating the Sciatic nerve, the Gid HaNashe, applied before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai or not. If the prohibition applied (to Jacob's family[4]) even before the Sinaitic Revelation, then the prohibition would apply to non-Kosher animals, which were then permitted to be eaten[5]. If the prohibition applied only after the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, then the prohibition of Gid HaNashe would not apply to non-Kosher animals the prohibition of Gid HaNashe would not take effect in addition to a pre-existing prohibition of all non-Kosher animals being non-Kosher anyways[6].

In discussing this issue, Maimonides writes[7]: "Set your heart to the great principle, which is included in this Mishnah. That is, according to the opinion that the prohibition took effect only after Sinai is because all positive and negative commandments which are currently observed are only done because HaShem commanded so to Moses, not because of any prophets which HaShem commanded before him. For example, the reason why Jews do not eat the flesh of a live animal is not because it is included in the Noachide Commandments, but rather because they were commanded not to eat it at Sinai. Similarly, the reason why Jews perform the circumcision is not because HaShem commanded Abraham to do so, rather it is because the Jews were commanded so at Mount Sinai. Also, the reason why Jews do not eat the Sciatic Nerve is not because HaShem commanded Jacob not to eat it, but because Jews received a prophecy from Moses at Mount Sinai in which HaShem outlawed eating the Sciatic Nerve. This explains why the prohibition of eating the Gid HaNashe is included in the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah." However, elsewhere, Maimonides seems to feel that even before there were still parts of the Torah which were kept and are still kept now because of those pre-Sinaitic commandments, not because they were later repeated. In practical Halacha, Maimonides rules[8] like the Sages that the prohibition of the Gid HaNashe does not apply to non-Kosher animals. The Sages' reasoning was since the prohibition was only given at Mount Sinai, at which time all non-Kosher animals were already forbidden for consumption, then the prohibition of Gid HaNashe would not apply to them, and Maimonides himself on the Mishnah explains that the underlying cause of the current-day prohibition of eating the Sciatic nerve is only because of the Sinaitic prohibition, not because of the previous one.

However, in detailing the history of the Mitzvos, Maimonides[9] quotes a Midrash[10], which says that Adam received some commandments, Noach some more, then Abraham received the commandment of circumcision, Jacob added the commandment of Gid HaNashe, 'Amram (the father of Moses) received a few more commandments, the Jewish Nation at Marah received some more, and then the rest of the Torah was given to the Jews at Mount Sinai. This implies that the reason why pre-Sinaitic commandments are kept is not because they were later repeated at Mount Sinai but because of their original pre-Sinaitic prophetic revelations, which commanded and prohibited certain things. This passage from Maimonides seems to that Maimonides favored Rabbi Yehuda's approach to the prohibition of the Sciatic Nerve, not the Sages'. It seems that Maimonides has contradicted himself.

Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heilpern of Bialystock (1816-1879) discusses[11] the underlying explanation of the argument between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages. He says that both Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages agree that the prohibition of the Gid HaNashe applied to the sons of Jacob, but the argument is how long that prohibition lasted. Rabbi Yehuda opined that that prohibition continued for generations and continues to be the source for the contemporary prohibition on eating the Sciatic nerve. However, the Sages maintain that at Mount Sinai that original prohibition given to the sons of Jacob ceased to be in effect and a new prohibition was created which is the current prohibition followed nowadays. Maimonides rules in Halacha like the Sages and also explains the Mishnah that all commandments which are currently kept are kept because they were said at Mount Sinai and in discussing the history of the commandments, Maimonides mentions the fact that Jacob's actually did have a prohibition to eat the Sciatic nerve, even though that prohibition itself later became obsolete and was replaced with a similar Sinaitic prohibition.

Rabbi Halperin explains that this fundamental argument in the underpinnings of the Masoretic tradition between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages can be better explained based on another dispute between them. The Talmud says[12] that Rabbi Yehuda does not consider writing a scroll which does not contain the entire Torah to be a corruption of the tradition[13], while the Sages maintain that it is a corruption. Rabbi Yehuda holds that the Torah was not given all at once, but that each section was written as it happened, so it is permitted to write such a scroll, while the Sages maintain that since the entire Torah was written all at once, only a scroll with the Torah in its entirety is allowed to be written. Since Rabbi Yehuda holds each section of the Torah was given at its proper time, then it serves to reason that the prohibition of the Gid HaNashe was in effect before the laws governing which animals are kosher, so he holds that the prohibition even applies to non-Kosher animals, while the Sages reasoned since all the Torah became effective at the same time, so the only Kosher animals' sciatic nerves cannot be eaten.

The Lechem Mishnah answers[14] that the apparent contradiction within Maimonides is not actually an inconsistency. He explains that Maimonides in the Laws of Kings was merely pointing out that Jacob added the prohibition of eating the sciatica of his own accord, but was not necessarily commanded to do so by HaShem. The actual language used by Maimonides implies this because in regard to the commandments given to Abraham and Amram before Sinai, he writes "they were commanded", but in regard to the Jacob's prohibition of the Sciatic nerve, he writes "he added." Rabbi Moshe Shick (1807-1879) asks[15] that if the Jacob and his sons had a prohibition to eat the sciatica, then why does that the Talmud imply[16] that that there is an opinion which states that all Noachides are permitted to eat the sciatica, if Jacob and his sons were not allowed to eat it even when they were Noachides. Perhaps one can explain that if the Abrahamic family had the status of Jews even pre-Sinai this is not a question because they were not considered Noachides. However, the question itself assumes that they were considered Noachides in Halacha, not Jews.

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) of Pressburg, the teacher of Rabbi Moshe Schick, offers an explanation[17]. He explains that the sciatica was not actually prohibited to the Jacob and his sons, but that Jacob and his sons adopted a custom of refraining from eating the sciatic nerve. Only after the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai did the Gid HaNashe become forbidden to be eaten through the power of a heavenly injunction. He explains that this explicit in the Torah because it says, "Therefore, the Sons of Israel do not eat the sciatic sinew… until this day.[18]" The Torah was merely recording a historical fact that the sons of Jacob did not eat the sciatic nerve out of mere practice, until "this day" which was the day on which the Torah was given. On that day, it was no longer true that they merely "did not eat the sciatic nerve" because from then on, they were not allowed to eat the sciatic sinew because of the prohibition, not a mere family custom. The dispute in the Talmud whether Noachides are prohibited from eating the sciatica or not is actually only a dispute regarding Jacob and his sons and the dispute is whether the Jacobean family accepted upon themselves not to eat the sciatica only in the Holy Land or even out of the Holy Land. This is like Nachmanides who wrote[19] that the pre-Sinaitic Abrahamic family only kept the Torah while they were in the Holy Land, but not out of it. So, the dispute centered around whether the Sons of Jacob adopted the custom of not eating the sciatica because it was later prohibited in the Torah (so then they would be allowed to eat it out of the Holy Land) or was it a complete acceptance (which applied even out of the Holy Land).

A proof to the Chasam Sofer's idea that the original observance of this commandment was not a real commandment, but was rather a voluntary acceptance, is the words of Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid (1150-1217) who wrote[20] that after Jacob was injured in his wrestling match with Esau's ministering angel, his sons felt guilty for having left their old father alone, so they accepted a promise on themselves not to eat the sciatic nerve of animals, to sympathize with their father's pain. This shows that their refraining from eating the sciatica was not because of a prohibition, but was because of a mere promise; the prohibition came generations later at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin (1818-1898) explained that the argument between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages can be traced to two varying versions of the Targum Onkelos to Genesis 32:33. In one version, the verse is translated as "Therefore, the Sons of Israel shall not eat the sciatic sinew…" which reflects the view of Rabbi Yehuda that that sons of Jacob had a prohibition not to eat the Gid HaNashe. However, an alternate version translated the passage as "Therefore, the Sons of Israel do not eat the sciatic sinew" which merely says a fact that they did not eat it, but not that they were prohibited from doing so.

Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinmen points out[21] that it is implicit from the Scripture that only Jacob's son did not eat from the sciatica, but that Jacob himself did eat from the sciatica. He asks that Maimonides said that Jacob was commanded not to eat from the Sciatica, which means that Jacob himself could not have eaten from it. However, the actual language of Maimonides is that "Jacob added the prohibition of Gid HaNashe", but that he himself was not necessarily enjoined not to eat it. Rabbi Shteinmen also asks why the Torah had to specifically say that this prohibition still applies "until this day" if the Talmud has a rule[22] that any commandment which was said before the Sinaitic Revelation and was not repeated at Sinai is only a commandment for Jews, not for Noachides, so obviously the commandment still applies. According to the Chasam Sofer, this is also not a question because the "until this day" refers to the custom of the Jacobean family which ceased to be merely a custom on the day of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

Others explain that "until this day" refers to the day on which the Messiah will arrive and bring the redemption. Rabbi Shlomo Katz HaKohen of Vilna wrote[23] in the name of his father that when Moshiach arrives, the ban on eating the sciatic nerve will be lifted, even according to the opinion that all commandments will not be null during the Messianic Era[24]. The Zohar says that the three hundred and sixty five nerves represent the three hundred and sixty five days of the year, and the sciatic nerve represents the day of Tish B'Av, the day of the destruction of the Holy Temple[25]. Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyah HaLevi Medini (1833-1885) argues[26] on this assertion based on the Rash Yaffe who said that even according to the opinion that all commandments will be null during the Messianic Era, this refers specifically to positive commandments, but everyone agrees that the negative commandments will remain in full force. Furthermore, he asks on Rabbi Katz that Maimonides and Nachmanides write in their guidelines to their counting of the 613 commandments that they do not count mitzvos which will cease to be in effect in the future, yet they both include the commandment of refraining from eating the sciatica in their enumeration of the 613 commandments. In addition, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (1843-1926) says[27] that the prohibition of eating the sciatica is a prohibition "for the generations" which means that it is to last indefinitely. May the day come that we will see the coming of the Moshiach and we will finally understand all the depths of the Torah and rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] Genesis 32:33
[2] Mitzvah #3
[3] Chullin 100b
[4] See Tosafos to Pesachim 22a who assume that only the family of Jacob would ever have a prohibition of eating the Gid HaNashe.
[5] Although either way it is forbidden to be eaten, the practical difference between whether the prohibition apply to non-Kosher animals as well is if someone eats a the Gid HaNashe of a non-Kosher animals, has he transgressed one or two prohibitions that he must now repent and when the Holy Temple will be rebuilt offer a sin offering for.
[6] This is because of the rule that one prohibition on something cannot take effect in addition to a pre-existing prohibition unless the second prohibition is a more encompassing or stringent prohibition. See Yevamos 32a-34a
[7] In his Commentary to the Mishnah, Chullin 100b
[8] Laws of Forbidden Foods, 15:17
[9] Laws of Kings, 9:1
[10] Song of Songs Rabbah to Song of Songs 1:2
[11] Responsa Oneg Yom Tov, Yoreh Deah, §76
[12] Gittin 60a
[13] There is a prohibition of improperly writing the written Torah in a way which changes from the proper Mesorah, see Chiddushei HaGriz to Temurah 14b.
[14] To Rambam, Laws of Kings 9:1
[15] Maharam Schick to Sefer HaMitzvos, §3:1
[16] Chullin 91a
[17] Chiddushei Chasam Sofer to Chullin 90b
[18] Genesis 32:33
[19] Ramban to Leviticus 18:25
[20] Sefer HaChassidim §231
[21] Ayeles HaShachar on the Torah to Genesis 32:33
[22] Sanhedrin 59a
[23] Introduction to responsa Binyan Shlomo
[24] See Niddah 61b
[25] Others point out that there is the extra word Es in Genesis 32:33 which the backwards is an abbreviation for Tisha B'Av.
[26] Sdei Chemed, Kllalim, §3:36
[27] Meshech Chochmah to Genesis 32:33


jr said...

Thank you for this learned, insightful, and fascinating account.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Thank you for reading my writings. I greatly appreciate it.

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