Talmidav Shel Aharon
9-5768: Mitzvah N-1
December 18, 2007
Negative Mitzvah 1 – It is a negative commandment not to eat the sinew of the thigh-vein
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “Therefore the children of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh-vein.” (Gen. 32:33) it applies to pure [kosher] domestic and untamed animals, and it applies also to an embryo – both to the right thigh and the left. There are two sinews: the inner one, near the socket of the hipbone is forbidden by the law of the Torah. The rest of the inner sinew, which is not about the socket, and the entire upper sinew, with the fat on them and on the sinew of the thigh-vein, along with the other sinews and membranes, are forbidden by the ruling of the Sages. If someone ate the sinew of the thigh-vein from a n’velah [an animal that died from a cause other than Kosher ritual slaughter] or from a t’refah [an animal that was mortally wounded or ill], he violates two prohibitions. (Eating forbidden meat and eating the thigh-vein) By the Oral Tradition we know that it is permissible to derive [other] benefit from the sinew. It is in force everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
This entire prohibition is derived from the outcome of the wrestling match between Jacob and the mysterious opponent in the middle of the night. Jacob is wounded in this match and the text tells us that because he was wounded in the hip, we do not eat the thigh-vein to this very day. It is the third of only three Mitzvot that are derived in the book of Genesis.
There was a time when Kosher Butchers were very skilled and were able to remove the thigh-vein and the Rabbis permitted the hind legs of large mammals when they were killed properly. This is no longer the case. While there are a few butchers who are so skilled, modern kosher supervisors no longer permit meat from the hindquarter. This is part of the ongoing process of making Kashrut more and more stringent. Sometimes it seems as if everything that was once permitted, is now forbidden so that there should never be a question raised about the Kashrut of meat. It is a sorry state of affairs.
Note that there are two categories in this Mitzvah. One part is forbidden by the explicit command of the Torah and one is forbidden by a ruling of the Sages (in this case the Sages of the Talmud). Since it may not be clear exactly what the Torah has forbidden, they forbid all the veins in the hindquarter. Note that you can’t eat the thigh-vein from a non-kosher animal either, nor from a kosher animal that is killed improperly.
Finally, a note on the “Oral Tradition”. The Torah was given in written form to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jewish tradition tells us that Moses also received an “oral tradition” at the same time (it would not take 40 days and night just to get a book. Moses spent the time learning the Oral tradition.). Since there are many ways of interpreting the written law, the Oral Tradition comes to tell us how the written law is to be applied. In our case, the written law says that we can not eat the thigh-vein. But does this also mean we can not derive any benefit from it? The Oral Tradition tells us that we can indeed benefit from it. This allows us to use the meat we cannot eat as food for other animals or to sell to non-Jews who are permitted to eat it. The money we raise from this sale can be used to support our family or to give to Tzedakah. If this were not permitted, the meat would have to be thrown away