Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 10 December 2011 / 13 Kislev 5772

The Gid Hanasheh Incongruity

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayishlach, after Yaakov Avinu’s epic battle with Eisav’s guardian angel[1], where he got injured in his hip-socket[2], we are given a Biblical commandment, the third and last of the whole sefer Bereishis, that Bnei Yisrael may not partake of the Gid Hanasheh, the sciatic nerve, of any animal. Additionally, there is a Rabbinic prohibition on the outer sinew of the animal’s thigh tendon[3]. The Sefer HaChinuch[4] writes that this mitzvah serves as a constant reminder that eventually we will be redeemed from this protracted exile.

To fulfill this mitzvah properly, every last trace of said nerves and the fat covering the sciatic nerve must be removed as well. This act is called nikkur, a.k.a. treibbering, or porging the forbidden nerves and fats, and it takes an expert to do it properly[5].

One of the most outstanding experts in hilchos nikkur known was Rav Yonason Eibeshutz (1690 - 1764), one of the greatest Torah giants of his period and famed author of 89(!) works[6], including the renowned Yaaros Dvash and Kreisi U’Pleisi. In the latter sefer in his commentary to the laws of Gid Hanasheh[7], Rav Yonason recorded a fascinating historical incident, which posthumously sparked a raging halachic controversy.

He relates that an expert porger came to town (Prague) claiming that the sinew that Jews have been removing for centuries was the wrong one! This treibberer alleged that a different sinew was the true Gid Hanasheh. The ramifications of his claim were gargantuan, for if it was deemed accurate, consequently all of World Jewry would have chas veshalom been eating non-kosher from time immemorial!

Rav Yonason writes that he showed this fellow the error of his ways as the sinew this porger was referring to was found exclusively in male animals, and could therefore not possibly be the correct one, for it states in the SMAG[8] “the prohibition of Gid Hanasheh applies to both males and females”; thus averting potential communal disaster. He concludes his passage reiterating the importance and necessity of a porger’s proficiency and expertise.

Kreisi Controversy

However, the only problem is that this quote does not actually appear in the SMAG! The SMAG in his actual quote was referring to people, not animals! In other words, he wrote that women were obligated to keep this prohibition, as well as men. Is it possible the great Rav Eibeshutz could have made such a simple mistake? And, if so, what was it that the Kreisi U’Pleisi showed this traveling treibberer that mollified his taynos? Many scholars over the years searched for a proper solution to this perplexing conundrum.

One suggestion was that the porger was unlearned, and Rav Yonason wanted to expose his ignorance and therefore set a trap and easily refute him[9]. The issue with this is that by Rav Yonason’s own testimony, the porger was a “Talmid Chacham and expert”, which would negate this solution.

The Pischei Teshuvah[10] cites the Toldos Adam who takes a different approach and makes an example out of this story as proof that even Gedolim can err. Following this would mean that one may not partake in eating said meat without removing both sinews.Although the Toldos Adam’s intent was to uncover the truth, he unwittingly fueled the fires of the Haskalah, as one of their primary goals was the undermining of Rabbinic authority[11]. In fact, this author personally heard noted historian Rabbi Berel Wein aver that the Haskalah used this as propaganda to sway the masses.

On the other hand, many Rabbinic luminaries wrote responsae[12], including a tremendous pilpul by the Chasam Sofer[13], not only defending the Rav Eibeshutz’s words from attack, but actually each citing different proofs and logic how his shitta is truly correct, that the Gid Hanesheh must be present in both male and female animals..

Several authorities[14] wrote that it must be a printing mistake and the correct point of reference was the S - H - G (סה"ג), referring to the Sefer Halachos Gedolos, a ninth century Halachic code which contains a section on hilchos treifos[15], who actually does imply that the Gid Hanasheh is found in both male and female animals. Others[16] feel that he meant "a sefer mitzvos gadol", meaning a big book of mitzvos, possibly referring to the Sefer HaChinuch, who implies this as well.

VeHetzdiku es HaTzaddik

However, the whole truth did not actually come out until 1930, when a rabbi in Los Angeles, Rabbi Shlomo Michoel Neches, wrote in the Shaarei Tzion Torah Journal[17] that he had in his possession an original manuscript of the Kreisi U’Pleisi, and the words SMAG were crossed out by Rav Yonason Eibeshutz himself, and written on top of them were the letters S - H - N ((סה"נwhich stood for Seder Hilchos Nikkur, referring to the Seder HaNikkur of the Baal HaItur[18]. There it was written explicitly that both men and women are forbidden from consuming the Gid Ganasheh which is found in both male and female animals. Finally and justly, a Gadol Hador was vindicated - 165 years after his death[19]!

Although we had to wait over a century and a half to have clarity on this halachic mystery, it is imperative that we realize that our true mesorah (in this case - all the way back to Yaakov Avinu!) is rock solid and our chachamim are given special siyatta dishmaya to arrive at the correct halachic conclusions. It might take a century or even a millennia, but in the end we clearly see why our chachamim are called “Einei HaEidah[20].



[1]Bereishis end of Ch. 32.

[2]Due to maaseh avos siman l’banim we are still feeling the repercussions of this act nowadays. See Chafetz Chaim al HaTorah to this parsha.

[3]Gemara Chullin Ch. Gid Hanasheh, 91a - 93b; Shulchan Aruch Y”D 65, 8.

[4]Sefer HaChinuch Mitzva 3. Several Rishonim, as well as the Midrash, also imply this message.

[5]See Shulchan Aruch and Rema Y”D 65, 13 & 14, and their commentaries.

[6]See preface to sefer Chacham HaRazim - Rebbi Yonason Eibeshutz.

[7]Y”D 65, Kreisi 16.

[8]Ostensibly the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol by Rav Moshe of Coucy (13th century), Negative Commandment 139.

[9]See Hegos B’Parshiyos HaTorah by R’ Yehuda Nachshoni, on Parshas Vayishlach, pg. 137.

[10]Y”D 65, 2, citing the Toldos Adam vol. 2 Ch. 15 pg. 237.

[11]Paraphrase from Prof. S.Z. Leiman’s excellent “Rabbi Jonathon Eibeshuetz and the Porger” pg. 16. Thanks are due to Rabbi Eliezer Brodt, author of Bein Kesseh L’Essor and Lekutei Eliezer, for providing me with this important source.

[12]Including the Mahr”I Assad (Shu”t Yehuda Ya’aleh Y”D 102), Rav Shlomo Kluger (Shu”t Tuv Taam V’Daas, Kamavol. 1, 100) [neither of whom actually approved of the Chasam Sofer’s pilpul], the Butchatcher Gaon (Daas Kedoshim Y”D 65, Hilchos Giddin HaAssurin 4, see explanation in Gidulei HaKodesh there, 1), the Ginzei Yosef (Shu"t 96, 2, quoting the Einei Yisrael), the Mahar”I HaLevi (Shu”t vol. 1, end 36, s.v. mah shetamah), and the Arugas Habosem (Shu”t Y”D 64, 4).

[13]Shu”t Chasam Sofer Y”D 69, cited approvingly by the Pischei Teshuva (above). The Aruch Hashulchan (Y”D 65, 25, inthe brackets) might be referring to this solution as well.

[14]Including the Mishmeres Shalom (Y”D 65, M.Z); Rav Avraham Shimon Traub, the Kaidan Gaon, in a new edition of Sefer Halachos Gedolos (pg. 296) that he published; the Ginzei Yosef (above); and Rav Yosef Adler (cited in Shu"t Mishneh Halachos vol. 3, 67). The Tzitz Eliezer (Shu”t vol. 8, 25, 2 and vol. 18, 63, 6 s.v.v'ani) actually prefers this amending to the later one, saying that Rabbi Neches must not have been able to read Rav Yonason’s handwriting clearly.

[15]BeHa”G (61, Hilchos Treifos pg 129a - exact location cited in Maadanei Hashulchan Y”D 65, footnote 118). Still, others feel that the BeHa”G’s words are also not entirely clear that he was referring to female animals; see Haghos Rav Ezriel Hildesheimer to the BeHa”G (ad loc.), Chadrei De’ah (ad loc. 8), Giluy Daas (ad loc. 7), and Daas Yonason (on Kru”P, 65, 16).

[16]See Shu"t Mishneh Halachos vol. 3, 68, s.v. u'mah.

[17]Choveret HaYovel 1930, 25 - under the title “VeHetzdiku es HaTzaddik” - “The Tzaddik Was Justified” (Devarim Ch. 25, verse 1); also printed in HaPardes Journal vol. 4, 1. This important tidbit is found in Pardes Yosef (Parshas Vayishlach, 33 s.v. uv’kru”p), as well as in Torah Shleima (Parshas Vayishlach, 169), and Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (above). It is also added as an important footnote in many recent editions of the Shulchan Aruch, some printed with the words “mitzvah l’farsem”.

[18]Seder HaNikur (Shaar Harishon, Hechsher HaBassar 8b - exact location cited in Maadanei Hashulchan Y”D 65 footnote 118), also brought in the Tur (end Y”D 65) as well as in Rabbeinu Yerucham (Nesiv 15, 14, pg. 128b). According to Professor Leiman (cited above) the version Rav Eibeshutz showed the porger was the 1577 version with the glosses of Rav Tzvi Bochner, a master treibberer and contemporary of the Rema, as there are those (see Prisha Y”D 65, 56 and Shu"t Mishneh Halachos vol. 3, 68, s.v. bram and s.v. mevuar) who explain that in other versions the words “male” and female” are referring to types of muscles, not animals.

[19]Also thereby proving that Rav Eibeshutz chose the right name for his sefer,Kreisi U’Pleisi - See Gemara Brachos 4a, and Rashi ad loc. s.v. shekorsim.

[20]Parshas Shelach (Bamidbar Ch. 15, verse 24). Interestingly, history has proven that in the whole sefer Kreisi U’Pleisi on all of Yorah De’ah only one (!) actual mistake was found, but it was clearly an error in Geometry - See Kreisi U’Pleisi (Tiferes Yisrael) 190, 14, and Lechem V’Simlah 190, Simlah 11.


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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