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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Mitzvah #3:Not to eat gid-hanasheh (the thigh-vein)

Posted by rabbiart on December 12, 2008

A study of the traditional 613 mitzvot (commandments/obligations) according to their order of appearance in the Torah.

In the story of Yakov he wrestles with a mysterious man who confronts him in the middle of the night while he awaits a reunion with his brother Esav. At dawn, unable to escape, the man wounds Yakov in the thigh, and we read “therefore the members of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh-vein” (Breshit 32:33). Although we read of this commandment in the Yakov story, the tradition considers that the commandment is issued at Mt. Sinai along with all the other mitzvot.

Although we can classify this particular mitzvah as belonging to the mitzvot of kashrut, it is a mitzvah with a particular message. In the midrash, we learn that the mysterious wrestler is none other than the guardian angel of Esav. Rabbinic Judaism, striving to rebuild the Jewish people after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, uses this mitzvah to deliver a message of hope and faith against the power of the Roman empire. Rome is considered to be the descendant of Esav. Yakov defeated Esav’s guardian angel, therefore Israel will not perish, but out-last and overcome Rome.

The mitzvah of not eating the sinew of the thigh-vein is the first mitzvah that applies to women as well as to men, and it is applicable in all times and places. The specifics of this observance differ from place to place. In general, Jewish communities refrain from eating any part of the hindquarters, where the inner and outer sinew are located. In places where meat is not readily obtainable, the sinews are removed and then the hindquarter is used as food. There are other veins, arteries and tendons that are also removed, but we’ll come to those in due (mitzvah) order.

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