Return to main index

K5. Eating the Sinew of the Thigh.    [Make a Comment]

It is halachically prescribed that we do not eat the sinew of an animal's thigh.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Genesis 32:25-33(24-32) (Maimonides RN183; Meir MN1; Chinuch C3)
and Ya'akov was left alone. Then some man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he did not defeat Ya'akov, he struck Ya'akov's hip socket, so that his hip was dislocated while wrestling with him. The man said, "Let me go, because it's daybreak." But Ya'akov replied, "I won't let you go unless you bless me." The man asked, "What is your name?" and he answered, "Ya'akov." Then the man said, "From now on, you will no longer be called Ya'akov, but Isra'el; because you have shown your strength to both God and men and have prevailed." Ya'akov asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he answered, "Why are you asking about my name?" and blessed him there. Ya'akov called the place P'ni-El [face of God], "Because I have seen God face to face, yet my life is spared." As the sun rose upon him he went on past P'ni-El, limping at the hip. This is why, to this day, the people of Isra'el do not eat the thigh muscle that passes along the hip socket - because the man struck Ya'akov's hip at its socket.

Romans 14:2-3
One person has the trust that will allow him to eat anything, while another whose trust is weak eats only vegetables. The one who eats anything must not look down on the one who abstains; and the abstainer must not pass judgment on the one who eats anything, because God has accepted him


The statement of this Mitzvah begins "It is halachically prescribed ... rather than "We are to ..." as in other Mitzvot because Genesis 32:33(32) that underlies it is not stated as a commandment; it reads: QuoteParagraph This is why, to this day, the people of Isra'el do not eat the thigh muscle that passes along the hip socket - because the man struck Ya&039;akov&039;s hip at its socket.

Although, in Judaism, the above verse of Scripture is halachically treated as a commandment, it cannot be proven to be so because it could merely be saying that between the time of Jacob and the time of Moses (when we assume Genesis was redacted), the community of Israel elected to remember Jacob's struggle with the "man" by not eating the "sinew of the thigh" (gid hanasheh or "thigh muscle" in the CJB) of an animal that passes along the hip socket. It is because Jacob's own thigh muscle was damaged when the "man" with whom he wrestled all night touched his hip socket in order to force the contest to an end.1

The "man's" identity is shrouded in mystery, but it is apparent that he contained "the fullness of all that God is ..."2 because Jacob said of him in Genesis 32:31(30):

"I have seen God face to face, yet my life is spared."

Whoever the "man" was, it is clear that Jacob spent all night wrestling in the pursuit of a blessing to which God had already committed Himself through His earlier promise to Abraham; nevertheless, the "man" with whom Jacob wrestled declared in Genesis 32:39(28):

"From now on, you will no longer be called Ya'akov, but Isra'el; because you have shown your strength to both God and men and have prevailed."

While the apparent complement was given for Jacob's tenacious pursuit of the godly objective of acquiring a blessing, it was unnecessary for him to be injured in the process of acquiring it, and he wouldn't have been, had he trusted God's promise (about which he knew) instead of trying to extract the blessing through his own strength. It was a characteristic of Jacob to act in the flesh, and it was not the first time that he sought God's blessing through fleshly means (Genesis 27:1-35). It is worthy of note that Jacob did not win the wrestling match, and the "man" (who was clearly a supernatural being) did not lose it since he clearly could have killed Jacob had he wanted to.

Many in today's Jewish community comply with Jewish law and custom by not eating the sinew of an animal's hip (Genesis 32:33(32)), but we also understand the Scripture's twofold lesson for us, which is: (1) like Jacob, we must be zealous in our pursuit of godly things; but (2) unlike Jacob, we must do so in faith, and in reliance on God's strength - not on our own. We must submit to God and not wrestle with Him, lest He have to disable us as He did Jacob. There are many Scriptures that teach this principle; I will list but a few here:

Zechariah 4:6b
'Not by force, and not by power, but by my Spirit,' says ADONAI-Tzva'ot.

Psalm 105:4
Seek ADONAI and his strength; always seek his presence.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in ADONAI with all your heart; do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him; then he will level your paths.

Ephesians 6:10
Finally, grow powerful in union with the Lord, in union with his mighty strength!

Philippians 4:13
I can do all things through him who gives me power.

James 4:7
Therefore, submit to God. Moreover, take a stand against the Adversary, and he will flee from you.

There is a practical problem to overcome when we seek to abstain from eating meat from an animal's thigh unless we purchase our meat exclusively from a kosher source (the origin of chopped beef or "hamburger" from non-kosher sources is often not labeled and is unknown). Kosher meat is not always available, so the next simplest solution in attemptingto comply with halachah is to learn the cuts of meat that come from an animal's hind quarter (sometimes referred to as non-kosher cuts) and avoid them. There is, however, another but more laborious solution, which is for the consumer or the butcher to search for and remove all sinew-like structures in meat that comes from an animal's thigh; these would include veins, nerves, tendons, and cartilage. God does not expect the average person to be an anatomist or have the time to do it, so I am confident that making a reasonable effort to avoid eating meat from an animal's hind quarter is sufficient, although not required unless ascribing to a community's standard that seeks to build a fence around the Torah. Interestingly, Orthodox halachah sometimes establishes an even greater fence around the Torah by prohibiting the consumption of meat from behind an animal's 13th rib, which is the entire rear half of the animal - not just the hind quarter.

There is one more issue that needs to be thought of whenever we depart from halachic kashrut, and that is how it may affect our hospitality to guests who keep rabbinically kosher. There is no one solution I can recommend other than to inquire of our guests' needs and do our best to comply. It is sometimes expedient to avoid serving meat altogether.

1. Scholars argue over exactly what the gid hanasheh was, some calling it "muscle", others "nerve", and still others "tendon". For most practical purposes it does not matter, because the laws of kashrut require that all visible nerves, tendons, and veins be removed from the hind quarter of an animal if the hind quarter is to be used for food. Because such preparation is often cost-prohibitive, it is the common Jewish practice (except where food is scarce) to not eat the hind quarter of an animal at all.

2. See Colossians 2:9 (CJB).

Classical Commentators

The translators into English of Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch that I consulted, all translate gid hanasheh as "the sinew of the thigh vein." Meir says that there are two sinews - an inner one that is near the hip socket, and another that is further away. He says that the inner one is the subject of the Torah prohibition, and the other cannot be eaten either as a result of rulings of the Sages. Of the three, HaChinuch is the only one who attempts to explain the underlying reason for the mitzvah, but draws conclusions that both exceed and contradict the biblical text. He says, for example, that the man who wrestled with Jacob was Esau's (not Jacob's) guardian angel, and he was attempting to extirpate Jacob and his progeny from the world. When he did not succeed, he caused Jacob pain by dislocating his hip. HaChinuch says that this is predictive of Esau and his descendants (the Arabs)3 seeking to eradicate and inflict pain upon the Children of Israel, that they will not succeed, and that when the Messiah comes, Israel will be healed.

3. Esau, the elder son of Isaac, married his cousin Machalat, the daughter of Ishmael.


Return to main index