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Why don’t we eat the sciatic nerve?

Why don’t we eat the sciatic nerve?

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Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him . . . Therefore, the children of Israel may not eat the gid hanasheh, which is on the socket of the hip, until this day, for he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip, in the gid hanasheh. (Genesis 32:25–33)

Dear Rabbi,

Why, in this case, do we remember something by not eating? In our tradition, we eat certain foods to remember events. On Passover, we eat matzah to remember that we left in a hurry. On Chanukah, we eat oily food and cheese to remember the miracles. So why do we not eat the gid hanasheh (as the sciatic nerve is called in Hebrew) to remember this event?

Answer:

Thank you for asking this question; it led me to a very interesting discovery:

The “man” with whom Jacob battled was actually the angel of his brother Esau. The Zohar1 describes Jacob’s battle with the angel as an symbolic of man’s struggle with his darker side. The entire night the battle remained even, as Jacob held strong.

As morning was approaching, the angel knew that he had to act fast, for soon the night—the time when he has power—would be gone, and he would be powerless. He therefore struck Jacob’s thigh, the Zohar explains, which is the place from which all sexual desire extends. And there, he was able to wound him.

The Zohar teaches us that in every struggle we are powerful, and can overcome our evil urges if we so desire. There is only one place where the lust is so strong that even great men are powerless—the gid hanasheh. Its very name means “to forget,”2 because once it has been aroused, all rational thinking and religious scruples are left far behind.

The only way to win that war is to stay far away in the first place, for once the first flirt his been thrown out, there is no knowing where things can lead. For this reason, the gid is not eaten at all but utterly avoided.3

Yours truly,
Rabbi Menachem Posner

Footnotes
1.

Zohar 1:170b.

2.

See Genesis 41:51, where Joseph names his son Menashe, “because the L‑rd made me forget.”

3.

The 365 sinews of a man correspond to the 365 days of the solar year, as well as the 365 negative commandments. The commandment not to eat the gid hanasheh, as well as the nerve itself, correspond the Ninth of Av, the day on which the Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Even though Jacob did overcome the angel, the angel wounded him in the gid hanasheh. Perhaps this is the reason why the Romans (descendants of Esau, who was represented by the angel) were able to destroy the Temple on the Ninth of Av so many years later.

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Yehudit Dallas March 23, 2017

I wouldn't be able to find a sciatic nerve on a cow, or even a cow diagram! Where is it??? Reply

Anonymous July 18, 2016

Does Does this mean that I cannot eat a chickens or any other animals thigh? Reply

ryan david lawrence port angeles wa 98362 usa December 3, 2014

Jacob and Esau Shalom ! I thank you for the comment on the two sides dwelling within each of us and how we can overcome the evil urges if we choose to. May God give strength and victory to Israel, and may the Holy Temple be rebuilt soon and in our days! Reply

Davida tampa, fl December 7, 2011

Gid Hanasheh: Who was that Man? All of the commentaries about the evil side of our nature, and Jacob's wrestling with an angel... are very interesting indeed. However,
why would Jacob say of this evil nature.. that he saw G-d Face to Face and his life was preserved? How would Esau's Angel.. have the Authority to change Jacob's name? Why would Torah attribute an evil nature and angel to being G-D. Reply

Danny Tracy, ca December 6, 2011

HA? I always thought the angel crippled his thigh because He could not over power him and that it was close to the time for Jacob to meet his brother. Doesn't Jacob's name change elude to what happened here? I also don't get why man makes everything out to be so mystical when it comes to Torah? Reply

Hany MTL, Ca December 6, 2011

Interesting Very interesting article. I noticed that the letters of the gid hanasheh can be changed if you switch two letters you get haNahash/ Snake. Something to ponder perhaps. Reply

louis cohen Chicago, IL December 6, 2011

sciatic nerve Would you kimdly explain the Roman lineage from Esau/ Reply

Joseph Passaic via chabadpc.org December 5, 2011

Gid Hanashe of Chicken Rabbi Posner,

Can you explain the chassidus of why it is permitted to eat the gid hanashe of poultry?

Should we understand that fowl do not have the same sexual desire as land mammals? or that if they do, it does not stem from the gid hanashe?

Thanks Reply

Leah USA December 10, 2008

Angels and sleep I was taught that the soul goes to G-d during sleep and is, G-d willing, returned, upon awakening, explaining the prayers. This would seem, then, in direct conflict with G-d's omnipotent power over a person's soul after falling asleep. What makes for the exception? Reply

A Mesa, AZ December 10, 2008

og I believe I read someware in the midrash that Og rode on the outside of the ark on a board that was sheltered by the roof. Noach drilled a hole to pass food through. Reply

Dottie Otto, NC December 10, 2008

Og In Genesis 14:13 it speaks of the giant, Og the only fugitive who survived the Flood.
When the Flood killed all who were not with Noah in the Ark how could Og have survived? Reply

Anonymous December 10, 2008

Tzaddik with noYeitzer Harah I am no rabbinic authority. This is just speculation. But it would seem that even a tzaddik has a yeitzer hara. He has just overcome it. So long as the tzaddik preserves his state of mind, he keeps the yeitzer hara dormant. Thus, the question is actually what alters a tzaddik's state of mind? The answer is nothing. A tzaddik could theoretically decide to alter his state of mind himself and stray from G-d, but then he would prove that he wasn't a tzaddik in the first place. Thus, a tzaddik is just like you and me, only he has devoted himself to G-d and, through His power, has killed the yeitzer hara which resides in him. At this point, I would like to defer to the Rabbis at Chabad for further clarification. Reply

gershon December 9, 2008

Yes we can! We can overcome anything—even this. After all, Jacob did. But it is a whole lot harder. Reply

Anonymous December 9, 2008

how can it be that even a Tzadik doesn't have control on that issue, while it says in the tanya that righteous people don't have any Yeitzer Hara ("evil soul"), and therefore they will not/ cannot ever sin?
also, how can G-d have given us an element which we can not overcome? I thought G-d doesn't give a person a test that they cannot overcome? Reply

anonymous December 9, 2008

thank you Thank you for asking the Q, and thank you Rabbi M for answering!
great lesson there! Reply

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