A Fascinating Historical Incident

Al kein lo yochlu Bnei Yisrael es gid hanasheh al kaf hayerech ad hayom hazeh (Bereishis 32:33)

In his commentary on Yoreh De’ah known as Kreisi U’Pleisi (65:16), Harav Yonasan Eibschutz records a fascinating historical incident. In his times, a menaker (the person who removes the forbidden parts of an animal after it has been ritually slaughtered) created a scandal by announcing that what people had traditionally assumed was the forbidden gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) was anatomically incorrect. He identified a different nerve as being that which the Torah forbade.

The ramifications of his claims were enormous. If he was correct, it would mean that all Jews around the world had forgotten the tradition identifying the forbidden nerve and, as a result, had been consuming non-kosher food for generations!

Wherever the man went he created quite an uproar, until he came to Rav Yonasan’s hometown of Prague. After listening to the man’s claims, he investigated the matter and found that the nerve that the man claimed was the genuine gid hanasheh was one that is found only in male animals.

After this discovery, he promptly took out a Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos, which states quite clearly that the prohibition of gid hanasheh applies to both males and females. This would seem to refute the man’s argument, as the nerve he alleged was the real forbidden one wasn’t found in females. Rav Yonasan concludes that the man was silenced and left in shame, his claims disproved.

The tremendous problem with this story is that the Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos writes that the prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve applies equally to male and female Jews, but makes no reference whatsoever as to what kind of animal the forbidden nerve is found in! How could Rav Yonasan have made such a glaring oversight?

Some explain that the impossibility of all Jews erring in something so important was so clear to Rav Yonasan that even before examining the man’s actual claims, he had mentally dismissed the allegations. To quell the uproar the man had created, Rav Yonasan simply wanted to “refute” him by any means possible. Because the man was simple and unlearned, he fell right into the trap!

However, the real answer is that there was a printing error in the original version of Kreisi U’Pleisi, which stated that the refutation came from “Samech-Mem-Gimmel” when it should have read “Samech-Hei-Nun.” As a result of the mistaken abbreviation, people reading it assumed that his source was Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos. In reality, it was Sefer HaNikur, which indeed says explicitly that the forbidden nerve is found in both male and female animals and proves Rav Yonasan’s claims. Indeed, there is a Jew in Los Angeles with a copy of the original print of Kreisi U’Pleisi with the handwritten marginal corrections of Rav Yonasan himself, and in the margin next to this line in the book is written this exact correction.

Q: Why did Shimon and Levi first kill the men in Shechem’s town and only afterward kill Shechem and his father (34:25–26), when they were the primary perpetrators of the crime?

Q: Upon learning of Shimon and Levi’s tricky plan to take revenge against Shechem and his townsmen, Yaakov made no rebuke concerning their actions and motivations but simply expressed (34:30) his concern about the possibility of reprisals by the surrounding towns. Before his death, he castigated (49:5–7) in strong terms the violence and anger they demonstrated in their conspiracy. If he disapproved of their actions, why didn’t he admonish them immediately upon learning of their actions so that they could repent?

A: Harav Berel Povarsky cites the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:14), who explains that the townspeople were killed because one of the seven Noahide mitzvos is the requirement to establish courts. Because they were aware that Shechem had sinned and did nothing to judge him, they were liable to be killed.

Since the entire reason they were killed was for their failure to punish Shechem, if Shimon and Levi had first killed Shechem, there would no longer be grounds to kill the rest of the townspeople since at the end of the day, his judgment had been carried out and they were no longer sinning by neglecting to punish him, so Shimon and Levi killed them first.

A: Harav Avigdor Nebenzahl explains that when Yaakov confronted Shimon and Levi about the potential dangerous consequences of their actions, they defended themselves by saying that even though he was logically correct, they were simply unable to sit idly by and watch their sister be defiled. Yaakov accepted this answer until they later sold Yosef and ignored his emotional pleas for brotherly mercy, at which point they contradicted their original argument and left themselves without any defense for killing Shechem, so Yaakov rebuked them before his death.

This explains why Yaakov said that in their rage they murdered people, and they willingly uprooted an ox. Rashi explains that the ox refers to Yosef, as it was their treatment of Yosef that brought back the original claim against their conduct in Shechem.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.