Is the Gid Hanasheh Halachically Considered a Food?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

We dealt with this question on Wednesday’s daf this week (92b). Rav there makes the surprising statement that the main branch of the sciatic nerve itself is not prohibited whatsoever, rather, only the soft and edible offshoots of the gid hanasheh are prohibited. Rav argues that since the main stem of the sciatic nerve is as tasteless as wood it is unreasonable that the Torah issued a prohibition not to eat it. Ulla disagrees and asserts that though the sciatic nerve’s main stem is tasteless, the Torah nonetheless forbade its consumption.

How does Ulla respond to Rav’s point that the main stem is inedible? In the Achronim we find two approaches. The first approach (Pri Megadim, Chazon Ish) is that, in Ulla’s view, in spite of the fact that gid hanasheh is essentially tasteless the Torah teaches that it is nevertheless classified as a food. The Rogatchover Gaon suggests a different approach. The Rogatchover is dealing with the opinion of R’ Chisda from Monday’s daf (90b) that we burn the gid hanasheh of a Korban Olah on the mizbeach. Why isn’t this a violation of the halacha that we may only offer kosher animal parts on the mizbeach?

The Rogatchover explains that R’ Chisda agrees with Ulla that the gid hanasheh prohibition applies to the sciatic nerve’s tasteless main stem and thus gid hanasheh is not a prohibited food. Since only non-kosher food is disqualified for the mizbeach, offering the gid hanasheh isn’t an issue.  The Artscroll uses a term here which I think is very helpful in understanding the Rogatchover’s approach: “ingest.” The prohibition of gid hanasheh is not a prohibition not to eat a food, but a prohibition not to ingest the gid hanasheh part.

The upshot of all of this is that while normally eating prohibitions would only apply to something that is edible in the plain sense of the word, Ulla’s gid hanasheh does not conform to this standard. The Torah either taught that this inedible nerve stem is halachically considered a food, or that a person is liable simply for ingesting it, despite the fact that according to halacha he didn’t eat anything.