Masechet Chullin 96a-102b

September 22, 2011

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Chullin 96a-b: When eating is considered significant

In Jewish law, in order for food to be considered significant, we ordinarily assume that the person must eat at least a kezayit – an olive’s size amount of food. This is true, for example, with regard to the prohibition of eating the gid haNasheh – the sciatic nerve. The Mishnah teaches that in order to be liable to receive lashes as punishment, the person must eat at least a kezayit. At the same time, the Mishnah continues and teaches that if the person ate the entire gid haNasheh he is liable, even if the gid haNasheh was small and did not contain a full kezayit.

The Gemara explains the reasoning behind this ruling. Since the nerve is a beriah bifnei atzmah – it is viewed as a significant, free-standing creation – that gives it independent significance with regard to halacha.

Why is the gid haNasheh perceived as an independent entity?

Tosafot suggest that once the Torah singles out something as forbidden, it is as if it stated that the Torah specifically forbids that thing, whether it is large or small, as long as the entire thing is eaten. According to this approach, even though only part of the gid haNasheh is prohibited by the Torah – on today’s daf Shmuel teaches that only the part of the sciatic nerve that is “upon the hollow of the thigh” is forbidden (see Bereshit 32:33) – nevertheless, since that is what the Torah refers to as the gid haNasheh, that is what is considered a beriah bifnei atzmah.

There are rishonim who disagree with Tosafot and require that a beriah bifnei atzmah must have the significance of an entire creation. According to this approach, even though only part of the gid haNasheh is prohibited, if the person consumed the entire gid haNasheh it is considered a significant act and he would be liable to receive punishment, even though he would not be liable had he eaten only the part of the gid haNasheh that was forbidden.

Chullin 97a-b: Nullifying non-kosher food in a mixture

When something that is not kosher gets mixed in with kosher food, what is the status of the mixture?

According to Jewish law, if the amount of kosher food is so overwhelming that the non-kosher food does not affect its taste, we apply the concept of bitul – nullification – and the food is deemed kosher.

The Gemara on today’s daf suggests two methods that will allow us to determine whether the non-kosher food has become nullified –

  • kefeila – by having an expert, non-Jewish cook taste the food
  • shishim – by measuring the mixture and ascertaining that there is 60 times the amount of kosher food as compared to non-kosher food.

Different suggestions are offered to explain why we rely on a non-Jewish expert cook in this case, while we ordinarily only trust Jews with regard to issues of kashrut.

Rashi explains that we distinguish between a situation like this one where we approach him with a question and cases where he comes on his own initiative. In the latter case we suspect that he has some personal interest in the information that he is sharing; in our case we view him as someone who is simply sharing information – meisi’ah lefi tumo – and can be trusted. The Ran argues that the crucial factor in this case is his expertise. He will not ruin his reputation as an expert regarding food in order to fool us about the taste, so he can be trusted.

Another disagreement revolves around the role that the kefeila – the expert cook – can play. Although Tosafot rule that as soon as the kefeila announces that the mixture is free of any non-kosher taste, it is deemed to be kosher and can be eaten, Rashi argues that having the kefeila taste the food is a stringency, and that unless there is also 60 times kosher food, the mixture is still forbidden.

Practically speaking, the Rama rules that today we no longer rely on expert tasters and that in the case of such a mixture we would check to see whether the volume of kosher is 60 times that of non-kosher if it is to be deemed permissible.

Chullin 98a-b: Is a 60:1 ratio always needed to nullify non-kosher food?

We learned on yesterday’s daf that when something non-kosher falls into a pot with kosher food, the mixture will be permitted if the kosher food is at least 60 times greater than the non-kosher food.

The Gemara on today’s daf tells stories that appear to raise doubts about that ruling. The Gemara relates:

A certain man once came before Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi with his case. Said Rabban Gamliel: Did not my father permit such a case by the standard of forty-seven-fold? Then I might just as well be satisfied with forty-five-fold.

A certain man once came before Rabbi Shimon the son of Rabbi with his case. Said Rabbi Shimon: Did not my father permit such a case by the standard of forty-five-fold? Then I might just as well be satisfied with forty-three-fold.

Rashi offers two different explanations for these stories.

According to his first approach, these Sages permitted the mixture even though there was less than the 60 times that was required, since the amount of prohibited material in the mixture was only half the size of an olive. As we have learned (see above, daf 96), ordinarily only eating a full kezayit will be considered significant enough for someone to be held liable. Here, too, given the miniscule amount of prohibited material in the mixture, a smaller ratio could be accepted to nullify it (even though half of a kezayit remains forbidden on its own on a Biblical level).

Rashi’s second approach suggests that the ruling offered was said in an ironic tone. Upon being asked the question whether a ratio of 45:1 would suffice to nullify the prohibited food in the mixture Rabban Gamliel responded “My father did not accept 47:1, how could I accept a smaller ratio!?” According to this explanation, these stories reinforce the requirement that we need a minimum amount of 60 times kosher food to permit a mixture.

Chullin 99a-b: Does an animal’s sciatic nerve have any taste?

The Mishnah (96b) teaches that if the gid haNasheh had not been removed, and an animal’s thigh was cooked together with the sciatic nerve such that there was so much of the nerve as to impart a flavor to the meat of the thigh, it is forbidden. The Mishnah continues by asking “How does one measure this?” and explains that we view it as though the meat had been cooked with turnips.

On today’s daf, Rav Huna explains the meaning of the Mishnah. If, when meat and turnips are cooked together in the same proportions as is found in the sciatic nerve and the thigh respectively, the meat imparts its flavor to the turnips, then the thigh would be forbidden on account of the taste of the forbidden nerve. As we have learned (above, daf 97), the Sages estimate that meat cannot impart its taste to any substance that is cooked with it if the latter is sixty times as large in bulk as the meat.

The difficulty in estimating whether the taste of the gid haNasheh affects the taste of the meat stems from the fact that different elements all have a similar, meaty taste. Even if the difference in taste could be ascertained, a Jew could not taste-test it, since there is a possibility that the forbidden taste was absorbed by the meat and is forbidden. Giving it to an expert non-Jewish cook to taste is not raised as a possibility. The Hatam Sofer suggests that this is because the non-Jew can be trusted to testify only about foods with which he is familiar. In this case, since no non-Jew ever eats the animal’s thigh with the sciatic nerve removed, he will be unable to tell us whether or not the taste of the nerve has changed the taste of the meat.

This discussion notwithstanding, the Gemara points out that Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka disagrees with the Mishnah and rules that the gid haNasheh has no taste whatsoever and cannot impart its taste into the meat that surrounds it. This opinion is ultimately accepted by the Gemara and is the accepted halacha.

Chullin 100a-b: Were there Biblical laws before Mount Sinai?

As we have learned (see above, daf, or page 90), the gid haNasheh – an animal’s sciatic nerve – is prohibited based on the passage in Sefer Bereshit (32:33). Following his wrestling with an angel, Yaakov limps back towards his camp and the Torah concludes “Therefore the children of Israel eat not the sinew of the thigh-vein which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day; because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, even in the sinew of the thigh-vein.”

The Mishnah on today’s daf limits the prohibition to kosher animals; Rabbi Yehudah disagrees, arguing that before the Torah was given – when Yaakov’s children were still allowed to eat unclean animals – they refrained from eating the gid haNasheh. The response quoted in the Mishnah is that the commandment prohibiting the gid haNasheh was given at Mount Sinai, where it was then placed in context in Sefer Bereishit. It does not indicate, however, that Yaakov’s children kept this tradition prior to receiving the Torah.

The general principle regarding Biblical commandments is that they are incumbent upon the Jewish People because they were given as part of the Torah, and not because they may have been related as part of the earlier Biblical narrative. For example, the Rambam explains that the mitzvah of brit milah – circumcision – is not kept because Avraham was commanded to circumcise himself and the members of his family, rather because the Torah commands us to circumcise our children in the manner that Avraham was commanded.

On tomorrow’s daf the Gemara relates that the argument presented by the Chachamim to Rabbi Yehuda is that the passage in Sefer Bereshit relates to “Bnei Yisrael” – the Children of Israel – and that the Jewish people only formally became “Bnei Yisrael” after their acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai. While Rashi explains that the tradition of refraining from eating the gid haNasheh was not kept until that time, it can be understood to mean that the commandment that the Jewish People keep today is qualitatively different from the traditions that were kept by Yaakov’s children and family prior to accepting the Torah.

Chullin 101a-b: Adding prohibitions one on another

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, Rabbi Yehuda rules that the prohibition of eating gid haNasheh – the sciatic nerve of an animal – applies to unclean animals as well as to kosher ones. The practical application of this suggestion would be whether someone who eats the gid haNasheh of an unclean animal would be liable for two punishments – one set of lashes for eating non-kosher and a second set of lashes for eating the gid haNasheh. Whether or not this is the case depends on how we rule on a general question in the Gemara: Do we say issur hal al issur – that one prohibition can be added to another prohibition – or not?

This question is the subject of a disagreement in Masechet Yevamot (daf 32b), and although we rule that ein issur hal al issur – that one prohibition cannot be added to another prohibition – it is not clear how far this idea applies. Thus we find that Rabbi Yossi understands ein issur chal al issur to mean that there is no punishment for the second prohibition, but it still exists and the perpetrator of such a crime would be deemed a rasha – an evil person – who would not be buried in the Jewish cemetery. Rabbi Shimon takes a simpler view of the ruling and argues that ein issur chal al issur means that there is no place for the second prohibition to be applied and it does not exist at all. The Gemara in Yevamot adds that even Rabbi Shimon agrees that if the first prohibition no longer exists, the second one would take its place.

There are other exceptions to this rule, as well. For example, the Gemara in Masechet Shevuot (daf 24) teaches about situations such as issur kollel and issur mosif.

  • Issur kollel means an inclusive prohibition. In a case of issur kollel we do not find an extra prohibition added, rather the new issur expands the context of the already existing prohibition so that this activity is now included under a different category at the same time that it retains its original prohibition.
  • Issur mosif means an additional prohibition. There are some cases where the issur does not fall under a larger category that adds a prohibition to it, rather there is an actual addition made to it that did not exist beforehand.

Chullin 102a-b: Prohibiting all people from eating the flesh of a living animal

In the course of discussing the question of whether the prohibition against eating the gid haNasheh – the sciatic nerve – applies to unclean animals as well as to kosher ones (see the discussion on yesterday’s daf), the Gemara segues to a parallel discussion about ever min ha-chai – the limb of a living animal. The verse in Sefer Devarim (12:23) states “Only be steadfast in not eating the blood; for the blood is the life; and thou shalt not eat the life with the flesh.” Aside from the clearly stated prohibition against eating blood, the Sages understood this as prohibiting eating the limb of a living animal, as well.

Does this prohibition apply to unclean animals as well as to kosher ones?

Rabbi Yehuda understands the passage in Devarim as comparing the prohibition of “the life with the flesh” – i.e. ever min ha-chai – with the prohibition against blood, and both are forbidden in all animals, whether kosher or unclean. The Chachamim see ever min ha-chai as being compared to the meat of the animal, and they conclude that only the blood of animals whose meat is permitted is, in fact, forbidden.

In the continuation of the Gemara, Rav Gidel quotes Rav as teaching that this difference of opinion only relates to Jews, but regarding bnei Noah – non-Jews – all agree that the prohibition against eating ever min ha-chai applies to all animals (it should be noted that ever min ha-chai is one of the Seven Laws of Noah).

Rav Yaakov Emden points out that this ruling is something of an anomaly, inasmuch as we usually assume that there are no instances where the Torah‘s commandments are more stringent on non-Jews than on Jews, yet here we find that ever min ha-chai from an unclean animal is definitely forbidden to non-Jews, and not to Jews. One response that is offered is that this is not considered a stringency, since the unclean animal is forbidden to the Jew in any case, given its non-kosher status.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.