“You shall not put a stumbling block before the blind.”
Certain Daf Yomi passages should contain warnings of unpleasant content for the squeamish among us, which I am one. Today’s text is all about blood and tasting the sciatic nerve of a slaughtered animal, which I never knew was a thing. All I know about the sciatic nerve is that I have one and it causes me great pain when I am sitting at my computer for more than twelve hours each day on a not-so-great dining room chair. You know that shooting pain when you get up after many intense hours of working at a desk and you wonder if you will ever be able to walk straight again? And it’s difficult to take a few steps until the shooting pain fully moves through your body? That is not unlike the difficulty I have experienced with some of the recent readings.
The theme of today’s reading, with all its blood and gore, is the prohibition against benefiting from prohibitions. We are provided with examples against the context of the impermissibility of benefiting from discarded leaven during Passover. We are told that there is a prohibition against eating the sciatic nerve of a slaughtered animal as supported from a passage in Genesis: “the children of Israel may not eat the sciatic nerve.” It is acceptable to send the thigh of an animal as a gift to a non-Jewish person with the “sciatic nerve inside it.” We are told that this is because it is obvious that the sciatic nerve has been retained and a Jewish person would not accidentally eat it. The whole point of this passage, besides reminding me that I need to move more, is to identify the circumstance where one can benefit from a prohibited portion of an animal.
Rabbi Yehuda believes that eating the sciatic nerve from non-kosher meat is a form of double-jeopardy and says it should result in “two sets of lashes: one for eating the sciatic nerve and one for eating the meat of a non-kosher animal.” Rabbi Shimon says that the sciatic nerve prohibition only applies to a kosher animal. In his view there is no double-jeopardy, and the only transgression is eating a non-kosher animal. Regardless, as a person who does not keep kosher and will always select a chicken leg or thigh over a breast, I am sure I have I have racked up a scorecard with a lot of pending lashes. Ouch… maybe that explains all the sciatic nerve issues I have had lately.
I envision Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehuda in a kitchen huddled over a chicken arguing on whether the sciatic nerve provides flavor to its meat and by extension provides some benefit. Rabbi Shimon prohibits deriving benefit from the sciatic nerve while Rabbi Yehuda permits it. Rabbi Shimon argues that there is no benefit to be derived from eating the sciatic nerve as it is tasteless and adds nothing to the flavor of a meal. Rabbi Yehuda holds the opposite position, which is that the sciatic does indeed add benefit by contributing flavor to the by now spoiled chicken, since it has been such a long time that the Rabbis have been huddled over it trying to reach an agreement. The mishna settles the matter and weighs in on the side or Rabbi Yehuda by determining that the “sciatic nerve gives flavor.”
The Gemara reminds us that one cannot eat blood as quoted in Leviticus, which is not necessary unless you are a fan of blood sausage, which I am not. We are told that in addition to the prohibition against eating blood, there is an adjacent prohibition against benefiting from it. We are told that animal blood, however, is an effective fertilizer and can be “sold at a special price to gardeners.” I did some research and there is a product that is called blood meal that is sold as a plant fertilizer. It is listed on amazon.com as a “natural organic source of Nitrogen.”
I feel as though I am aging faster than usual – or perhaps just aging – after nine months of working from home at my kitchen table for twelve hours or more per day. My shoulders are all the way up to my ears, I have a persistent ache in the middle of my back and shooting pain from my sciatic nerve. I have never been an active person and always much happier reading at home that endlessly walking on a treadmill in a sweaty gym somewhere, but I moved a great deal more in my old life. I ran up and down subway stairs on my way to work, I walked around the block to get lunch each day at noon, I made several trips to Starbucks for coffee (I always made time for coffee), and I walked the floor where I worked visiting colleagues and checking up on things.
Today, my commute is from my bed to my kitchen table in my one-bedroom apartment and walking the floor means circling my small living room or stepping out on my balcony for a brief whiff of city air. When this period is over and we can all move about the city freely again, I will need to walk out all those stiff months of sheltering-in-place. I am looking forward to the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine so that I can start a period of repair.