Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Jewish People Don’t Eat the Sinew of the Hip -- Genesis 32:31-32

Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh. Therefore, to this day the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip which is on the socket of the thigh, because he touched the socket of Jacob's thigh in the sinew of the hip.

The night of Jacob’s wrestling with God was over. He had gotten up before the sun rose and started to cross over the river Jabbok at Penuel. Scripture uses both Peniel and Penuel to depict the same place with a common meaning of ‘God’s face’. So Jacob was crossing from the north of the stream to the south side to join his family and entourage. The actual location is approximately forty miles from Jerusalem.

And from that day on, Jacob walked with a limp, favoring his thigh. That would be the lasting reminder to him of his battle with God and how God spared him. I cannot speak for everybody, but I know that many Christians have had a similar experience, myself included. We may not have wrestled with God physically as Jacob did, but we certainly have done battle with Him. On all accounts, we should no longer have been in existence, certainly not in the place and situation of service and blessing we are in today. But in the process, we have been left with an everlasting experience or memory, and in some situations, perhaps even a physical scare (depending on what God had allowed us to go through during our ‘battle’). That experience, memory, or condition, will be with us all our lives. And its main purpose is that we remember God’s grace extended to us in that fight.

As he heads back to his family’s camp, he could well be wondering, “what will Rachel and Leah, and the children, and everybody else say when they see me?” Yes, what would they say? More importantly, what would he tell them? What would he dare tell them? And would they believe him? There is no record at this point of the story as to what he thought, was asked, or replied. We can only imagine.

What would you be thinking if you had a night like that; a night where you fought, either physically or in a dream that might as well have been the real thing, with God? You had fought so hard that ultimately your body was changed to the point of being recognizably different.

I can only share a little of my personal experience. Many years ago I had such a battle in the middle of the night. A force (for I do not know what else to call it) at the foot of my bed, was holding my ankles down in such a way that my entire body could not move. I was paralyzed in my bed, unable to talk although I tried desperately, unable to flitch so I could not wake my wife up. I could see our whole bedroom around me. All I could do is know or recognize that the figure behind the grip was indeed an evil demon or worse still. Unable to make a sound, I was able to silently repeat the name of Jesus, asking Him to come to my help, and then informing the demon that he was been dismissed in the name of Jesus. It worked, but the experience left me shaking for several minutes afterward.

At this point my wife awoke and seeing me physically distraught, asked what had happened. I told her everything. She did not laugh at me or trivialize the event. She suggested we pray and then try to get back to sleep, both of which we did. But its memory will last my entire life.

Based solely on my experience, my guess is that Jacob, when asked ‘what happened to you’ by Rachel and possibly Leah (as all good wives would notice the difference in his walk and thus enquire of him as to what had happened), would indeed tell them the truth. What he said to the children and others beyond that I cannot begin to surmise. Nor do I know how anyone reacted, although again by my personal experience, I believe those close to Jacob would have taken him at this word.

What we do know for sure, however, is that the story somehow got out. It was eventually written down, and it was passed on from generation to generation, right to this day. But there’s more.

The verse says that “to this day” the sons of Israel do not eat the sinew of the hip that is on the socket of the thigh. Orthodox Jews today still do not eat that part of the animal. They are particularly concerned about the “sinew that shrank” and according to Bible commentator Robert Jamieson, “The sinew is carefully extracted; and where there are no persons skilled enough for that operation, they do not make use of the hind legs at all.”
I dug into this a little deeper from the Judaic point of view and came up with the following: In the Jewish scripture this verse is translated “therefore the members of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh-vein” (Breshit 32:33). Jewish tradition recognizes that this is in the story of Jacob but it considers it to be part and parcel of the Judaic laws that were handed down later on by Moses at Mount Sinai. This is one of their many mitzvahs (a Jewish religious duty or obligation). This particular duty or obligation belongs to the mitzvoth of kashrut, a set of duties that may or may not make a lot of sense but are required in order to help the Jewish believer tame his/her ego, or to help them set boundaries or limits in life. Each one has a particular message.
Striving to rebuild the Jewish people after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, this mitzvah is used to deliver a message of hope and faith against the powers that may oppose it. In centuries gone by, it was the Roman Empire that was considered to have descended from Esau. The Jewish people believe that the ‘man’ that fought Jacob that night was Esau’s guardian angel and by Jacob’s very survival, he defeated Esau’s guardian indicating that Israel would not perish, but outlast and overcome not only Rome, but also all its future enemies.
The only possible link in scripture to this kind of thinking is found in the last phrase of our text here and that is, “because he touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew of the hip.” If indeed, the ‘man’ Jacob wrestled with was Esau’s guardian angel, we can see that the sons of Israel would not want to have anything to do with, let alone eat or absorb internally, anything that he may have touched. As interesting a possibility as that sounds, the rest of the text does not support the Jewish interpretation.
I also discovered that this mitzvah is the first to apply to both genders, and in all times and places. Most Jewish communities refrain from eating any part of the hindquarters, where the inner and outer sinews are located. In places where meat is rare, the sinews are removed and then the meat can be eaten.

As we read our Bibles, we would do well to be very familiar with what is recorded for us. We should also gain understanding of how its contents may relate to various cultures today, especially the Jewish culture. Finally we need to be aware of how such cultures translate or interpret the scriptures differently than we do in order to better understand them and to be better equipped in our discussions with them about our faith.

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  1. Anonymous15/4/12 08:55

    This was very interesting to me. I just finished reading Gen 32 and was trying to understand what it was saying. I'm glad I found your blog.

    1. So glad you did as well. I've being blogging on all of Genesis and soon coming to an end. I am thinking of continuing on into Exodus.

      Thank you for the ‘connect’. Looking forward to more interaction. You may want to take a look at the following websites:

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      God bless you. -- Ken Godevenos.

    2. Anonymous25/1/16 11:37

      Hi Mr. Ken, I thank GOD for you for this teaching experience. I was reading Genesis 33:1-32 & I had to find a meaning of Sinew. Thanks again for your in depth research...Blessings to you, Keisha Hardy

    3. So glad that was helpful, Anonymous. If we can help in other ways, do let us know. And keep on studying the Word. It is amazing how something I wrote over six years ago is still helping others. Blessings, Ken.

    4. Same thing. Been a christian for a while, but just now decided on readying the Bible. I lost a lot of time

    5. All the best Unknown. There is really good stuff available for reading Scripture these days. Let me know if you need some suggestions.

    6. Thank you very much brother Ken for your interpretation! We all have to believe in something and religious rituals stems from something.
      I don’t understand all the theology of the scripture but every time I sit down to read it I just ask the Lord to give me insight and understanding. He led me to this blog. So thank you and you should move on to Exodus.

    7. Thank you MB for your kind words. I have indeed gone why past this blog and continued. You can find all my writing on this blog by looking at past posts that came later. I started at Genesis 1:1 and just today I have reached (and published) all the way to Exodus 37:24. So, there's lots out there. I hope you can find them. Also, you can sign up for updates each time I do a new blog by going to and then going to the right hand column where it says subscribe by email and adding your email address so you won't miss any of them going forward. Feel free to share this resource with others. Blessings.

  2. Anonymous21/1/13 06:22

    Have a look at 'sleep paralysis' on Wikipedia. May explain your experience.

  3. Thank you Anonymous. That may help explain what happened to me physically, but I still have to deal with 'who' I felt/saw was doing it to me and upon "WHOM" I called for help. Blessings.

  4. Anonymous8/8/13 23:53

    strange... the native americans used to cut out the sinew as told by james adair and some other french guy's writings anyways..can't remember the french guy's name though.

  5. If you would allow my impertinence:

    My personal experience was this: I was laying next to my fiancee, unable to sleep. 15-30 minutes pass. I lay thinking about everything and nothing, trying to get sleepy. My eyes were focused on the hallway entering the livingroom where we lay. It was pitch black in the middle of the hallway, brightening in the edges, as how it is with darkness in a deepening hall.

    At some point I felt what I was watching was materializing. At first it just felt like it got a lot darker in the hallway. Then, however, the the ethereal darkness moved and took on an almost humanoid yet incredibly menacing facial appearance. It was a huge, black face. My reaction was as you depicted, frozen horror. It did not touch me, but hovered a couple of inches above my face and screaming with murderous intent, without making any sound. It's "eyes" bore into me, telling me that I would die in a thousand different ways. My head was ringing as if I had just discharged a loud firearm without protection for my ears.

    I was so frightened that I literally could not breathe, could not scream, could not move...

    UNTIL a few seconds had passed and I realized that this thing would not go away. Summoning what little bravery I have, I let out what I thought at the time would be a manly howl but came out as a girly but loud whimp and punched at it. It disappeared instantly.

    My "scream" woke my fiancee and I was released from my experience. I cried in her arms and fell asleep.

    I had the same experience as you depict with the demon, monster or whatever it may have been. I came to a whole other conclusion, investigating the workings of the mind. It is no coincidence that it happened to you during the night.

    This episode, like some other experiences I have had, led to a couple of days of intensive research into this thing I couldn't explain- nor had I met anybody who had ever said anything like this had happened. Or so I thought at least. Of course I had, just not in this exact apparition. There have been countless of Alien Abduction cases, where people, always in their cars or in their beds, places where one falls asleep easily, even with eyes open.

    As Anon up here already said, sleep paralysis does affect about 5-10% of the population, once or more times during their lives. This is due to brain chemicals in the process of falling asleep. While ones eyes are open and ones faculties are seemingly there, this sensation is due to having fallen asleep with ones eyes open.

    You were left with mostly a sense that God or His workings had sent this monster to you, so that you would call out to him. It sounds like you were able to make this experience into something positive, like me. Where you received religious strengthening (is that assumption correct?), I took from it a widened knowledge of the workings of the brain and an understanding of reality that few have.

    I am glad for you that you found something positive in your then horrible experience, as I did.

    To that end, I would either recommend or dissuade, depending on your bravery, you to watch a horror-movie recently released called "The Conjuring". If I feel you as well as I think I do, then I think you will take a lot of positives from it as well.

    Kind regards and best wishes,
    Per-Stephan Pettersen
    Of Norway

  6. Thank you Stephen for your comments. You are correct in understanding that I did receive strengthening in my experience -- it was strengthening of my faith in God. As Jacob found, the experience was very personal and something that impacts the rest of our lives -- at least when it comes to our relationship with God. But then again, for the Christian my relationship with God is what it is all about (Romans 12:1,2).

    I have looked up the movie you referred me to and watched the trailer. Thanks for the reference, but in due respect, I'll pass. I'm not big on movies and especially those rated as "horror". I'll rely more on your experience and mine.

    Thanks for taking the time to write.