We learned in the first Mishnah of this perek (=chapter, see daf, or page 117) that there are certain parts of the animal that are not food in-and-of themselves, but that they will supplement the meat of the animal so that it will meet the minimum size requirement to become ritually defiled with tum’at okhlin.
While most of such animal parts are readily recognizable (e.g., bones, sinews, horns and hooves), one of the parts mentioned was alal, something that the Gemara on today’s daf aims to define.
In answer to the question “What is alal?” Rabbi Yohanan answers that it is marteka, while Resh Lakish suggests that it is “flesh that the knife has cut away.” Rabbi Yohanan’s explanation is subject to some debate inasmuch as the term marteka is unclear.
- Rashi explains that marteka is the tendon of the neck and spine, which is a broad, white, and very hard ligament. This tendon can be identified as the Ligamentum nuchae, a strong fibrous membrane in the middle of the neck, which serves to help support the weight of the head.
- Rabbenu Tam objects to this explanation, since when the term is used in Masechet Zevahim (35a) – where Rashi offers the same explanation – it is in reference to a sacrifice of fowl, and birds do not have this type of tendon. He prefers to understand the term to mean dead or withered flesh. This explanation is supported by an alternative reading that appears in the Arukh, which reads mardeka rather than marteka. In Middle Persian mardeka means “dead.”
- Another explanation that is brought by Tosafot in the name of Rashi is that it is one of the sinews or hard veins of the throat. They explain that it was necessary for the Mishnah to single out the alal since if it had only said sinews, we would have assumed that the alal would not be included since it is harder and less edible than other sinews.