We learned in the first Mishna of this perek (see daf 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, tendons, 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 Yoḥanan answers that it is marteka, while Reish Lakish suggests that it is meat residue that remains attached to the hide after it is cut with a knife. Rabbi Yoḥanan’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 (nuchal ligament), a strong fibrous membrane in the middle of the neck, which serves to help support the weight of the head.
- Rabbeinu Tam objects to this explanation, since when the term is used in Massekhet Zevaḥim (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 tendons or hard veins of the throat. They explain that it was necessary for the Mishna to single out the alal since if it had only said tendons, we would have assumed that the alal would not be included since it is harder and less edible than other tendons.