In the beginning of this week’s parshah the Torah says that Yosef brought bad reports about his brothers to their father, Yaakov. Rashi explains that in these reports Yosef stated that his brothers would eat eiver min hachai (a limb from a live animal), degrade the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah by referring to them as slaves, and that they were suspect of transgressing with arayos (immoral relations).
The meforshim are bothered by this obvious question: how could there have been any validity to Yosef’s allegations? After all, we are discussing the sons of Yaakov Avinu, the shevatim, who were all known to have been great tzaddikim.
The sefer, Prashas Derachim (authored by Rabbi Yehuda Rosans in the late 1600s, and also the author of the Mishnah Lemelech), discusses at length the following question regarding the status of the avos and their descendents prior to receiving the Torah on Har Sinai: were they considered bnei Yisrael or bnei Noach? He suggests that this was the root of the dispute between Yosef and his brothers. The brothers were of the opinion that they were considered bnei Yisrael; Yosef, on the other hand, believed that they were considered bnei Noach. However, when it would not interfere with the mitzvos bnei Noach, they were expected to keep the Torah as if they were bnei Yisrael.
While bnei Noach and bnei Yisrael are both commanded not to eat eiver min hachai, there is a discrepancy between them. If one removes meat from a live animal, that piece of meat is eiver min hachai and can never be eaten – even after the animal is shechted and dead. However, once an animal is shechted properly, it is no longer forbidden for a Jew to remove meat from it, even though the animal is still moving (mifarcheses). (The meat still cannot be eaten until the animal stops moving.) On the other hand, a ben Noach is forbidden to remove any meat from an animal until the animal completely stops moving. The reason for this is because the fact that an animal was shechted has no bearing on a ben Noach, since the halacha of shechitah was not given to them. Hence, regarding when one can cut meat off an animal, the halacha for a Jew is more lenient than that for a ben Noach.
The Ri’aim explains that Yosef’s brothers would shecht an animal and, while it was still moving, cut off pieces of meat – as the Gemara in Chullin 33a says that this is healthy. They did this because they believed that they were considered bnei Yisrael, and thus able to utilize the heter shechitah and cut the meat before the animal stopped moving. In Yosef’s view (that they were considered bnei Noach) this was considered eiver min hachai. Therefore he told their father that they were eating eiver min hachai.
The Prashas Derachim quotes Reb Yufeh’s disagreement with this p’shat due to Yosef and his brothers definitely being considered bnei Noach; therefore the brothers could not have mistaken themselves for bnei Yisrael. Rather, he suggests that Yosef’s brothers had a ben pekuah. A ben pekuah is when a pregnant animal is shechted, and thereafter the baby is removed from the mother and survives. The Gemara in Chullin 74a says that the baby may be eaten without shechitah, even though it is alive and well. The reason for this is that the shechitah that was performed on the mother works for the baby as well. Similarly it is not forbidden to remove meat from the baby, since it is considered as if it was already shechted. Reb Yufeh suggests that Yosef’s brothers had a ben pekuah, and thus were allowed to remove meat from it without shechting it. Yosef did not know that the animal was a ben pekuah, and therefore brought the report to their father that his brothers were eating eiver min hachai.
The Prashas Derachim expresses bewilderment as to how Reb Yufeh could say this p’shat, since Reb Yufeh held that prior to Matan Torah everyone had the status of bnei Noach. It was for this reason that he disagreed with the Ri’aim when he suggested that Yosef’s brothers believed that they could cut meat off an animal after it was shechted. How then can he suggest that Yosef’s brothers had a ben pekuah? The basis for permitting a ben pekuah is because the shechitah of the mother works on the baby, but if he believes that they didn’t have shechitah (since they were considered bnei Noach) how can they have had a ben pekuah?
I would like to suggest an answer to this question about Reb Yufeh by raising the following question: when an animal dies a ben Noach may eat it, as it is no longer eiver min hachai. Is the reason that it is not eiver min hachai because it is dead and not chai? Or is it because once an animal dies, there is a heter on the issur eiver min hachai? If we assume that the reason that there is no prohibition of eiver min hachai after an animal dies is because the death creates a heter on the issur, then the halacha of ben pekuah could apply when a pregnant animal dies and the baby is removed thereafter. As was explained earlier, the halacha of a ben pekuah is that the heter (generally shechitah) that the mother attains extends to a baby that is inside of her at that time. Therefore, if the mother attains the heter of death, it should be extended to her baby as well, thus permitting it from the issur of eiver min hachai.