Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sexual Intimacy, Spilling Seed, and the Rationalist-Mystical Divide

When I first began exploring the differences between the rationalist and mystical schools of thought, my impression was that it related primarily to topics such as interpreting Bereishis and science in the Gemara. I then discovered that it also relates to topics as diverse as shiluach ha-kein, what one can do for someone who has passed away, and the function of Torah study. Slightly to my surprise, I recently discovered that it also relates to the laws of marital intimacy. Topics like this are not easy to discuss in public, but it is important to correct some misconceptions in this area.

Halachic Positions: What Judaism Really Says About Passion In The Marital Bed is a new book by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, the first in a proposed series entitled Sexuality and Jewish Law: In Search of a Balanced Approach in Torah. (This is not the Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro of Satmar/ Frumteens notoriety, but a different person.) It is a fascinating, though very intricate, discussion of the development of halachah in this area.

The author earned his rabbinic ordination in a Chabad yeshivah, but clearly no longer regards himself as bound to Chabad ideology. This is expressed in his lengthy discussion and rejection of the ancient belief, strongly expressed in chassidic communities in general and Chabad in particular, that a baby's looks and personality are significantly determined by what the parents think about during coitus, by the nature of the coitus, and by what the mother sees during pregnancy. Thus, at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, we have received a call from a pregnant woman who wanted to ensure that she could visit without seeing non-kosher animals (alas, this was not possible, and she did not want to risk giving birth to hyena-boy or gator-girl). And in some Chabad chosson/kallah classes, they are taught that during climax, they should visualize the Rebbe. Rabbi Shapiro explains at length why there is no reason for people to fear that their children will be born with congenital defects if they do not follow these notions.

However, the primary focus of the book is to address the history of the halachos of which sexual positions and techniques are permissible within marriage. Rabbi Shapiro demonstrates that the earlier sources, i.e. Chazal and the Rishonim, are far more lenient in this regard than are many later halachists, permitting forms of intercourse which do not lead to pregnancy. He traces the later stringent approach to several factors. One is what appears to be a copyist's interpolation into a manuscript of Rambam's Mishneh Torah, that alternate sexual positions are only permitted if one does not waste seed, which was later incorporated into halachic discussion as being Rambam's own opinion. (Rabbi Shapiro points readers to a 2001 responsum by Rav Yehudah Henkin, Bnei Banim 4:18, which discusses this textual discrepancy at length).

But the primary factor responsible for the change in halachic trends appears to be the Zohar, which strongly condemned the wasting of seed, and the influence of subsequent mystics. This is not to say that all contemporary rabbis of a mystical persuasion follow the Zohar in this area, nor that all those who take a stringent approach are relying on the Zohar. However, it is certainly a significant factor.

The Zohar was not the first source to condemn wasting seed. The Gemara speaks harshly against spilling seed in vain, comparing it to bloodshed. However, the Gemara does not clarify exactly what "in vain" means. Is it "in vain" when it gives pleasure to the wife, or the husband, even if it cannot lead to pregnancy? There are a range of views in the Rishonim and Acharonim regarding this question. For example, Tosafos (Yevamos 34b) quotes Rabbeinu Yitzchak of Dampierre (Ri) who permits occasional intercourse for the sake of sexual fulfillment performed in a way that does not lead to pregnancy. As Shapiro demonstrates, the majority of extant medieval writings that weigh in on the question endorse this approach of Rabbeinu Yitzchak.

But the Zohar goes vastly further than the Gemara in condemning wasting seed, saying that it is worse than any other sin! And it is the view of the Zohar, rather than the Gemara and other Rishonim, which is endorsed by R. Yosef Caro (in Bedek HaBayis, Even HaEzer 25), where he writes that "had Rabbeinu Yitzchak seen the punishment that the Zohar forewarns for the wasting of seed in vain, that it is greater than that of any other sin in the Torah, he would not have written what he did."

However, the status attributed to the Zohar by R. Yosef Caro and other adherents of mysticism was disputed by others. As noted here, for example, Chasam Sofer held that very little of the Zohar was actually written by R. Shimon bar Yochai. Furthermore, as Rabbi Shapiro documents, other halachic authorities were more lenient than R. Caro. And one acharon, R. Shlomo Yehuda Tabak, disputes R. Caro's claim that Rabbeinu Yitzchak would have retracted his view had he seen the Zohar; he argues that the Zohar's severe words about wasting seed apply only to a person whose intent is to avoid having children or who does so constantly. Rabbi Shapiro also suggests that even with R. Caro, his baseline legal opinion may be more lenient. Thus, Rabbi Shapiro concludes, there is far more room to be lenient with regarding to the laws of sexual intimacy than is commonly assumed.

This is, of course, a much-simplified version of Rabbi Shapiro's book, which is a very in-depth work that requires lengthy study. You can purchase it on Amazon at this link, and I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in these halachos. Rabbi Shapiro also has a website, Sexuality and Jewish Law, with more information and resources on this topic.

Also relating to the topic of wasting seed and the influence of the Zohar, the erudite but anonymous Rationalist Medical Halachist is back in action and has begun a series of posts which you can read at his blog, He discusses how the Torah's story of the sin of Er and Onan is explained very differently by the Zohar than how it was understood by other Rishonim.

One should not think that Rabbi Shapiro is the only person to advocate for a lenient approach in this area. Rav Eliezer Melamed, whose praises I have sung in a recent post, also takes a relatively lenient approach to the laws of marital relations in his Simchat Habayit U-birchato (see too the companion Harchavot volume). Whereas Rabbi Shapiro's book is an in-depth study of one very particular area of these halachos, Rav Melamed's books are more of a general guide to the halachos of this topic. They are an invaluable resource and would make a good gift for newlyweds who have perhaps not received the best education in chosson/kallah class. (They are also a good gift for people who are not newlyweds, but it's often a little more socially awkward to give such books to people who have been married for a while.)

Interestingly, Rav Melamed downplays this part of the Zohar in a different way than Rabbi Shapiro. Instead of pointing out that there are other halachic authorities who dispute the Zohar's approach in this area, or R. Caro's interpretation of it, he downplays the Zohar itself; not the authenticity of it, but the meaning of it. Rav Melamed says that the fire-and-brimstone expressed by the Zohar against spilling seed in vain is simply an exaggeration. He further points out that the Talmud's severe-sounding comparison of spilling seed to bloodshed is a rhetorical flourish, noting that the Talmud says the same about someone who embarrasses others in public or who does not escort his guests out. As Rabbi Shapiro notes, the same interpretation of such condemnations in the Talmud is given by Rivash, as well as by an early Acharon, Rav Yehoshua Heschel of Krakow, specifically in this context.

The approach of Rivash, Rav Yehoshua Heschel and Rav Melamed stands in sharp contrast to people such as (Rabbi?) Yaron Reuven, a protege of (Rabbi?) Yosef Mizrachi. In a lecture that you can watch on YouTube, Reuven takes the Talmud's comparison of wasting seed to murder very literally. Incorporating the modern scientific revelation that ejaculate contains around 300 million spermatozoa, he rails against teenagers who masturbate, claiming that they are mass-murderers who are killing as many people as the entire population of the United States! Yosef Mizrachi also has a lecture on YouTube in which he presents the "kabbalistic secret" that all the souls in the spermatazoa were supposed to enter this world, but instead are doomed to remain in the netherworld, waiting to confront the teenager after his death and seek revenge. "You have millions of sons now," he says, "and they all hate you!"

Yaron Reuven also boasts that he, Yosef Mizrachi, and another one of their chevra are the only rabbis on the internet who are brave enough to discuss this topic. For the sake of hashkafic and halachic truth, as well as the psychological well-being of countless teenagers whom Reuven condemns to Gehinnom, it's important to counter such extremist presentations of the Zohar. Baruch Hashem for the works of Rav Eliezer Melamed and Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro; let's hope that they receive much publicity.


  1. If someone has the patience to listen to a shiur in Hebrew - I go through the sugya here:אין-הלכה-כיוחנן-בן-דהבאי-/

  2. I bought the book a few months ago. My problem is that it is annoying to read so many mekorot in translation without the original Hebrew/Aramaic.

  3. also...see Keter Rosh of Rav Chaim of Volozhin - section 133.

  4. Regarding thinking of the rebbe, gerrer chassidim have a similar thing in their (in)famous "takkanot", a whole other story.

  5. Doesn't this have more to do with asceticism than with mysticism? After all, this is the Rambam: "Aristotle correctly says that this sense [of touch] is a disgrace to us, since we possess it only in virtue of our being animals; and it does not include any specifically human element, whilst enjoyments connected with other senses, as smell, hearing, and sight, though likewise of a material nature, may sometimes include [intellectual] pleasure, appealing to man as man, according to Aristotle. This remark, although forming no part of our subject, is not superfluous, for the thoughts of the most renowned wise men are to a great extent affected by the pleasures of this sense, and filled with a desire for them. And yet people are surprised that these scholars do not prophesy, if prophesying be nothing but a certain degree in the natural development of man."

    1. In fairness to Aristotle: In a footnote to I:24 of his translation of Sefer HaIkkarim (vol. I pg. 192) Isaac Husik points out that the attribution of the degradation of the sense of touch to to Aristotle in Jewish philosophy seems to derive from a mistranslation of Nicomachean Ethics 1118b into Arabic. Christopher Rowe renders the passage thus: "The sense, then, that is most widely shared is the one connected with self-indulgence, which would justly seem a matter of reproach...". It's the self-indulgence, rather than the sense of touch itself, which Aristotle condemns. After all, he goes on to talk about "the touch-related pleasures most appropriate to free men."

    2. Well, I was citing this for the Rambam's view, not Aristotle's :).

      But I'm not really clear on Husik's point. The Rambam is using sense of touch to mean sexual pleasure. In this Aristotle seems to be in agreement. You are right that he does list other types of touch such as a massage which might be OK. Here is a different translation:

      "Nor is there in animals other than man any pleasure connected with these senses, except incidentally. For dogs do not delight in the scent of hares, but in the eating of them, but the scent told them the hares were there; nor does the lion delight in the lowing of the ox, but in eating it; but he perceived by the lowing that it was near, and therefore appears to delight in the lowing; and similarly he does not delight because he sees 'a stag or a wild goat', but because he is going to make a meal of it. Temperance and self-indulgence, however, are concerned with the kind of pleasures that the other animals share in, which therefore appear slavish and brutish; these are touch and taste. But even of taste they appear to make little or no use; for the business of taste is the discriminating of flavours, which is done by winetasters and people who season dishes; but they hardly take pleasure in making these discriminations, or at least self-indulgent people do not, but in the actual enjoyment, which in all cases comes through touch, both in the case of food and in that of drink and in that of sexual intercourse. This is why a certain gourmand prayed that his throat might become longer than a crane's, implying that it was the contact that he took pleasure in. Thus the sense with which self-indulgence is connected is the most widely shared of the senses; and self-indulgence would seem to be justly a matter of reproach, because it attaches to us not as men but as animals. To delight in such things, then, and to love them above all others, is brutish. For even of the pleasures of touch the most liberal have been eliminated, e.g. those produced in the gymnasium by rubbing and by the consequent heat; for the contact characteristic of the self-indulgent man does not affect the whole body but only certain parts."

    3. The claim that emission of seed outside of a woman's genitalia is an act of cosmic mass-murder probably had its root in sexual asceticism, however, once propagated, it becomes an independent belief. At present, attitudes to marital intimacy within orthodox Judaism are not particularly puritanical, including in most of the Haredi world. However, the Zoharic conception of wasting seed is considered normative even in most MO circles (I believe, though I'll accept correction). This means that young men are being taught a number of things that are totally inane and idiotic, a smaller number of things that are liable to cause unnecessary anxiety, and a few things that are unhygienic and should not be done, still less recommended, by anyone.

  6. You could add Rav Moshe's psak that sperm collected for either artificial insemination or for fertility purposes is permitted (although he has some interesting strictures on that).

    1. The steps required by some halakhic authorities to collect a semen sample for testing or fertilization have always stunned me. They seem so unnecessary.

    2. The steps may stun you because you are not an Halachic authority nor fully versed in the subject matter. Intellectual honesty and thorough study are necessary in any discipline, without them all kinds of feelings and questions arise.

    3. Interesting strictures = he insisted the sample be collected by penetrative intercourse using a condom

  7. Whatever the Chasam Sofer believed about the Zohar, he does not discount the Shulchan Aruch. It is a little disingenuous to mention his name as though he was also lenient about masturbation.

  8. Being Rational doesn't necessarily loosing ones nuance. Also I believe that in one of the Masechtot Ketanot there is much about Zera Levatala, as much as the Zohar.

    In any case having read much of this particular author I can suggest that he does not possess the basic skills for understanding Halacha and the Halachik process. One cannot only learn one or two Simanim in the Shulchan Aruch and become an expert in those Halachos. The way he casually dismisses nosei Keillim as being too "forced" for his taste is one example.

    Another point, anyone who is familiar with the source material is aware that the Rishonim and Achronim did not choose one opinion over the other. Rather they saw one as strict Halacha and also tried to include the other opinions seeing the values just as binding. Specifically in these topics they sought to incorporate to some extent all the opinions.

    In any case, that someone comes today with know basic knowledge in other Sugyas, no sensitivity to the Halachik Process and Mesorah, and cherry picks whatever suits him today is laughable.

    1. Concluding that certain comments of nosei kelim are "forced" does not speak to one's expertise. There are people who are as fluent or more fluent in shulchan aruch than (fill in whoever you'd like) who would speak in the same terms. If anything, you might say it speaks to attitude, but even that is not true, because even the most traditional commentators, in countless places, refer to statements of rishonim and even amoraim as forced. The fact is, any commentator writing for any sustained period of time is occasionally going to offer weak or forced interpretations.

    2. In the months before I got married, it was recommended that I learn the Siddur of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden, where he deals with purifying one's thoughts before having relations. (It can be found in the section dealing with Shabbos night, since the עונה of a Talmid Chacham is preferably Shabbos night.)

      It should be noted that Rabbi Ya'akov Emden was one of the main opponents to ascribing the Zohar to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai--his sources and prooftexts in his Siddur are purely from Gemara and Midrash.

    3. To Yehuda P - (This is from my notes to Shas, Gittin 60a.)

      ס. ושרי למיקרי ביה דר' יוחנן ור"ש בן לקיש מעייני בספרא דאגדתא בשבתא - עי' יעב"ץ מש"כ ב"מתחסדים חדשים מקרב באו", העוסקים בספרי ארי ולא בתלמוד, ע"ש. אולם היעב"ץ עצמו אף הוא מביא ראיות מהזוהר לפעמים, כדלקמן (סב.)

    4. To DF: I guess I should check the Siddur of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden again, to see his sources.
      I heard from a good authority (Rabbi Dovid Fink, of WebYeshiva, but whom I also know personally) that Rabbi Ya'akov Emden considered the Zohar to have the authority of a Rishon (not that it was a useless forgery--just that it wasn't authored by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai).

    5. It is always when someone wants to defend the status quo conventional / popular thinking on an issue and push some "codified" line of thought within acharonim, to bury and coverup neglected or not widely known perspectives within the sources (that could enlighten people and impact their practice) that one inevitably shouts "halachic process! Halachic process!"

      The shouting is but a mere fig leaf.

  9. However, the Gemara does not clarify exactly what "in vain" means. Is it "in vain" when it gives pleasure to the wife, or the husband, even if it cannot lead to pregnancy?

    It is when the seed does not go into a particular place or in case of a forbidden woman.
    You did not mention about Gemara telling about Adam's sin during his separation from Chava that produced demons. I wonder, if you skip a particular line in your Yom Kippur confession, which deals with seed and demons? Or you are saying it without really meaning it? If which case the confession would be insincere?

    1. With reference to Seth who had been instructed, enlightened and brought to human perfection, it could rightly be said, "he (Adam) begat a son in his likeness, in his form." It is acknowledged that a man who does not possess this "form" (the nature of which has just been explained) is not human, but a mere animal in human shape and form. Yet such a creature has the power of causing harm and injury, a power which does not belong to other creatures. For those gifts of intelligence and judgment with which he has been endowed for the purpose of acquiring perfection, but which he has failed to apply to their proper aim, are used by him for wicked and mischievous ends; he begets evil things, as though he merely resembled man, or simulated his outward appearance. Such was the condition of those sons of Adam who preceded Seth. In reference to this subject the Midrash says: "During the 130 years when Adam was under rebuke he begat spirits," i.e., demons; when, however, he was again restored to divine favour "he begat in his likeness, in his form." (Guide 1:7)

    2. It is when the seed does not go into a particular place

      That depends. See Rav Moshe's heterim (which I think that everyone accepts). And Tosafos and others.

      or in case of a forbidden woman. ???

    3. The interesting question is whether, as Rav Henkin argues in Bnei Banim 4:18, the Drisha's shita that derech eivarim is included in the heter of shelo kedarka is (almost) a rejected view, or whether it is the mainstream approach, as R. Shapiro argues here:

      It appears R. Melamed (or at least his talmid R. Maor Kayam) takes an intermediate approach in the Harchavot to Simchat Habayit Uvirchato (18:8).

    4. I suspect that even Tosfot's "occasional" heter was merely a Tosfot method creation (of reconciling seemingly contradictory Talmudic passages) and not the intention of the Talmud. Rambam (original text) does not limit exta-vaginal intercourse to "occasional" times. Rambam/geonim agree that one is obligated to have children, but 99% of marital intercourse is not for that purpose anyway. Yakov Shapiro may have already made this point.

    5. @David or in case of a forbidden woman. ???

      A woman listed in Vaikra 18 (arayos), and in addition it applies to gentile women.

  10. Knowing none of the sources, even if shichvas zera levatalah is not as bad as is generally believed, can anyone seriously argue that the deed is perfectly harmless for a young unmarried Jew? I sense no noble sentiments associated with the act, only base ones. Again, I am open to the suggestion that it isn't horrific. But I don't think it's a very praiseworthy act no matter what the technical violation may or may not be.

    Incidentally, we could save young men significant anxiety by following Chazal's very wise and practical advice to get married at 18.

    1. It's hardly practical to get married at 18 years when it takes much longer that that to get the education that you need to support the children that you are likely to have, setting aside the extra years of Talmud Torah jammed in there. Sometimes there is a rational reason for changing practices, even though there is also a cost.

    2. Parents can help their children financially for the first few years of marriage. If there's a will, there's a way.

      Chazal were clear in their instructions and mefarshim explain that their calculation was simple -- that a young man will almost certainly find himself morally tainted if he waits past that age to marry. If that was true 2,000 years ago, it is even more true today.

      Many things are impractical (e.g., keeping Shabbos) until one decides that one has no choice and then all of a sudden it becomes practical. Like I said, if there's a will, there's a way. If we as a community didn't think that ignoring Chazal's advice was an option, we would find a way.

      And Chazal's advice in this instance is not a "chok." Their reasoning is so down to earth and applies even more today than it did then. What right, then, do we have to ignore it?!

    3. > can anyone seriously argue that the deed is perfectly harmless for a young unmarried Jew?

      Absent halachic considerations, yes, it is harmless.

      > I sense no noble sentiments associated with the act, only base ones.

      Noble sentiments? When you've been out in the heat for a while on a summer day and down a glass of cold water, are there any noble sentiments associated with that act? Does it matter?

      > Incidentally, we could save young men significant anxiety by following Chazal's very wise and practical advice to get married at 18.

      You were 18 when you first started noticing girls? Eighteen still leaves a good four or five years of "anxiety."

    4. May I presume you are referring to getting married for the first time at age 18.There, conceivably, may be some growth an maturation after 18 when each half of the couple changes significantly and the initial physical satisfaction of an 18 year old will no longer be enough to keep them happily united. Of course if we rule out happiness then the equation changes.

    5. 1. By 18 the issue has, well, subsided. It's around 13 or 14 that you need to be concerned.

      2. Of course it's not permitted. But it's going to happen, and perhaps a different approach can help the kid deal with it better.

    6. "Parents can help their children financially for the first few years of marriage. If there's a will, there's a way."

      This kind of reasoning is meaningless. There is a tradeoff involved.

      יִלְמַד אָדָם תּוֹרָה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה, שֶׁאִם יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה תְּחִלָּה אִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לַעֲסֹק בַּתּוֹרָה מֵאַחַר שֶׁרֵחַיִם בְּצַוָּארוֹ. וְאִם אִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ בְּלֹא אִשָּׁה, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁיִּצְרוֹ מִתְגַּבֵּר עָלָיו, יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה תְּחִלָּה.

    7. I don't think Chazal were concerned about masturbation if young men weren't married by 18. They were worried about them sleeping around. (Yes, it happened back then, believe it or not.)

    8. Believe it or not, in the more right-wing world, this problem actually can start quite late (circa 18). I know it did for me.

      As for Talmud Torah, there are thousands in Lakewood who learn all day post-marriage. If the support is there, early marriage is certainly possible.

      And Nachum, I don't think you're right, although I haven't looked at the sources in a while.

      And G*3: It's not quite the same thing. Not at all. If you think it is, I humbly suggest that you are trying to whitewash an act you know in your heart is wrong.

    9. It's obvious that anyone who believes that the majority of young men should remain celibate until after yeshiva+university+army+getting a foot on the career ladder is either a sadist or a nincompoop. Probably the best solution is to encourage early marriage and allow for use of birth control (not the pill!) for the first eight years. This is also not ideal, but it's a lot better than tefillin dates.

    10. Probably the best solution is to encourage early marriage and allow for use of birth control (not the pill!) for the first eight years.

      Sure, let's encourage people to get married very young while they are still developing their adult identity and then send them off to the army where they will be separated from their spouses for a long periods of time. What could go wrong? Anyone who thinks there might be a problem with that must be a nincompoop.

      The reality is that there are competing priorities with no single good solution for everyone.

      This is also not ideal, but it's a lot better than tefillin dates.

      There are cultures without early marriage and also no tefillin dates. Which is not to say that there are no violations, but the average person in these cultures are not violating. People are individuals. The Shulchan Aruch is correct: יִלְמַד אָדָם תּוֹרָה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה, שֶׁאִם יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה תְּחִלָּה אִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לַעֲסֹק בַּתּוֹרָה מֵאַחַר שֶׁרֵחַיִם בְּצַוָּארוֹ. וְאִם אִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ בְּלֹא אִשָּׁה, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁיִּצְרוֹ מִתְגַּבֵּר עָלָיו, יִשָּׂא אִשָּׁה תְּחִלָּה.

      I agree that if we are going to allow delayed marriage, then allowing birth control early in the marriage should also be OK.

      By 18 the issue has, well, subsided.


      As for Talmud Torah, there are thousands in Lakewood who learn all day post-marriage. If the support is there, early marriage is certainly possible.

      There are many people who travel around in helicopters to save time over driving. They also have paid help to avoid wasting time doing their own dishes or taking care of their kids. If the money is there, time efficiency is always possible. But what about the other 99%? Many of them are doing these mundane things while their wife works.

      Also, I don't know the people you are talking about and how they live. I can say that my son could not spend the amount of time learning (plus a little secular studies) that he had for the past few years and also be married, unless he was going to married in a nominal sense and have nothing to do with his wife.

    11. > And G*3: It's not quite the same thing. Not at all. If you think it is, I humbly suggest that you are trying to whitewash an act you know in your heart is wrong.

      You know, people really can disagree with you. Not everyone (and probably not anyone) who disagrees with you really, deep down, knows you're right, but it trying to convince themselves that [insert aveirah here] is okay.

      I fully agree that it is halachically impermissible (though I wonder how that happened). But there are lots of things that are not allowed halchically that are not morally wrong. There is nothing morally wrong with masturbation. It's satisfying a physical urge in a harmless way, just like drinking water to satisfy thirst. There's nothing magical about sex that makes slaking lust morally different than slaking thirst. It can become a moral issues when there are other people involved, but that has less to do with satisfying lust than it does with complications of relationships, dishonesty, and the risks of pregnancy and STDs.

    12. G*3 -perhaps you should do a piece on this in your own blog; there are few things more bizarre and harmful about an (even moderate) yeshiva upbringing than teaching boys they are all liable for death at the hands of heaven for something that harms no one and that they will all do in any case.

    13. G*3: Sexual lust is morally equivalent to thirst for water? You got to be kidding me.

      And David, you can be snarky about it, but a huge percentage of the yeshivah world learns full time after marriage; only a small percentage of these people come from wealthy families. How do they manage? I don't know, but they do.

    14. Those lakewooders who get married (at age 22 - 23) spent a few years developing their value on the (Lakewood) marriage market.

    15. Yehudah: I wasn't trying to be snarky. I was just pointing out that "If there's a will, there's a way." is wishful thinking and not a plan.

      You say "How do they manage? I don't know, but they do." For one thing, they don't get married until well after 18 years old. Getting married earlier means less time for learning and greater cost for lifetime "support". I don't know about Lakewood, but in Baltimore, they go on welfare and food stamps and rely on their parents insurance until the wife can support the family. Once there are kids, the husband has to do child related care (while there is not nothing inherently wrong with that, it leaves less time for learning). Some go to college and get educated or start other careers. They sometimes can end up in bad financial situations (meaning they don't manage). But whatever it is, it is not a land of plenty where you can now just have kids 4 years earlier with no effect on learning time or financial strain.

    16. > G*3: Sexual lust is morally equivalent to thirst for water? You got to be kidding me.

      Okay. Make an argument for why lust is more immoral than thirst. Where immoral = harmful, and without appealing to halacha, which can be understood as a legal rather than a moral system.

    17. Anonymous, something like this?:

    18. Parents can help their children financially for the first few years of marriage.

      Must be nice to come from a rich family and be completely oblivious to roughly 98% of the world's population.

    19. Parents can help their children financially for the first few years of marriage.

      Does it make sense to start turning the world upside down just to try to avoid the "problem" of spilling seed?

    20. G*3: There is no point in making a case for it. We simply disagree. It's a matter of sensibility. I am very surprised you don't share my sensibility but evidently you don't. L'havdil, most human beings innately know it's wrong to kick a dog for the fun of it. If someone did not have this sensibility, though -- if he thought nothing of kicking a dog for the fun of it -- there is little I could say to him.

      David: I agree that it's not a plan. But it's an attitude, and plans stem from attitudes. If one does not think following Chazal's advice to marry young is important, then one will come up with all sorts of excuses why doing so is not feasible. That, in my humble opinion, is what you have done. If we as a community, though, believed that following Chazal's advice was important, we would find a way.

      In the meantime, no one is even bothering to think of ways. If we did, options to consider would be starting a college that one entered at a younger age. If you ask: How would this be possible? Simple. By altering schools so that they teach much much more at a younger -- like they used to. High school graduates nowadays know roughly what 8th grade graduates did 75 years. Just look at old textbooks and tests if you don't believe me. (There's a reason why the SATs were made easier a few decades ago.) Yeshivos are also far worse than they used to be. How many people could get semicha at age 16 like many of our gedolim did?

      There is much, much more to do discuss. (In terms of finances, we could return to a simpler time -- when young couples didn't immediately move into palaces.) But my basic point is that if we believed following Chazal's advice was important, we would come up with solutions. If we don't, we will continue to come up with a million reasons why doing so is not feasible.

    21. David: I agree that it's not a plan. But it's an attitude, and plans stem from attitudes.

      Wishful thinking is also not a good attitude.

      If we as a community, though, believed that following Chazal's advice was important, we would find a way.

      More wishful thinking. Real-world problems don't come with solutions in the back of the book which will be revealed if we just do enough searchign. More importantly, you fail to recognize that Traditional Judaism and Chazal have competing values. The Shulchan Aruch says specifically to delay marriage if you can until you acquire Torah knowledge. What the Shulchan Aruch not sufficiently committed to following Chazal's advice? Was the Rambam when he stated the obvious: that only fools marry before acquiring a profession and a house? Or are there competing values?

      If we did, options to consider would be starting a college that one entered at a younger age. If you ask: How would this be possible? Simple. By altering schools so that they teach much much more at a younger -- like they used to. High school graduates nowadays know roughly what 8th grade graduates did 75 years. Just look at old textbooks and tests if you don't believe me. (There's a reason why the SATs were made easier a few decades ago.) Yeshivos are also far worse than they used to be. How many people could get semicha at age 16 like many of our gedolim did?

      Pretty much everything here is wrong.

      1) My daughters took (and are taking) college classes in 12th grade. So your idea is not original and has been executed. (If you are saying that the Yeshivas should cut out some learning and improve their secular studies to what the girls already get, then I'm with you.)

      2) Please show me the 8th textbook from 75 years ago with calculus, physics and chemistry in it.

      3) The Gedolim that you refer to were prodigies. Yes, prodigies can go to college at an earlier age (e.g. You need a policy for the general public who in earlier times were never well educated and went to work and not high school.

      4) The Jews who want secular studies are already putting a priority on it. The ones who don't aren't bringing college to college age kids, let alone high school.

      So I agree that people should get their education earlier and they should live more simply to start with. Unfortunately, the rest doesn't follow.

    22. > . L'havdil, most human beings innately know it's wrong to kick a dog for the fun of it.

      Right, because it causes harm to the dog and fosters a callousness towards the pain of others. While the topic under discussion harms no one.

    23. Smicha at age 16:

      Various reasons.
      No formal program of learning that exists now. (Like certain sections of yoreh deah, etc).
      Shechitah was much more commonplace, more local than now.
      Smicha was considered a prerequisite to marriage (at age 16 was common.)
      There was no concept of what we call teenage years before the industrial revolution.
      But there was an apprenticeship, which smicha led to.
      Keeping a particular talmid in the rav's yeshiva or rav's entourage, would be simpler with the tie of smicha. And a moral obligation to send checks (money, in the pre check age) to that rav, the rest of his life.

    24. Yehudah, with the latest news out of Lakewood, we now know how they manage: theft and fraud. Compared to your average Lakewood Kollel Yungerman, a serial masturbater is a Tzaddik Gamur.

  11. Sure, there are sources for more lenient views when it comes to marital intimacy (even birth control methods typically believed to be always forbidden). But there are no sources permitting masturbation, and that needs to be clarified and emphasized. We don't want people to get the false impression that masturbation is permitted for those with a more rationalist hashkafa.

    1. You are correct this is a very misleading article,nowhere does he permit masturbation but is rather permitting certain acts between husband and wife.

    2. Nowhere does Rabbi Slifkin "permit" masturbation. He only discusses that there are sources that consider the Talmud's and Zohar's harsh statements to be exaggerations.

    3. He only discusses that there are sources that consider the Talmud's and Zohar's harsh statements to be exaggerations.

      That's when following majority applies. Aside from majority, if we put Chazal, Shimon bar Yochai, and Shulchan Aruch [without even adding contemporary Gedolim] on one scale and those sources on the other one [and even add there all participants of this blog along with its author], guess what would be the result?

    4. You can't put Chazal and Shimon bar Yochai on one side, because the issue under dispute is what they actually meant/said. The correct way to present the "scale" is to put Shulchan Aruch on one side, and Rabbeinu Yitzchak on the other side.

    5. If all Slifkin was trying to say is that the harsh statements on this topic are exaggerations, you need look no further than the nosei keilim on the shulchan aruch. The Beis Shmuel (in explanation of the Chelkas Mechokeik) says that it is NOT the worst sin despite the Mechaber saying it is. Instead, he dismisses the Mechaber's rhetoric as "lav davka." Sounds like an exaggeration to me.

    6. You're assuming the Zohar was written by Shimon bar Yochai. It may well have been written over a thousand years after he died.

    7. If you had any inkling of the suffering I (and I believe many others) had over the guilt of masturbation, to the point of depression, perhaps you would understand what Rabbi Slifkin is trying to communicate.

  12. I've seen the idea of masturbation being the equivalent of mass murder in a place completely different from Mr. Reuven: Alastair Crowley.

  13. The website noted (Sexuality and Jewish Law) is only an advertisement for his book and contains nothing else at this time

    1. The website includes: Book reviews, link to Preview, Updates, Additional Resources and and Video. If you're looking on a cell phone, you need to click on the menu bar.

  14. Personally, I view strong condemnations of masturbation to teenage boys as akin to mental abuse.

    The best response I have seen regarding Masturbation and teenage Yeshiva boys is from Rav Moti Frommer from the Maalot Hesder Yeshiva:

    (On a side Note: I don't believe there is any actual biblical reference that states that masturbation is not permitted. The story of Er and Onan was not regarding masturbation and therefore extrapolating from there that masturbation is not allowed is misleading and not a true reference .
    All other condemnations of masturbation seem to be based on this story or on other kabbalistic ideas with no true halachic rooting.)

    Regarding Marital Intimacy - I highly recommend the Sefer "דבר סתר" for further information regarding sexual acts that are permitted. It can be downloaded here for free:

    1. It is 100% clear and accepted halacha from the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch that one is 1) not allowed to intentionally give oneself an erection, 2) not allowed to masturbate, and 3) not allowed to engage in sexual fantasies.

    2. Circular logic.
      What is the halachik basis against masturbation?

    3. The Rambam himself also brings intentionally giving oneself an erection as enough to deserve excommunication (Hilchos Talmud Torah, 6:18).
      The sexual fantasies issur is mentioned by the Rambam in הלכות איסורי ביאה, פרק כ"ב at the end of the chapter.

    4. Shai,

      Perhaps it's not "100% clear and accepted" check out the link below which points to numerous sources that imply masturbation is only prohibited in a case where it is intended to prevent pregnancy (as was the case with er and onan).

    5. XiNew: It is the halacha. What is your basis for thinking you can disregard or negate the halacha if you don't think the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch had enough basis for ruling as it did? We must accept and follow the rulings of Chazal (and of course present-era poskim) -- otherwise we would have no idea how to observe any of the mitzvot of the Torah.

      Anonymous: An anonymous blog giving sources that "imply" something is a far cry from a ruling permitting masturbation. Can you find a single recognized Orthodox rabbinic authority who explicitly permits masturbation?

    6. Since we're discussing masturbation, and the blog post mentions Chabad, here goes:
      There are a number of letters to the Lubavitcher Rebbe where bochurim mention הרהורים, nocturnal emissions, etc. The Rebbe answered several times that there is a famous teshuva of the Tzemach Tzedek (I mean the third Rebbe in the Chabad dynasty, not the earlier posek). A person asked the Tzemach Tzedek about the Gemara at the end of Yoma, where it says that if a person has a nocturnal emission on Yom Kippur, he should be concerned the entire year, that maybe it's a sign that he'll pass away in the coming year (the explanation being that, since everyone else is refraining from sexual relations that day, perhaps he has been given the "pleasure" while everyone else is denied, as sort of granting a person's last wish before passing away). The Gemara continues, that if he merits to live to next Yom Kippur, it must be a sign that he has a lot of merits, and that spared his life.

      The Tzemach Tzedek said that the Gemara is dealing with a case in which the nocturnal emission on Yom Kippur came totally out of the blue: he wasn't thinking about women, or anything else that would cause the seminal emission. However, it can't be ruled out that a person would have a nocturnal emission on Yom Kippur precisely because he is so perturbed about the seriousness of the issur, and how terrible it would be if would happen, etc.--and that is what caused it. [Therefore, it is not to be taken as an indication that he will pass away in the coming year, and surviving until next year is similarly not an indication of any special merits.]

      Therefore, the Rebbe consistently told bochurim to try to divert their attention from thinking about the issur, not to dwell on it--and certainly not to enter a depression if they have succumbed in the past.

    7. Not to quiblle, but there is no issur of "nocturnal emission". It is Ones. Unless you were being euphemistic.

    8. Shai - Saying it is halacha since the Gemara says something is just wrong. The Gemara mentions a huge amount of rules things that we completely disregard. Additionally, we need to draw a line between suggestions, recommendations, warnings and actual halacha based on specific sources of the Torah or accepted inferential logic.

      I will give an example: The Shulchan Aruch writes - as any other halacha - that you have to clean yourself after using the bathroom with your left hand (if you are a righty). Is that actual psak halacha where you are committing a sin if you use your right hand? Or is it a strong recommendation/suggestion/his personal feelings about the issue.

      How you answer that is at the core of what I am getting at.

      If using your right hand is not actually committing a sin then why is masturbation? What verse in the Torah proclaims it is assur? What verse in the Torah proclaims using your right hand is assur?

    9. @David Ohsie: The Hebrew text is הרואה קרי ביוה"כ ידאג כל השנה כולה--which implies it happens by chance, unconsciously, as during sleep. A person's הרהורים during the day can affect what he'll dream about. (We're not dealing with people masturbating on Yom Kippur, ח"ו).

      I understand that men usually have an erection during REM sleep (and not having an erection during sleep is an indication of severe impotence)--but whether they have a nocturnal emission or not depends on the content of the dream.
      --Yehudah P.

    10. Yehuda P.: I've heard of the source, but the source doesn't discuss a sin. It says that it is a bad sign. You said "precisely because he is so perturbed about the seriousness of the issur" and I was just pointing out that there is no issur involved.

    11. > A person's הרהורים during the day can affect what he'll dream about.

      Nobody knows why we dream what we dream about. Or why we dream, or even why we sleep at all.

    12. Just my two centsMarch 19, 2017 at 8:50 PM

      These conversations don't make much sense to me. You guys seem to be talking past each other. G*3, unless I'm very much mistaken, doesn't believe in God, the binding nature of the Talmud etc. YehudaP clearly does (as does, I assume, David Oshie). XiNew might be far left Modern Orthodox (or OO? not so clear). You all seem to be making very different assumptions about how seriously and technically to take the text of the Gemara. That's why this conversation seems to be zig-zagging a lot. No?

    13. @Just me two cents

      no, i don't think the issue is which blend of orthodoxy anyone here belongs to or their beliefs. The key issue here IMHO is that for Shai & co motzi zera levatala=masturbation and vice versa. Therefore, in their mind, every talmudic or other reference made to the severity of the sin of motzi zera levatala is automatically translated into masturbation. This has become a mainstream misconception (this really is a great pun!). However, if you look at the source of the sin by er and onan as described in the torah and further across chazal, it had absolutely nothing to do with masturbation. It was all about preventing pregnancy. All the sources mentioned on this blog and referenced to in the other blog linked earlier, understand it in that way and so do many contemporary poskim which is why they explicitly allow forms of marital relations shelo kedarko etc. If you don't automatically translate the words 'motzi zera levatala' into the word 'masturbation', but replace it with the words 'intentionally preventing pregnancy where it is a possibility and the mitzvas of pru urvu or yibum haven't been fulfilled yet' everything starts to make a lot more sense and you suddenly realize the logic of chazal and understand what they are all talking about. However, for many people who are unable to open their mind from the dogmas they have grown up with fixing this misconception is a very difficult thing to do.

    14. XiNew: Good question. As I understand it, wiping with one's left is in fact actually the halacha and we are obligated to follow it. Just because the skeptically-minded tend to scoff at such things does not mean it is not true. However, the purpose of this mitzvah appears to be simply symbolic, as we prefer or require the use of the right hand in many things (for example, in what hand you hold the food when you're saying a blessing.) So while it is the halacha, I've heard of people getting heterim for wiping with their right, because they're so inept with their left that they're likely to not be as effective in cleaning themselves, running a serious risk of praying with excrement still on their body, which is a serious prohibition. I've not aware of what later commenters say on the wiping issue -- it's possible some say it is not absolutely required.

      By contrast, the ban on masturbation is more unequivocal and universal, and probably less likely to permit leniencies, perhaps because it stems from a fundamental aspect of Judaism, symbolized by the bris -- the importance of subduing our physical passions, and sexual lust in particular, rather than fanning the flames of our desires.

      I would assume which hand one wipes with is a rabbinic commandment, while the ban on masturbation is considered a Torah commandment (I think I read that the ban on female masturbation, by contrast, is a rabbinic commandment). But even if the ban on male masturbation is a rabbinic commandment, we are still obligated just as much to observe it, just as we are with Shabbos candles, the laws of counting in Taharah haMishpacha, and other rabbinic mitzvos. An essential aspect of Judaism is submitting ourselves to the will of Chazal and the greatest rabbis of each generation.

      The Torah and our Sages understood very well how powerful sexual urges are, and how easy it is for people to rationalize whatever sexual sin they want to commit. For example, commentaries on the golden calf incident indicate that simply because Moshe Rabbeinu was one day late in coming down, they decided they not only needed an intermediary to worship, but also somehow managed to gave themselves permission to engage in sexual immorality. It is important to have a strong commitment to observe all of the halachos related to sexual morality -- otherwise we are easily led astray by our selfish passions and lose sight of our true purpose.

      Beyond the wiping example, I'm sure we could think of examples of things that are not quite halacha but simply are considered nice things to do. However, the ban on masturbation is not one of these.

    15. Just my two cents, you're right that I don't believe in, "the binding nature of the Talmud etc.," but I already agreed above that masturbation is assur. What I'm discussing (or trying to, anyway) is whether it is immoral or harmful.

    16. @G*3: ונשמרת מכל דבר רע": שלא יהרהר אדם ביום, ויבוא לידי טומאה בלילה". (Avodah Zarah, 22a).
      It's quite obvious from the Gemara in Brachos (in Chapter 9, where it discusses dreams and their interpretation) that a person most definitely tends to dream about what he thought about during the day.

    17. > t's quite obvious from the Gemara in Brachos (in Chapter 9, where it discusses dreams and their interpretation) that a person most definitely tends to dream about what he thought about during the day.

      And we know that the gemara is always a reliable source of information for the way the physical world works. R' Slifkin has written many times about Chazal's scientific accuracy. Like these, for example:

    18. @G*3: With that kind of thinking, the Gemara can't be used as a reliable source of information about anything.
      I really shouldn't have to bring a Gemara as proof in any event (like the story of Shmuel implanting the dream of שבור מלכא getting captured and tortured by the Romans). We're talking about human nature--and I think we all have dreamed about things that disturb us the most (failing an exam, being late for an interview or appointment, etc.), or things from which we derive pleasure--and sexual fantasies fall in that category.


    19. Which halocho in Shulchan Aruch forbids female masturbation?

    20. The sin of Onan was "coitus interruptus." There was no masturbation. 2 different things.

  15. "Reuven takes the Talmud's comparison of wasting seed to murder very literally. Incorporating the modern scientific revelation that ejaculate contains around 300 million spermatozoa"

    So basically one is murdering 299,999,999 souls even when intercourse results in pregnancy. Small comfort...

    1. I wouldn't want to spoil a good joke but
      "Yosef Mizrachi also has a lecture on YouTube in which he presents the "kabbalistic secret" that all the souls in the spermatazoa were supposed to enter this world..."
      This isn't YM's own idea. It's found in the more simple Kabbala works. The Chabad site linked in the post says

      קיום המצוה בזמן שאינו מועיל להריון

      כב. המצוה נוהגת גם בזמן שאינה יכולה להביא להריון, כגון שהאשה מעוברת, זקנה וכיו״ב.

      ע״פ המקובלים, בכל זיווג שנעשה ע״פ ההלכה יורדות נשמות בעולמות העליונים ולעתיד גם יתלבש עליהן גוף ויבואו למולידיהן ויאמרו להם ״שלום עליכם, אתם הורינו!״ והם לא יכירום, כנאמר בנביא ישעיה (מט, כא) ״מי ילד לי את אלה ואני שכולה וגלמודה גו׳״[22].

      In other words, when coitus is done according to Halacha nothing is wasted. If YM is right that when done against Halacha it is killing 300 million, then when it is done according to Halacha, it conceives 300 million. If he is wrong, then doing it against Halacha it kills 1, and when it is done according to Halacha, it conceives 1, even if not a physical child. (Or maybe twins etc.?)

    2. Those works were written before anyone knew how conception worked. They believed there was a tiny person in a man's ejaculate that, when injected into a woman's womb, grew into a baby. That had no idea that there were hundreds of millions of sperm cells, or that sperm are really just vehicles for blueprint delivery, not tiny people.

    3. G*3 that is incorrect. The belief that there was a tiny person in man's ejaculate is quite recent. In antiquity, they believed it was much less than that; hence the term "seed."

  16. You mention that it is "strongly expressed in chassidic communities... that a baby's looks and personality are significantly determined by what the parents think about during coitus..."

    While I can't speak for chabad, I grew up in a mainstream (admittedly moderate) chassidic family and never heard this view expressed in any practical way. I saw it very, very occasionally expressed in passing while learning Torah texts (not necessarily chassidic ones), but that is all.

    It's worth correcting the misconception that all chassidim and chassidic communities live their day to day lives walking this world in extremist, non-rationalist ways. This is not true for many chassidim, and certainly wasn't true for many chassidim back in Europe just prior to WWII. Although, granted, many chassidic ideas (not all) are non-rationalist in nature.

    1. I've heard stories, but who knows how mainstream they are.

      There are definitely beliefs of the baby's looks being affected by what the mother looks at when *pregnant.*

    2. Montaigne records a whole host of such beliefs in his Essays (16th century.)

    3. Isn't there a gemarah that (rav yochanan, I think) who was supposed to have very good looks, would stand outside the mikvah so that women would gave beautiful children.

    4. Yes, and aren't there psukim that (Yaakov, I think) having ewes see peeled staffs as they mate makes the offspring have a certain look?

    5. The Ben Ish Chai in Benayahu makes the distinction based on the Gemara of Rabbi Yochanan that a woman may picture another man bshaas bia, while the She'arim Metzuyanim Behalacha qualifies that this is only with regards to a Tzaddik Gomur, and that it is not only permitted, but it is even the correct thing to do & a segula for good children. He also brings more mekoros.

      See for more info.

  17. Regarding thinking of the Rebbe, or any rav during that moment, doesn't Rashi say that Yosef thought of his father, Ya`akov, when Mrs. Potiphar was pursuing him, and that killed the mood?
    I have other things to say, but there are other blogs for them.

    1. That's apples and oranges. Yosef was dissuaded from sinning from imagining his father. It has nothing to do with this case.

    2. philip: That is rather disrespectful.

    3. He was thinking of what his father taught him (by age 17), not thinking of his father per se.

  18. "but it is important to correct some misconceptions in this area"

    Rabbi, you are too much! Misconceptions!! What an epic tongue-in-cheeker!

  19. It's great to see some "rationality" on this tiring topic of "wasting seed"! Kudos to you and to the anonymous medical halachist! The common approach to this topic is frustrating and illogical.

    Normal advice consists of trying to avoid anything that causes sexual arousal, and of trying to make the arousal go away by all kinds of useless gimmicks, and engaging in a constant and futile struggle against oneself. Some go further and advise you to imagine the flames of hell each time you see a woman. I've seen a book that says that if you "fall" again and again, at least you show Hashem that you don't lose without fighting.

    All this sounds ridiculous. It's absurd to think that Hashem wants you to engage in a Sisyphean fight against your own nature. (After G-d finished creating the world "He saw *ALL* that He made, and behold, it was *VERY GOOD*".) People who dress extremely religious and say they believe very strongly in G-d (Who is a *good* G-d) and therefore are very afraid of falling into hell at any step -- people like this don't know how ridiculous they sound.

    They sound ridiculous because everybody knows that G-d is good, as it says in the High Holiday prayers: "and everybody believes that He is good to all".

    This kind of approach leads to withdrawal from society. It leads to people who are angry at nonreligious people and angry at the whole world, blaming them for their own "failure" at getting rid of their own sexuality.

  20. Its a common phenomenon of adults to worry about things for their children that they themselves never worried about as children. When you were a teen, RNS, were you stupid or gullible enough to believe something so patently absurd as somebody telling you there will be 300 million souls waiting for you in heaven? Please. Even if you were that naïve, few other people are. Teens are impressionable, but they are not morons. Expressing no comment on the underlying issue, one need not respond to every charlatan and wack-job.

  21. Some rationalist or rationalist-friendly reasons why masturbation is a severe sin to be avoided at all costs:

    1) for married men, it results in less desire for one's wife, leading one to neglect one's marital duties, which is an aveira and very personally hurtful to one's wife,

    2) it leads to fantasies of adultery, pre-marital sex and other forbidden acts, and these fantasies themselves are aveiros (and cause suffering because they are strongly desired but normally not fulfilled), including of the 10th of the 10 commandments,

    3) it leads to gazing at women lewdly, which women notice and feel embarrassed or degraded by, and which causes men to focus on their sexual desires rather than improving themselves or fulfilling mitzvot,

    3) it leads to the use of pornography, which is a sin, and which leads to progressively stranger desires, and which according to many divorce lawyers is a common reason for divorce,

    4) pornography use has been scientifically shown to decrease one's appreciation for one's wife's appearance, to increase exposure to deviant sex acts and the desire to engage in them with others (such as one's wife, even though she may find them disgusting, painful and degrading), and to increase the desire and willingness to visit prostitutes,

    5) the failure to exercise self-control and refrain from masturbation means that one has lost out on an important way to exercise self-control over one's desires and behavior, which according to Rabbi Avigdor Miller is the ultimate purpose of many of the mitzvot,

    6) it leads to gazing lewdly and desiring women who one interacts with on a regular basis, which can lead to flirtation (itself a sin) and eventually adultery,

    7) masturbation during niddah will mean that mikvah night is not special for a man (he may not even be interested), and his wife will be able to tell, causing distress; this is significant because the positive effects of the relationship of "honeymoon"-ish experience of mikvah night is often offered as a rational reason why the laws of niddah,

    8) an unmarried man's masturbation, whether with pornography or not, may make him obsess about women's sexual attractiveness and thus lead him to choose a spouse based on sexual characteristics rather than a more balanced choice combining attractiveness with compatibility of values and personality,

    9) indulging in forbidden and unnecessary physical pleasures distracts on from one's service of Hashem, which is our ultimate purpose; indeed, if we are to love G-d with all our heart, soul and might; know him in our all our ways (Mishlei); devote our spare time to Torah study (Avos); and feel intense love for G-d (Rambam), greater than we feel for earthy pleasures (Sefer Charedim); how would masturbation fit into this -- it could only have a negative effect;

    10) the plain meaning of the Torah is that sexual transgressions in general are particularly serious and severe (after listing many of them the Torah says that the land vomited out the inhabitants who indulged in them). Rav Hirsch, who is a rationalist or very rationalist-friendly, often emphasizes the importance of strictly following Torah sexual morality despite what the surrounding culture believes. In addition, according to an obvious rational interpretation of the bris, which symbolizes the covenant with Hashem, the purpose of it is to dampen our sexual desires so we can focus our desires on serving Hashem; masturbation, meanwhile, encourages us to focus on our sexual desires instead, which can eventually lead to other sexual transgressions.

    1. Masturbation may:

      1. Promote the release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters associated with happy feelings that can improve overall mood and fight off depression.

      2. Produce a chemical called oxytocin, which works as a natural pain reliever.

      3. Help reduce headaches and muscle aches.

      4. Relieve stress and tension and aid relaxation after a stressful day.

      5. Provide a sexual outlet for people who are on their own, by choice or circumstance.

      6. Help to induce sleep, or conversely, help to start the day with more energy.

      7. Improve the immune system and contribute to overall health.

      8. Strengthen muscle tone in the genital and pelvic floor area, which can lead to better sex.

      9. Keep you free from sexual transmitted infections as it's the safest kind of sex.

      10. Help people who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a neurological disorder causing leg pain, cramps, tingling and itching, (published in the medical journal Sleep Medicine). Several doctors in the US have had confirmation from their patients that it helps.

      11. Translate into better sex as stimulating each other at the same time is intimate and rewarding. People often masturbate into old age.

      Possible health benefits for women:

      1. Combats pre-menstrual tension and other physical conditions associated with the menstrual cycle, such as cramps.

      2. Relieves painful menstruation by increasing blood flow to the pelvic region; which will also reduce pelvic cramping and related backaches.

      3. Builds resistance to yeast infections.

      4. Allows women to explore and understand their bodies better, so they will know what they like when they have sex with a partner.

      Possible health benefits for men:

      1. May help combat premature ejaculation by training to last longer; it's easier to practise control when on your own.

      2. Regular flushing of the system keeps semen healthy.

      3. Frequent masturbation helps in preventing the development of prostate cancer. Cancer-causing chemicals can build up in the prostate if men do not ejaculate regularly.

      Maybe it's a good idea to make masturbation part of your health routine and have fun at the same time.

    2. It's no surprise that non- or anti-religious hedonists would come up with various justifications for abandoning traditional religious sexual morality. Anyway, these purported benefits sound speculative, and unlikely to be scientifically proven.

      Even if there were some studies to support it, that would not be enough to outweigh the clear ruling of our Sages. Science is often biased against religion, and I know plenty of people who would rather sit on their findings and not publish them than publish something that goes against their political beliefs (like, let's say, a finding that masturbation was harmful for health or celibate gays were happier than sexually active ones.)

      Regardless, the evidence is that religious people, including the Orthodox in general and Charedim in particular, live longer, happier lives than the non-religious, and many live to advanced ages. It is clear that, just as we don't need to eat pork or milk-meat combinations to be healthy and happy, neither do we need masturbation.

    3. We're not really discussing porn, but since you brought it up, it has few or none of the effects on relationships you ascribe to it. In a recent study (Does exposure to erotica reduce attraction and love for romantic partners in men? Independent replications of Kenrick, Gutierres, and Goldberg (1989) study 2) it was found that viewing nude centerfolds had no effect on men's rating of their partner's attractiveness or resulted in them rating their partners higher than they had previously, and had no effect on their feelings of affection towards their partners.

      The main negative effect I could find was that porn decreased motivation to socialize with the intent to find a real-life partner for sex. In the case of a married man, though, that sounds like a good thing. It's also probably why the easy availability of porn and incidences of violent rape are negatively correlated. (

    4. Shai - your list is not rationalist. You are just adding reasons post-hoc to something you disapprove of/you think is wrong.
      Every reason you give can be countered or showed to have a flip-side. You are rationalizing - that is not rationalist.
      And many reasons can be given to why trying to prevent masturbation is detrimental.
      Talk to a professional religious therapist. Seriously. Ask him about the the number one (at least top 3) cause of psychological issues among yeshiva boys.

    5. > Science is often biased against religion, and I know plenty of people who would rather sit on their findings and not publish them than publish something that goes against their political beliefs

      Science is all a big conspiracy, right? And it's not like novelty is so valued that there's a problem for getting funding to replicate studies. The "right" results for studies must be decided at the same meetings where they fabricate dinosaur skeletons.

      > Regardless, the evidence is that religious people, including the Orthodox in general and Charedim in particular, live longer, happier lives than the non-religious,

      Because of the social structure and supports that living in a tight-knit religious community provides. Not because of particular mitzvos. Otherwise you wouldn't find these effects in other religious communities, or in tight-knit secular communities.

    6. G*3: Yes, social science is heavily politicized.

      Shai: Thanks for your words of wisdom.

      And Rabbi Slifkin: You seem to be providing a forum for people advocating violating halacha. I'm not sure why. I don't think you've done this in the past.

    7. G*3: Science is not a big conspiracy. I think dinosaurs and climate change are real, by the way. But in many areas of science, especially but not limited to social science, people are so invested in their political and (anti-)religious values that they would be ashamed to publish something that contradicts them. I've lived in that world and I know the people. In the current ultra-secular culture of science and academia, we should be skeptical of the science that is available on masturbation, just as we would be skeptical of claims by studies by the pork industry that pork is the healthiest of all foods and guaranteed to add years to one's life.

      I'm not saying that particular mitzvos are responsible for the health benefits of being Orthodox (or being highly religious more generally). We don't know exactly what's responsible -- probably a mix of many things is (including divine intervention, which of course we can't measure scientifically.) My point is even if there is some measurable health benefit to masturbation, we obviously don't need it to live health, happy lives.

    8. XiNew: By rationalist reasons, I mean reasons that don't have to do with mystical beliefs (other than the basic beliefs in the fundamentals of Judaism, like punishment for sins and the binding nature of Oral Law.) Rationalist Judaism as R' Slifkin uses it does not mean you just observe whatever mitzvos you think are reasonable or have good reasons for them (that is Reform ideology). Instead, rationalist Judaism means accepting Orthodox halacha and haskhafa but emphasizing those hashkafic elements that are based on reason or observable phenomenon rather than its mystical effects. This might sometimes lead to following different halachic opinions, but it cannot involve simply doing away with established mitzvos like the ban on masturbation.

      I don't accept your speculation that Jewish teachings on porn have a negative psychological effect. Have you done a survey of therapists, and a study that confirmed a causal relationship between being taught masturbation is wrong psychological "issues"? Perhaps rationalists are right that mystical teachings on this matter are causing people excessive guilt, and instead we should just present it as any other mitzvah (I have my doubts about this approach, since as with kashrus, sometimes the plain rationalist reading doesn't give people enough motivation to actually observe the mitzvah -- and yes, it is in fact possible to observe the mitzvah of refraining from masturbation without psychological harm). But that is much different than saying we shouldn't consider it a sin to begin with.

      G*3: Yes, there is evidence supporting what I was saying about the negative effects of pornography -- see, for example, the work of Mary Anne Layden, who has reviewed and summarized much of this research, and also conducted some of her own.

    9. Yehuda - I don't have time to read all the comments and I prefer to allow open discussion. But after a cursory review, I don't see people advocating for violating halacha. I see some people arguing about what the halacha is, and I see other people arguing that the halacha is not necessarily physically/psychologically beneficial, which does not mean that it is not applicable; after all, dying al kiddush Hashem is also not physically beneficial!

  22. But for lots of people it works just fine.

  23. Only a little off topic, but worth mentioning in the context of this post: 1. A movement has recently grown among contemporary men to curb excessive masturbation and use of pornography, purely for health and emotional reasons and not for religious reasons. This has started literally only in the last several years, based on emerging recognition of adverse health factors associated with porn and masturbation, but is growing rapidly. 2. Recent studies have shown that "primitive" societies living in more natural settings, with more robust interpersonal connections and emotional/sexual expression often do not engage in masturbation. Similarly with other mammals, addictive masturbatory behavior often emerges in an isolated, stressful environment. Therefore, there is recognition that the excessive masturbation that is common in contemporary western society may be a function of the modern, isolated existence and the exposure to an addictive and over-stimulating environment as opposed to a normal feature of everyday male, human behavior.

    1. IIRC, those cultures in which masturbation is unknown don't have the assumptions of monogamy that we do. People tend to sleep with whomever they like, and all of the men a women slept with before becoming pregnant are considered to be the baby's fathers.

    2. Not true. Such cultures are extremely rare. The vast majority of known traditional cultures have been either strictly monogamous or polygamous (men with more than one wife and not the other way around.) It is very hard to find a culture in which people just sleep around as they like (one alleged case, and this was just for young people there I believe, was in the South Pacific and was likely only possible due to the presence of a natural contraceptive in their main dietary staple.)

    3. The South Pacific (specifically, Samoa) case was written up by Margaret Mead, who was probably the victim of a hoax. (To be specific, the Samoans caught on to her agenda and played along with it.)

    4. Regarding the second point I made, please see here for support: (article notes a number of African tribes that were unaware of and had difficulty even understanding the concept).

      See also these two pages for a lot more information and support of this view:, and

      For an article citing emotional/psychological unhealthfullness associated with masturbation (supporting part of the first point I made), see here:

      To be clear, I am not an anti-masturbation crusader by any stretch of the imagination. I think the guilt-heavy and firebrand approach taken by many in the frum world to label masturbation murder and one of the worst aveiros in the world is mistaken, unhealthy and counterproductive. However, balance and perspective are important. The current political vogue pushes a pro-masturbation agenda while the truth may very well be that the free and rampant solo masturbation common in contemporary western society is in many cases unhealthy and carries negative consequences that most people are not fully aware of.

  24. Shai,

    "An anonymous blog giving sources that "imply" something is a far cry from a ruling permitting masturbation. Can you find a single recognized Orthodox rabbinic authority who explicitly permits masturbation?"

    Your reply doesn't refute the sources in this blog and sounds dogmatic. Can you find a single 'rabbinic authority' who explicitly permits having unfiltered internet or owning a smartphone? People generally won't explicitly encourage an activity that is likely to have adverse effects. Most of the 10 points you raised to discuss the negative effects of excessive masturbation are spot on, but this doesn't mean masturbation (where it is not for purpose of preventing pregnancy) is a biblical (or even rabbinic) issur. No one will come and say: "guys, masturbation is absolutely fine" because clearly it's not something we would want to encourage for all the reasons you mentioned.
    The sources in this article are numerous and, more importantly from my perspective, they make sense. We know the sin of er and onan was preventing pregnancy. We know that one is allowed to have relations with a woman who is already pregnant, is too old to become pregnant, etc. We know the psaks from various major authorities around birth control and marital relations shelo kedarko etc. It is clear that where it is not explicitly to prevent pregnancy, there is no concern around the issur of zera levatala.
    I would argue that the burden of proof sits with those who argue otherwise. From where do you get the notion that there is an issur of zera levatala where pregnancy is not on the cards? Every source (outside of the zohar and other non-rationalist sources) implies there is no such issur.

    1. This is not the way halacha, even from a rationalist standpoint, works. You can't say, I can't find any rationalist justification for the Gemara's (and the Shulchan Aruch's) ruling on what the halacha is, so I don't have to follow it. I've never seen Rabbi Slifkin or any Orthodox rabbi endorse such an approach (You might sometimes find it among some Open Orthodox, but only those who have effectively left Orthodoxy and instead adopted the Conservative attitude toward the Oral Law.)

      There have always been halachot we don't understand (a huge proportion of all Torah and rabbinic mitzvos). That doesn't mean we don't have to follow them. The burden is not on me to prove the Gemara had a good non-rationalist basis for ruling as it did. On the contrary, pro-masturbation advocates have a heavy (probably impossible) burden to show that they have the authority to disregard a halacha simply because they want to act in the spirit of current non-Jewish society. Extrapolation from lenient rulings about marital intimacy is not enough.

    2. You are ignoring anonymous's main point: do you have an actual refutation of the sources being offered? Let's set aside all the theology, and analyze it as a halachic matter (which it surely is). Is your sole point that a contemporary posek hasn't authorized it? What do you respond to the Tos. Rid and Beis Shmuel? As a purely halachic question we don't generally ignore primary sources, Rishonim and Acharonim simply because we can't name a contemporary or recent possible who explicitly permits it, do we?

    3. Shai doesn't seem to care what the sources say. He only knows what he thinks they say. The numerous Rishonim and Acharonim (and Achrei-Achronim) who say the opposite are of no concern to him.

    4. Dov, Avi

      Nowhere does the Beis Shmuel permit masturbation straight out for "the fun of it" or to 'relieve tension'. He permits to enable future tashmish and that sort of thing.

      This is typical of this sort of scholorship. Huge jumps of imagination are needed and lots of 'nira lis'. None of that from an anonymous author can negate the plain meaning of the shulchan oruch. Again, find a mainstream posek that permits it explicitly. Not just diyukim and nirah lis.

      I have no doubt if I had the time I would fine similar issues with all the mainstream sources he brings.

      That is the answer to the Beis Shumel.

    5. I don't really find your answer for the Beis Shmuel complete because there has to be a geder for a din and you spent zero effort exploring its parameters. But let's set that aside for the moment. What about the Tos. Rid? And the Ezer MiKodesh? The other Rishonim he refers to (Ramban, Nimukei Yosef etc.)? Why is it like pulling teeth to get anyone to respond substantively to this? I don't know if this person is right or not (frankly, I haven't yet had the time and head to analyze all his arguments and sources) but it's clearly not a shoddy piece unworthy of even a point by point response.
      By the way, how can you dismiss a teshuvah based on it containing many v"nira lis". Have you ever even read a teshuvah?! (P.S. Please don't respond to this last point only ["Whaddya mean, he ain't R' Moshe!"]. My main point is the first part of my comment.)

    6. Dov,

      "there has to be a geder for a din and you spent zero effort exploring its parameters."

      No, the starting point is the plain straightforward shulchan oruch and its commentators. At least in traditional orthodoxy, and in practical halocho. This is not iyun seder is some yeshiva!

      Those that wish to maintain otherwise and suggest in the name of the Beis Shmuel something that the Beis Shmuel does not say, need to bring their proofs. It is not for anonymous internet Rabbis to start with 'nira lis' and huge jumps to negate a straightforward halocho and read things into the Beis Shmuel that he doesn't actually say. The only other way of negating mefurash a shulchan oruch is a clear minhag or mesorah. Again, an anonymous internet rabbi doesn't quite cut it.

      Now, if it was the Chazon Ish, or Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, or the Chasam Sofer or anybody like that was writing, their "nira lis" and diyukim will mean something. Not an anonymous internet rabbi. Now I appreciate you don't want me to write that, but it is the truth!

      As for the other poskim mentioned, I haven't yet had the time. But based on his analysis of the Beis Shmuel, I am not impressed.

  25. "Now, if it was the Chazon Ish, or Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, or the Chasam Sofer or anybody like that was writing, their "nira lis" and diyukim will mean something. Not an anonymous internet rabbi."

    Here are the words of the tosfot rid: תוספות רי"ד יבמות י"ב ב' :"ואי קשיא היאך התירו חכמים להוציא זרעו לעשות כמעשה ער ואונן. תשובה איזה הוא מעשה ער אונן שאסרה תורה כל שכוונתו כדי שלא תתעבר כדי שלא יכחיש יופייה ואינו רוצה לקיים פריה ורביה ממנה, אבל אם כוונתו שלא תבא לידי סכנה מותר, וכן נמי אם מתכוון לתאוות יצרו ואינו מתכוון שלא תתעבר מותר כדאמרינן בפרק קמא דכתובות ההוא דאתא לקמיה רבי אמר ליה הפכתי לו שלחן והפכו והתירו, והא ער ואונן שלא כדרכם שימשו כדאמרינן לקמן במסכתין, אלא ודאי הם שהייתה כוונתם שלא תתעבר היו עוברים אבל מי שכוונתו להשלים תאוות יצרו אינו עובר. וכו' וחכמים סברי אע"פ שכוונתו שלא תתעבר היא משום סכנה אפילו הכי דומה למעשה ער ואונן"

    Here are the words of the shita mekubeztet: עיין שיטה מקובצת כתובות ל"ט א': "וכן כתב תלמיד הרשב"א ז"ל דמה שפרש"י אינו נכון דאי כרבנן דקאמרי משמשת כדרכה והולכת ומן השמים ירחמו, ומפני מה נאסור אותן אחר שאין כאן השחתת זרע דלא אמרינן השחתת זרע אלא כשהוא ראוי להזריע וזה כיון שאינו במקום שראוי להזריע לא קרינן ליה השחתת זרע, אלא חייבות לשמש במוך קאמר משום סכנה".

    Tosfot rid and rashba (whose talmid is brought in the shita above) are both rishonim. With all due respect to the chazon ish etc, it is totally irrelevant whether they addressed this subject or not if you have leading rishonim stating black on white that the issuer of motzi zera is only applicable where it's intention is to prevent pregnancy.

    There is not a single source that i have seen that comes anywhere near this level of authority that states that masturbation in a situation where pregnancy is not a possibility and its intention is not to prevent pregnancy is a biblical issur.

    Attacking the authority of the person who brings this to your attention demonstrates that your arguments are poor. Why focus on who brought you the sources instead of focusing on the sources and the question? Can you refute it or not?
    In the article, the author deals with the shulchan aruch (who copied the text from the rambam) and the relevant commentators. None contradict this understanding and none invoke your understanding.

    Instead of attributing the possibility of such a discussion to other commentators being apikorsim or ignoramuses, try and consider the possibility that your dogmatic view here is a misunderstanding of chazal.

    1. Thank you for saving me some time in bringing the quotes.

      The tosfos rid permits for saving the wife from danger, and also to give pleasure to himself and possibly his wife by being 'mehapech hashulchan'. It is clear from the context that it is in the context some form of physical relationship. Fine, I accept that. But where do you see the permission for solo masturbation from that? You need to look at the context and read the paragraph as a whole. The 'tavas yitzro' in the final sentence is the same 'tavas yitzro' in the first sentence - ie in the context of a physical relationship. We know plenty of rishonim permit 'mehapech hashulchan' although nobody is quite clear what it means. Again, to uproot a clear halocho in shulchan oruch requires some degree of strong analysis.

      You are confusing the rashbo with a talmid of the rashbo (they are not the same thing). Who knows how authoritative this talmid of the rashbo is? Maybe yes, maybe no? And again, peshat in a gemoro is not halocho. Not to uproot shulchan oruch. On the same page are numerous other rishonim all giving different pashatim. You can't pull one opinion from a talmid of a rishon at your fancy, and use it to uproot what tens of other poskim all say. That is not the way and never has been.

      Torah needs to be paskened by those with countless years of experience in it, especially if the pasek contradicts shulchan oruch. It's not mathematics. Names are important. That is why the gemoro brings chains of amoroaim, sometimes three generations, when stating a memrah.

      I never said anything about apikorsim or ignoramuses, by the way.

    2. mc,

      it appears you are the one relying on "lots of 'nira lis'" and "jumps of imagination". The words of the tosoft rid are clear and do not call for interpretation. The key sentence is:" איזה הוא מעשה ער אונן שאסרה תורה כל שכוונתו כדי שלא תתעבר כדי שלא יכחיש יופייה ואינו רוצה לקיים פריה ורביה ממנה" The biblical issur derived from er and onan is where it comes to prevent pregnancy.

      You, shai and the others, who are constantly repeating how this goes against chazal and the shulchan aruch, have yet to produce a single halachic source that opposes this understanding of the sin of er and onan.

      Regarding the talmid of the rashba, i'm sorry but your argument shows a lack of understanding of how things are brought down in our sources over time. First of all the talmid was brought by the shita mekubetzet, not by me. I think this carries some weight. Secondly, when a talmid of a rishon (or even in the gemoro when a talmid brought) it usually refers to a saying that talmid learned from his rabbi. Otherwise, the saying would be brought in the actual name of the talmid and not phrased as 'the talmid of...said'. This is a basic integral part of talmudic study. Hence, the reason the shita mentions this in the name of talmid of the rashba is because he attributes it to the rashba.

      In order to make progress on this discussion/debate, could you please bring some sources that are at least on the level of the tosfot rid (i.e. at least rishonim) that clearly contradict his view and state that the sin of er and onan and hence the biblical sin of motzi zera levatala also applies when there is no intention/possibility to prevent pregnancy?

    3. Anonymous,

      No, it's called CONTEXT. You need to look at the entire context, together with the sugyah. Not just pull a single sentence.

      אבל אם כוונתו שלא תבא לידי סכנה מותר - that phrase in the tosfos rid is a problem according to your 'peshat'. There should be no necessity for there to be an intention to avoid danger. All that is needed is no intention to avoid pregnancy. He also says clearly that 'tavos yitzro' is permitted only in the context of physical relations.

      אבל מי שכוונתו להשלים תאוות יצרו אינו עובר - Again, why does he need that? All that is needed (according to you) is no intention to avoid pregnancy.

      Bringing the talmid of the rashbo may carry some weight in interpretation of the gemoro, but not in halocho. Possibly it was from the Rashbo himself, possibly not. We simply don't know and it's not relevant.

      As far as your final paragraph, the gemoro itself in kol hayad has no such caveats. Nor does shulchan oruch or any of the mainstream poskim, rishonim or acharonim. And no anonymous internet rabbis can override that. The most you will find is a heter to deal with infertility and other health issues. Not for ta'aveh and to relive tension. You can perhaps use all these to console bochurim who are fight this, but not to lechatchila permit outright.

      If you don't appreciate the need for context, go and spend some years learning in a yeshiva (even a non charedi one.

      As far as I am concerned that 'teshuva' is no more meaningful than a couple of yeshiva bochurim or kollel men putting their chidushim online. Talmud torah it certainly is, to uproot a shulchan oruch, no!

    4. NO MORE ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. Use your real name or a pseudonym or your comment will not be published.

    5. MC,

      I'm not sure how to understand the Rambam and SA's loshon of "niuf b'yad" (see MedicalHalachahRationalist for a discussion of that) but your two "diyukim" in the Tos. Rid are certainly wrong, to wit: The Tos. Rid needs to say his intention is to prevent danger to her to explain why (according to the Tanna Kamma) even though he DOES intend to prevent her pregnancy it is still muttar - since he's not simply trying to preserve her appearance but rather to prevent sakanah. (The Tanna Basra disagrees.) The next point, that he's doing it for personal pleasure is the counterpoint to producing pregnancy, i.e., his intention has nothing to do with pregnancy but rather personal pleasure. Again, I'm not sure how to learn this sugya, but your kashos are mistaken.

    6. On the other hand, while the Tos. Rid does seem to understand the issur as represented by the anonymous "kollel manchik" it's still a very heavy lift to explain away all the gemaras and poskim that imply the opposite. For example the Beis Shmuel that weighs the issur of hotzaas zera l'vatala against the issur of being bo'el a person's wife while she's a niddah. Obviously that's not being done to prevent pregnancy and yet the Beis Shmuel thinks it's still an issur. And of course there are the many gemaras that assur various practices that can lead to keri and zera l'vatala which very likely apply to single men as well. (holding ever, lying on back etc.) Does anyone argue they don't apply to unmarried men?

    7. Dov,

      Yes, I see your point. I should have used the phrase mitzvas peru urevuh rather than pregancy.

      כדי שלא יכחיש יופייה ואינו רוצה לקיים פריה ורביה ממנה seems to be the key point. There is no intention to avoid the mitzvah, or to keep her beautiful. Pregnancy isn't the point. Unless you suggest the tosfos rid is using 'peru uravu' as a shorthand for pregnancy. The heter, according to the tosfos rid, is that there is no intention to avoid the mitzvah or keep her beautiful coupled with sakonoh.

      So, again, the phrase אבל אם כוונתו שלא תבא לידי סכנה מותרappears extra, according to his peshat. All that is needed is no intention to avoid the mitzva or reduce her beauty.

      "The next point, that he's doing it for personal pleasure is the counterpoint to producing pregnancy, i.e., his intention has nothing to do with pregnancy but rather personal pleasure."

      Yes of course, but he didn't need to write that. But again, there is no proof that this would apply out of the context of a physical relationship. There is no proof either way.

    8. I think the reason the phrase אבל אם כוונתו שלא תבא לידי סכנה מותר is not extra is because in such a case, there is a dual intent. The man does not want the woman (hopefully his wife) to become pregnant (may be falling under the Issur), but because he wants to prevent it for a reason other than marring her beauty (avoid a danger), it is, in fact, Muttar.

      On top of that, there is an additional situation, providing/receiving pleasure, wherein neither participant cares if the woman gets pregnant. This too, is Muttar, because it's not done to prevent pregnancy.

  26. Reb Natan, no more anonymous! I shall henceforth be known as kollel manchik (with thanks to MC and Dov).


    "If you don't appreciate the need for context, go and spend some years learning in a yeshiva (even a non charedi one."

    Fyi, i have spent over a decade in the chareidi yeshiva world, but that's clearly not enough to keep up with the numerous sources and strong counter arguments you have put forward here...


    I don't understand your statement: "For example the Beis Shmuel that weighs the issur of hotzaas zera l'vatala against the issur of being bo'el a person's wife while she's a niddah. Obviously that's not being done to prevent pregnancy and yet the Beis Shmuel thinks it's still an issur."

    Bo'el niddah is a separate issur d'oraita, nothing to do with preventing pregnancy, etc. How does this equation by the Beis Shmuel imply that to him the issuer of motzi zera d'oraita also applies when it doesn't come to prevent pregnancy?
    Re-the gamara in kol hayad, i'm sure you've seen the detailed discussion by MedicalHalachahRationalist of Rambam's interpretation of this gemara, stating that it refers to a geder derabanan to prevent committing grave sins which are d'oraita.

    1. What I think Dov is saying is as follows. But I do not have much time.

      If the Beis Shmuel only believed the issur is to avoid pregnancy, then he would have no sofek over whether it is permitted to relieve tension and thus not be bo'ela nidah c'v.

      In othet words, the very fact the BS has a sofek over this shows that he did not hold that it is permitted when not to avoid pregnacy.

  27. Kollel Manchik,

    My Kasha from the Beis Shmuel (23:1) was this: The Beis Shmuel (really Chelkas Mechokeik from Sefer Chasidim) discusses someone who strongly desires to transgress the issur of being bo'el a niddah. This person is advised to instead to be "over" the issur motzi zera l'vatala rather than be bo'el a niddah. (This point is made to clarify that motzi zera is not really "the worst aveirah" as described by mechaber.) Why would we advise him to be motzi zera l'vatala in a situation of issur (i.e., in the context of possibly impregnating a woman) rather than simply telling him to be motzi zera in the "mutar" situation, i.e., when there is no woman around or present? Now that I explained it I suppose you could answer the issur is needed to really slake the desire, but that strikes me as unlikely. This question is by no means all that can be asked on this position. This was really off the top of my head.

    P.S. I actually meant to bestow the appellation "Kollel Manchik" on the writer on the teshuvah (unless you are he?)

    1. Thanks for clarifying this Dov. I will try to look this up inside, but from what you are saying it clearly implies that Beis Shmuel also holds that motzi zera is not a d'oraita...perhaps a derabanan, perhaps just something that is strongly discouraged, but certainly not a d'oraita or else he wouldn't advocate it as a possible solution (even last resort).

      I guess i mistook the compliment...probably too self centered thinking this was about me...oh well, i'll still keep the title.

      The real kollel manchik in the long blog post, where he brings the 'talmid of the rashbo' inside the shita mekubetzet, states that the shita also mentions the ritva and ramban holding similar position. I haven't seen this inside yet...also something to explore further (shita on ketubot 39a).

  28. I'm not sure if you're right that the BS hold it's not a deoraisa, because perhaps he prefers a deoraisa without karais (although it apparently does have misa b'dei shamayaim) to one that has does have karais. Although see Shabbos 3b-4a which deals with weighing issurim against one another.

    Yes, the teshuvah cites other Rishonim but I also haven't really examined them and he indicated that he's disagreeing with R A Eiger's interpretation so that's unlikely to convince anyone. (Although perhaps he didn't have the Tos. Rid and would've agreed if he had.)

  29. Hi Rabbi Slifkin,
    The Rambam in Halachot Issurei Biah Perek 21: Halacha 18 clearly states the seriousness of wasting seed by hand,the Rambam says that person should put himself in excommunication. How can you argue that the Zohar takes this to a new level?
    Halacha יח:
    אסור להוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה לפיכך לא יהיה אדם דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ ולא ישא קטנה שאינה ראויה לילד אבל אלו שמנאפין ביד ומוציאין שכבת זרע לא די להם שאיסור גדול הוא אלא שהעושה זה בנדוי הוא יושב ועליהם נאמר ידיכם דמים מלאו וכאילו הרג הנפש:

    1. As Rabbi Slifkin mentioned (and as explained in the book): No one is denying that the Talmud in Nidah 13ab already speaks in very harsh terms about masturbation. But the Zohar (in Vayeshev and Vayechi) is the first source to call it the worst sin in the Torah (in one place stating that there is no repentance for it, and such people will never "rise" - presumably from gehinom or in techiyas hameisim). For more on the Zohar's uniquely extreme statements, see Reishis Chochmah, Shaar Hakedushah, Chapter 17.

      In addition, also as noted in the post, the same sources that call the Talmud's statements in this regard exaggerations -- such as Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel of Cracow in his Shaalos uTeshuvos Pnei Yehoshua, vol. 2, Even Haezer 44 (page 2, middle of column 2, in the Lvov edition) -- would be implying the same about the statement of the Rambam (and any other Talmudic or post-Talmudic source). The same would go for the statement of the Shaalos uteshuvos Rivash, Responsum 171, which makes the general statement that the Sages exaggerated when comparing sins to the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery and murder, as a matter of deterrence.

      As far as nidoi is concerned, and the rest of the Talmud's statements on Nidah 13ab, see endnote 524 in the book, where the author addresses the entire Talmudic discussion point by point. And see especially, endnote 718 discussing that the entire concept of "maksheh adam ladaas" is arguably referring to compulsive masturbation. In endnote 524, it is explained that the same may arguably be said about the "curse" that the hand be cut off... (based on Tosfos, Sanhedrin 58b, "Katz Yada")

    2. I addition to the previous post, I would like to add the following. The Rambam in Peirush HaMishnayos explauins what Ni'uf B'yad is, and he clearly states that the Gemara is not talking about masturbation by oneself, but rather it is discussing someone who commits Ni'uf with another person by rubbing against their body or by them using hands instead of having intercourse. Many other Rishonim can be interpreted this was as well.
      The words of the Rambam Pirush HaMishnayot Sanhedrin 7:4
      "One who has intercourse with any of the prohibited relations" ..... or if he caresses or touches one of her limbs in order to derive pleasure, regardless of which part of her body he touches for example he rubs himself against her arm or leg. this type of abomination is what the Chachamim referred to as "committing adultery with the hand or foot"

  30. I'm a tad late, but it may be worth adding in regards to the "graveness" of the sin of זרע לבטלה, that more lenient - or perhaps I should say "less drastic" views of the "graveness" of the sin among mekubalim can be found in in none other than the Tanya in the 7th perek:

    אך החיות שבטיפות זרע שיצאו ממנו לבטלה, אף שירדה ונכללה בשלוש קליפות הטמאות, הרי זו עולה משם בתשובה נכונה ובכוונה עצומה בקריאת שמע שעל המטה, כנודע מהאר"י ז"ל ומרומז בגמרא, (ברכות ה א): "כל הקורא קריאת שמע על מטתו כאלו אוחז חרב של שתי פיות כו'", להרוג גופות החיצונים שנעשו לבוש לחיות שבטיפות, ועולה החיות מהם, כידוע ליודעי ח"ן. ולכן לא הוזכר עוון זרע לבטלה בתורה בכלל ביאות אסורות, אף שחמור מהן וגדול עוונו בבחינת הגדלות וריבוי הטומאה והקליפות, שמוליד ומרבה במאד מאד בהוצאת זרע לבטלה יותר מביאות אסורות, רק שבביאות אסורות מוסיף כוח וחיות בקליפה טמאה ביותר, עד שאינו יכול להעלות משם החיות בתשובה, [הגה"ה: מפני שנקלטה ביסוד דנוקבא דקליפה המקבלת וקולטת החיות מהקדושה. מה שאין כן בזרע לבטלה, שאין שם בחינת נוקבא דקליפה, רק שכוחותיה וחיילותיה מלבישים לחיות שבטיפות, כידוע ליודעי ח"ן], אלא אם כן יעשה תשובה מאהבה רבה כל כך עד שזדונות נעשו לו כזכויות. ובזה יובן מאמר רז"ל (חגיגה ט א): "איזהו מעוות שלא יוכל לתקון, זה שבא על הערוה והוליד ממזר". שאז גם אם יעשה תשובה גדולה כל כך, אי אפשר לו להעלות החיות לקדושה, מאחר שכבר ירדה לעולם הזה ונתלבשה בגוף בשר ודם.

    It seems evident from here that, yes, al pi kabbalah, זרע לבטלה is definitely very bad, but it's definitely not this thing that digs someone so deep into a hole that they just can't get out unless they daven by some special shovavim minyan at neitz every morning for a year, and then do three backflips, two summersaults, and only eat tomatoes from the left side of the stalk to fix, but can be fixed even with תשובה נכונה (which doesn't even have to be from אהבה as he says, but can be from יראה, which would probably translate to simply resolving not to do it again - a much lower and more easily attainable level of teshuvah), and with כוונה by קשאה"מ. I really wish someone would have told that to me as a teenager - I ended up getting a lot of Yosef Mizrachi-dikke advice, which one doesn't even have to say al pi kabbalah, and of all things, chassidus

  31. OK, I'm in the process of becoming a Ger Tzedek, so I'll be way behind you guys in my understanding of Halacha, but here goes:

    1. Masturbation is sex-with yourself. My understanding is that sex is to be enjoyed by a man with a woman. Anything else would be a sin. Am I correct?
    2. Masturbation and Porn ARE related.
    3. Masturbation CAN be controlled.
    4. My personal experience: I struggled with this for years. And when I say years, I mean years. I made excuses, got depressed, went to "confession," etc. The cycle kept going. It was only when I discovered Torah-True Judaism that I was delivered of this. I attribute this to G-d's blessing. I feel better, have more confidence, and know that I am doing G-d's will.

    No one HAS to masturbate. That's a fallacy.

    I do agree that a "pastoral" approach should avoid shaming and castigating. That only adds to the guilt/re-offending cycle.

  32. As a man who had has to deal with infertility for years this has and still is very difficult to deal with the only would be to join the french legionnaire

  33. Irrationalist JudaismJanuary 13, 2022 at 11:36 PM

    In the Torah, the story of Onan is not about masturbation - it is the opposite, birth control. He has a) an obligation to impregnate his brother's widow (yibum) and b) he has the means with which to perform kosher intercourse.

    A young man who is not married, has neither of the above - by definition, he has no wife , is not obligated by yibbum, and has no legitimate (halakhic) means of having intercourse or satisfying his urges. So Judaism becomes catholicism.


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