Judaism and masturbation

The prohibition of extracting semen in vain (in Hebrew: הוצאת זרע לבטלה) is a rabbinic prohibition found in the midrash and Talmud. The prohibition forbids a male from intentional wasteful spilling of his semen.

Biblical sourcesEdit

The Hebrew Bible does not explicitly prohibit masturbation.[1][2] Maimonides stated that the Tanakh does not explicitly prohibit masturbation.[3] Jacob Milgrom acknowledged that while the rabbis condemned masturbation, "it is their enactment, not that of Scripture."[4]

Leviticus 15:16–18 states that any male who emits semen is considered ritually impure - whether the emission came through masturbation, nocturnal emission, or sex between married heterosexual partners.[5][6] The traditional rabbinical interpretation of Leviticus 15 was that it applies to all sperm flows, including sperm flows due to masturbation. Other than this ritual impurity, no consequences or punishments are specified.

The Biblical story of Onan (Genesis 38:6–10) was interpreted by many later commentators as a source for prohibiting ejaculation outside a woman's body, including masturbation. In the story, Onan did not want to impregnate his wife (because, this being a levirate marriage, the resulting child would be considered to belong to Onan's brother Er rather than Onan), so when they had sex Onan performed coitus interruptus[7] and caused his semen to spill on the ground. The story relates that God found Onan's behavior evil, and punished Onan with death.[8] Nevertheless, opinions differ on whether his sin was denying a child to Er (which would have no implications for masturbation), or ejaculating outside the context of sex (implying that masturbation too is a sin).

The halakhic prohibition on masturbationEdit

Traditional rabbinic sources strictly prohibit male masturbation, and even activities which can lead to sexual arousal and thus ejaculation.

The Mishnah states that if a man touches his penis with his hand (in order to check for ritually impure emission), his hand "ought to be cut off".[9]

The Babylonian Talmud prohibits "emitting seed in vain", a term generally (but not only) referring to masturbation:

R. Johanan stated: Whosoever emits semen in vain deserves death, for it is said in Scripture (Genesis 38:10), 'And the thing which he did was evil in the sight of the LORD; and He slew him also.'[9]

The same passage likens the act to murder and idolatry,[9] and also prohibits a man from intentionally arousing himself:

Rav says: One who intentionally causes himself to have an erection shall be ostracized.[10]

The Shulchan Aruch[11] and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch[12] state that wasting sperm is considered to be a sin greater than any sin in the Torah. However, the Beit Shmuel commentary states that this is not literal, but rather serves to frighten man into avoiding the sin.[11] The Arizal taught that one is obligated to fast eighty-four times to repent for the discharging of semen in vain. The Tanya contends that, in current times, one can give to charity in place of fasting. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov claimed that masturbation leads to depression, and that the effects of impure ejaculation can only be nullified through the recitation of the Tikkun Haklali.[13]

According to Sefer haChinuch, one of the reasons for the prohibition on male homosexual sex is that sperm is destroyed for no constructive purpose.[14]

Female masturbationEdit

Female masturbation is not explicitly prohibited, but authorities such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein consider female masturbation as necessarily involving forbidden "impure thoughts".[15][16] However, Hida[17] and Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank[18] disagreed. Ben Ish Chai states that it is wrong because it creates evil forces (Kelipos).[19] In any case, female masturbation does not carry the severity of male masturbation, because it does not involve the release of seed.

Situations in which halakha may permit "wasting" spermEdit

There is disagreement among the poskim (decisors of Jewish law) whether masturbation is an acceptable way of procuring semen for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation.[20]

Some poskim rule that it is possible to masturbate to avoid arayot (forbidden relationships).[21] Sefer Hasidim states that if a man's sexual desire is so great that he is afraid of committing a worse sin, then he is allowed to masturbate in order to avoid a worse sin, but must then perform penance by fasting or sitting in ice water.[22]

Married couplesEdit

Even if a wife is unable to become pregnant (e.g. infertile, old, or currently pregnant or nursing), sexual relations between a married couple are not only permitted, but required within the framework of the commandment of onah.[23][24] This is despite the fact that the sperm will be "wasted" in the sense of not causing pregnancy.

Rabbinic authorities have in certain instances permitted intentional extra-vaginal ejaculation in tandem with a man's wife.

Rabbi Meir recommended a man perform coitus interruptus (דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ) with his wife while she is pregnant or nursing, for health reasons.[25] For similar reasons, Rabbi Eliezer recommended coitus interruptus for a duration of 24 months after birth.[26]

Tosafot cites the opinion of Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac ben Samuel) who permitted an occasional exterior ejaculation with one's wife on the condition that one does not accustom himself to always doing so, as this is not considered comparable to Onan, who wished to avoid impregnating Tamar entirely.[27] This opinion is accepted as normative by Rabbeinu Asher,[28] Arba'ah Turim,[29] Sefer HaAguddah,[30] Maharsha,[31] Bayit Chadash,[32] Eliyah Rabbah,[33] and some other authorities.[34]

A more explicit permissive stance is that of the tosafist rabbi Isaiah di Trani the Elder:

What was the (forbidden) action of Er and Onan that the Torah prohibits? that committed with the intent of not diminishing her beauty (due to pregnancy) and he doesn't desire to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation (פרו ורבו) with her. But if his intent.. is for his inclination and to satisfy his desire and his intent is not to avoid impregnating her, it is permitted, ..he whose intent is to fulfill the desire of his inclination does not transgress as "all that a man wants to do with his wife he may do"[35] - and this isn't called "wasting his seed".[36]

Rabbi Isaiah the Elder's view is likewise echoed by his descendant, rabbi Isaiah di Trani the Younger.[37]

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms permits any activity with one's wife necessary to "quiet (lit. seat)" his desire.[38]

Non-Orthodox movementsEdit

Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis have decided on more liberal conclusions. Reconstructionist Rabbi Alexis Roberts maintains that masturbation is "harmless, natural and healthy. It may provide release and pleasure, as well as self-knowledge that is useful for pleasurable sex with a partner. It may make it easier for young people to have sexual release in the years when they are too young for a mature, committed, loving relationship."[39] Reform Rabbi Jonathan Stein, in a proposed schema for normative Reform evaluation of different sexual activities, proposed that masturbation be considered "mutar", a term generally translated as "permissible", but which he renders as "tolerable".[40] Rabbi Walter Jacob, writing on behalf of the Reform responsa committee, asserts, "Although the statements of tradition are very clear, we would take a different view of masturbation, in the light of current psychological thought. Masturbation should be discouraged, but we would not consider it harmful or sinful."[41]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Patton, Michael S. (June 1985). "Masturbation from Judaism to Victorianism". Journal of Religion and Health. Springer Netherlands. 24 (2): 133–146. doi:10.1007/BF01532257. ISSN 0022-4197. PMID 24306073. Nevertheless, there is no legislation in the Bible pertaining to masturbation.
  2. ^ Kwee, Alex W.; David C. Hoover (2008). "Theologically-Informed Education about Masturbation: A Male Sexual Health Perspective" (PDF). Journal of Psychology and Theology. La Mirada, CA, USA: Rosemead School of Psychology. Biola University. 36 (4): 258–269. doi:10.1177/009164710803600402. ISSN 0091-6471. Retrieved 12 November 2011. The Bible presents no clear theological ethic on masturbation, leaving many young unmarried Christians with confusion and guilt around their sexuality.
  3. ^ Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7:4, apud Dorff, Elliot N. (2003) [1998]. "Chapter Five. Preventing Pregnancy". Matters of life and death : a Jewish approach to modern medical ethics (First paperback ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society. p. 117. ISBN 0827607687. OCLC 80557192. Jews historically shared the abhorrence of male masturbation that characterized other societies.2 Interestingly, although the prohibition was not debated, legal writers had difficulty locating a biblical base for it, and no less an authority than Maimonides claimed that it could not be punishable by the court because there was not an explicit negative commandment forbidding it.3
  4. ^ Gagnon, Robert A.J. (2005-02-07). "A critique of Jacob Milgrom's views on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13" (PDF). www.robgagnon.net. Pittsburgh. p. 6. Retrieved 2015-06-25.
  5. ^ Jones, Stanton; Jones, Brenna (2014). "CHAPTER 13: Developing Moral Discernment About Masturbation and Petting". How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child's Sexual Character. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, Tyndale House. p. 253. ISBN 9781612912301. OCLC 104623265. 1. We are aware of only one argument that attempts to draw directly from the Scripture to establish a basis for the acceptance of masturbation, found in J. Johnson, "Toward a Biblical Approach to Masturbation, Journal of Psychology and Theology 10 (1982): 137-146. Johnson suggest that Leviticus 15:1-618 should set the tone for our dealing with masturbation. Verses 16 and 17 say that a man who has an emission of semen should wash and be ceremonially unclean until evening. Verse 18 goes on to say that if a man and woman have intercourse, the same cleanliness rules apply. By bringing up intercourse separately, the passage surely does imply that the emission of semen in verses 16 and 17 occurred for the man individually. The passage may be referring to a nocturnal emission, or wet dream, rather than masturbation, but the passage is not specific. Johnson suggests that this Leviticus passage is significant for treating a solitary sexual experience, whether wet dream or masturbation, as a purely ceremonial cleanliness issue and not as a matter of morality. The passage also puts no more disapproval on the solitary experience than it does on intercourse. Since Christians today commonly view the Old Testament ceremonial law as no longer valid, this author suggests that masturbation is not in itself a moral concern from a biblical perspective and is no longer a ceremonial concern either.
  6. ^ Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22, pp. 1567-1568, apud Robert A. J. Gagnon, "A critique of Jacob Milgrom's views on Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13". Text: " the ejaculation of semen results in only a one-day impurity that requires laundering and ablutions (15:16-18), regardless of whether the act takes place during (legitimate) intercourse or by the self, deliberately (masturbation) or accidentally (nocturnal emission)."
  7. ^ Ehrlich, Carl S. (14 October 1993). "Onan". In Metzger, Bruce M.; Coogan, Michael David (eds.). The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford University Press. p. 565. ISBN 978-0-19-974391-9.
  8. ^ Genesis 38:9–10
  9. ^ a b c Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 13a
  10. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 13b
  11. ^ a b Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'Ezer 23:1
  12. ^ Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 151:1)
  13. ^ Sternhatz, Nosson. Likutei Eitzot. pp. ניוף.
  14. ^ Sefer haHinuch, commandment 209 (parshat Acharei Mot)
  15. ^ Issues in Jewish Ethics: “Kosher” Sex
  16. ^ Igros Moshe, Even Ha'ezer 1, sec. 69.
  17. ^ שנת תשע"ז | שבת פרשת וישב
  18. ^ אוננות נשית – מבט הלכתי וערכי
  19. ^ Od Yosef Chai p. 37, quoting the Arizal in Shaar HaKavanos, Inyan Drushei Layla, sec. 7
  20. ^ The Use of Cryopreserved Sperm and Pre-embryos In Contemporary Jewish Law and Ethics
  21. ^ Rabbi Chaim Rappoport, Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, pp. 141-42.
  22. ^ Sefer Hasidim, no. 50 (p. 44, Parma ed.)
  23. ^ Mishnah Brurah, 240:10
  24. ^ מצוות עונה – חובת הבעל כלפי אשתו
  25. ^ Tosefta Niddah 2:4
  26. ^ Yebamot 34b
  27. ^ Tosafot Yebamot 34b, Tosafot Sanhedrin 58b
  28. ^ Tosafot haRosh, Yebamot 34b
  29. ^ Tur, Even Ha'ezer 25
  30. ^ Agudah, p. 115 col. 2
  31. ^ Maharsha to Talmud Nedarim 20a
  32. ^ Bayit Hadash, on Tur 25:3
  33. ^ "Eliyah rabbah" to Orach Chayim, 240:10-11
  34. ^ אין הלכה כיוחנן בן דהבאי
  35. ^ Nedarim 20b
  36. ^ Tosafot Ri"d to Yevamot 12b (Yad HaRav Herzog, Jerusalem)
  37. ^ "Ria"z", jerusalem 1994
  38. ^ Rokeach to the Torah (J. Kluggman, Bnei Brak), p. 83 (commentary to Genesis 2:25)
  39. ^ "Masturbation: Is It Kosher?". Beliefnet.
  40. ^ Stein, Jonathan (Fall 2001). "Toward a Taxonomy for Reform Jews to Evaluate Sexual Behavior". CCAR Journal. Central Conference of American Rabbis. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-27.
  41. ^ Jacob, Walter (1979). "Masturbation". American Reform Responsa. Central Conference of American Rabbis. Retrieved 2007-08-28.