Judaism and masturbation

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This is a sub-article of Sexuality in Judaism and religious views of masturbation.

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

Torah basis[edit]

The Tanakh does not explicitly prohibit masturbation.[1][2] Maimonides stated the same.[3]

In the Mishnah, masturbation is treated under a broader view about frequent examination of the male and female organs. It teaches that while for women it is praiseworthy to frequently examine themselves, for men their hands "ought to be cut off".[4] This prohibition is derived from the Biblical narrative of Onan, who practiced birth control by withdrawal. The Talmud likens the act to murder and idolatry.[5]

According to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, "It is forbidden to discharge semen in vain. This is a graver sin than any other in the Torah".[6] However, Beis Shmuel expounds that this is not literal, but rather serves to frighten man into avoiding the sin.[7]

Leniencies for married couples[edit]

Rabbinic authorities have in certain instances permitted intentional extra-vaginal ejaculation in tandem with one's wife. The tannaim Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Meir (Tosefta, Niddah 2:), for safety reasons (prior to the advent of female birth control) permits exterior ejaculation for a duration of 24 months post childbirth (Talmud Yebamoth 34). Tosefot 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 (Tosfoth, Yebamoth 34b, Tosfoth Sanhedrin 58b)). The Bayit Chadash (Yoel Sirkis) commentary to the Rabbeinu Asher (ibid.) explicitly permits this foreign ejaculation with Rabbeinu Asher siding with the tosafist opinion.[8] This opinion is likewise quoted in Tur Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer ch. 25.

Rabbenu Asher, followed by Rabbi Elijah Spira, commented that an occasional exterior ejaculation in tandem with one's wife is not considered "extracting semen in vain" (and not banned by the Talmud) as long as the intention is not to avoid impregnating one's wife and it is done on rare occasion - as this is not likened to the desire of Onan, who wished to avoid impregnating Tamar entirely.[9] The Aguddah work also sides with the lenient opinion, permitting an occasional extra-vaginal ejaculation with one's wife,[10] whilst Rabbi Samuel Eidels (the Maharsha) likewise takes a lenient view.[11]

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" (tractate nedarim, 20b) - and this isn't called "wasting his seed".

— Tosfoth Ri"d to tractate Yebamoth, p. 12b (Yad HaRav Herzog, Jerusalem)

Rabbi Isaiah the Elder's view is likewise echoed by his descendant, rabbi Isaiah di Trani the Younger.[12]

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, in his recently published Torah commentary to the verse "Adam and his wife, and were not embarrassed" (Genesis) permits any activity with one's wife necessary to "quiet (lit. seat)" his desire.[13]

From amongst rabbis of the achronim era, the Tzemach Tzedek differentiated between extracting one's seed alone (masturbation) and extra-vaginal extracting of one's seed with one's wife, with the latter a form (albeit strange) of a tandem relationship.[14]


Some poskim (decisors of Jewish law) rule that it is possible to masturbate to avoid arayot (forbidden relationships).[15]

In vitro[edit]

There is disagreement among the poskim whether masturbation is an acceptable way of procuring semen for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation.[16]

See also[edit]


  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. Retrieved 12 November 2011. 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. 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. ^ Talmud Niddah 13a
  5. ^ Talmud Niddah 13a
  6. ^ Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, סימן קנא: א (Chapter 151: 1); Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried
  7. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'Ezer 23:1
  8. ^ Rabbeinu Asher to Yebamoth ch. 3
  9. ^ "Eliyah rabbah" to ch. 240 of Orach Chayim, 10-11
  10. ^ Agudah, p. 115 col. 2
  11. ^ Maharsha to Talmud Nedarim 20a
  12. ^ "Ria"z", jerusalem 1994
  13. ^ Rokeach to the Torah (J. Kluggman, Bnei Brak), p. 83
  14. ^ Responsa, ch. 89
  15. ^ Rabbi Chaim Rappoport, Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, pp. 141-42.
  16. ^ Jewish Law - Articles ("The Use of Cryopreserved Sperm and Pre-embryos In Contemporary Jewish Law and Ethics")