Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Vayeshev Shabbis Chanukah 2023: Masturbation in the Heylige Toirah

Raboyseyee and Ladies,

Masturbation in the Heylige Toirah

Say what? Is that mamish a topic? May we discuss this openly?

Welcome to Parshas Vayeshev and what a parsha it is. Were someone to tell you that it features kidnapping, a murder plot, slavery, a roadside sexual encounter, unwanted sexual advances, rape charges, and masturbation, would you not think the heylige Ois was about to discuss a sexually charged novel? Or worse? Mistama you would. Ober raboyseyee we’re talking about the heylige Toirah which grapples with each of these subjects and for those reasons alone, Toirah is de-beste-s’choira (no literal translation would do this phrase justice, but it means to imply that there is nothing like the study of the heylige Toirah which tells it mamish like it was). Where to begin? So many tantalizing topics. Shoin let’s start with a topic known to all, except for those who don’t speak the truth: let’s talk about male masturbation. Shoin, I said it, so shoot me, but before you do, let’s see what the parsha tells us about this topic.

Just last week, the heylige Ois mentioned that when the RBSO didn’t like certain characters, they were quickly disposed of. Let’s meet two such individuals who seem to have come and gone, if you chap, from the text in mamish a few pisukim; we barely got to know them. To chap the gravity of this topic, let us read the relevant pisukim innaveynig. The action is found in Perek (Chapter) 38 of Sefer Bereishis.

וַֽיְהִי֙ בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֔וא וַיֵּ֥רֶד יְהוּדָ֖ה מֵאֵ֣ת אֶחָ֑יו וַיֵּ֛ט עַד־אִ֥ישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִ֖י וּשְׁמ֥וֹ חִירָֽה׃

About that time Judah left his brothers and camped near a certain Adullamite whose name was Chira.

וַיַּרְא־שָׁ֧ם יְהוּדָ֛ה בַּת־אִ֥ישׁ כְּנַעֲנִ֖י וּשְׁמ֣וֹ שׁ֑וּעַ וַיִּקָּחֶ֖הָ וַיָּבֹ֥א אֵלֶֽיהָ׃

There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua, and he took her [into his household as wife] and cohabited with her.

וַתַּ֖הַר וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ עֵֽר׃

She conceived and bore a son, and he named him Eyr.

וַתַּ֥הַר ע֖וֹד וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ אוֹנָֽן׃

She conceived again and bore a son, and named him Oinon.

וַתֹּ֤סֶף עוֹד֙ וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֔ן וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵׁלָ֑ה וְהָיָ֥ה בִכְזִ֖יב בְּלִדְתָּ֥הּ אֹתֽוֹ׃

Once again, she bore a son, and named him Shelah; he was at Chezib when she bore him.

וַיִּקַּ֧ח יְהוּדָ֛ה אִשָּׁ֖ה לְעֵ֣ר בְּכוֹר֑וֹ וּשְׁמָ֖הּ תָּמָֽר׃

Judah got a wife for Eyr his first-born; her name was Tamar.

וַיְהִ֗י עֵ֚ר בְּכ֣וֹר יְהוּדָ֔ה רַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה וַיְמִתֵ֖הוּ יְהֹוָֽה׃

But Eyr, Judah’s first-born, was displeasing to יהוה, and יהוה took his life.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוּדָה֙ לְאוֹנָ֔ן בֹּ֛א אֶל־אֵ֥שֶׁת אָחִ֖יךָ וְיַבֵּ֣ם אֹתָ֑הּ וְהָקֵ֥ם זֶ֖רַע לְאָחִֽיךָ׃

Then Judah said to Oinon, “Join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother-in-law, and provide offspring for your brother.”

 וַיֵּ֣דַע אוֹנָ֔ן כִּ֛י לֹּ֥א ל֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֣ה הַזָּ֑רַע וְהָיָ֞ה אִם־בָּ֨א אֶל־אֵ֤שֶׁת אָחִיו֙ וְשִׁחֵ֣ת אַ֔רְצָה לְבִלְתִּ֥י נְתׇן־זֶ֖רַע לְאָחִֽיו׃

But Oinon, knowing that the offspring would not count as his, let [the semen] go to waste whenever he joined with his brother’s wife, so as not to provide offspring for his brother.

וַיֵּ֛רַע בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיָּ֖מֶת גַּם־אֹתֽוֹ׃

What he did was displeasing to the RBSO who took his life also.

And now you know. Lots of action in these few pisukim where the boys are born, grow to be of martial age, each marries the same girl and both are dead in a flash. The cause of death: the RBSO did not like them and in the case of the second brother’s death, the narrative tells us that he spilled his seed (masturbated). Wow! Let’s begin with the Radak who says this: ושחת ארצה, he ejaculated outside her vagina, just as we explained in connection with Eyr. They both committed the same crime.

Ok, what do we know?  What did these two guys do to so anger the RBSO? Let’s review: Yehudah married and with his wife had three boys. Some -including the heylige Toirah tells us that he married a Canaanite shiksa. Others- unwilling to accept that Yaakov’s son- the very one from whom the Moshiach will come one day- would marry a shiksa- argue that when the RBSO explicitly stated that his wife was a Canaanite – He, the RBSO, really meant to say that the girl’s father was a merchant. Very clever, but emes? Ver veyst? In any event, neither Yehudah nor his wife are the main characters in these few pisukim other than to tell us that they were the parents to the boys named Eyr and Oinon. The third son, Sheyla is not central to our topic. The RBSO seemed to despise Eyr and he was killed by the RBSO; the heylige Toirah does not tell us why he was so hated. Ober, we do get to read -as mentioned above- that Oinon decided to withdraw rather than to deposit -if you chap- his seed into Tamar. In other words, since he withdrew timely, he wasted his seed -read sperm- onto the ground and shoin, for that act he was killed by the RBSO. Shoin. And by that account raboyseyee, we should all be long dead.

According to some, this act of Oinon’s was an act of masturbation. Most of you have zicher heard the word a few -thousand- times. Efsher more. Let’s not elongate. Also, as an aside, our sages conclude that Eyr did the same thing and for that reason he lost favor with the RBSO; he also lost his life.

The bottom line: Oinon, son of Judah “would let [his seed] go to waste on the ground, so as not to provide offspring for his brother. This was wicked in the eyes of the RBSO, who killed him” (38:9–10).

So happens that the Ibn Ezra, commenting on these very words, was not a happy camper and said azoy: He destroyed the seed of his semen by pouring it outside of the vagina, on the ground. I am shocked by Ben Tamim Ha-Mizrachi who interpreted ve-shichays artzah (that he spilled it on the ground) to mean that Eyr had unnatural intercourse with Tamar so that she would not conceive. Eyr, thus shiches artzah (corrupted her ground), i.e., the place upon which she sits on the ground. This interpretation is sheer madness. Heaven forbid that the holy seed become defiled with such filth. More on that soon.

Ober, was what Oinon did a sin? Was he despised and killed davka because he spilled seed? Or, was the RBSO angry because he refused to impregnate Tamar? Is there a difference? Is masturbation forbidden in the heylige Toirah? Where is this written?

Shoin let’s do some digging and see what a few had to say and let us begin with this shtikel halocho from the Chelkak meChokek (a Halachic commentary on the Shulchan Aruch): It is written in the Sefer haChasidim that if one is tempted to sleep with a married woman or with his wife while she is a niddah (and is forbidden to him), it is better that he should masturbate than committing adultery or sleeping with his wife while she is a niddah… Shoin, we have found at least one loophole for those married! Check it out here:  חלקק מחוקק, אבן העזר כג

עיין בספר החסידים… שאם אחד מתירא שלא יכשל באשת איש או באשתו נדה חס ושלום, טוב לו להוציא זרע לבטלה משיכשול חס ושלום באיסור אשת איש או בנדה

Says the medrish (Bereishis Rabba 85) azoy:  Oinon’s sin is understood as a refusal to produce an heir for his brother. What? As it turns out, the medrish states that Yehudah was the first to introduce the concept of levirate marriage. What’s that? Let’s explain: Levirate marriage (yibbum) is the obligation of a surviving brother to marry the widow of his brother if he died without having sired children. So happens that is a mitzva mamish given to the Yiddin over in Sefer Devorim (25:5-6). How Yehudah -who predates the heylige Toirah by hundreds of years- knew from yibum, ver veyst? The widow must marry a brother-in-law rather than anyone outside the family. The oldest of the surviving brothers had the first obligation to perform this commandment mamish, which also allowed him to inherit all of his dead brother’s property.

The bottom line according to the medrish is azoy: Yehudah established the practice of levirate marriage… “and Oinon knew etc….” so he threshed inside and spread his seed on the outside, “and the RBSO killed him as well.” Based on this medrish, it does epes appear that masturbation was not the issue requiring the tissue, if you chap; rather his unwillingness to seed Tamar got him killed. Let’s read the medrish:

יהודה התחיל ביבום…. וידע אונן וגו’ דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ וימת גם אותו.

Ober let’s read this shocking shtikel from the same medrish: Eyr avoided having vaginal sex with Tamar, using the euphemism שהיה חורש בגגות “he would plow on the roofs.” And says the Medrish HaGadol (38:6), that Eyr did not want to get Tamar pregnant because she was beautiful.

אמרו תמר בת שם בן נח היתה והיתה נאה ביותר וכיון שנטלה ער אמר עכשו היא יולדת והיא מתכערת. מה עשה, היה מניח השדה וחורש בגגות. לשון נקי.

They said that Tamar was the daughter of Shaim son of Noiach, and that she was exceedingly beautiful. Once Eyr married her, he said (to himself): “Now she will give birth and become unattractive.” What did he do? He abandoned the field and plowed on the roof—this is a euphemism.

ועליו הוא אומר ואץ ברגלים חוטא (משלי יט, ב).

Regarding him it is said (Prov 19:2): “One who makes haste in the legs is a sinner.”

It’s efsher shayich (possible) that the sin here was not the act spilling his seed in acts of non-penetrative sex, but his refusal to get her pregnant. Oib azoy (if that’s the case), is stam azoy masturbation -meaning just for pleasure, because one is in the mood, not so giferlich? And how and why did our sages conflate the story of Eyr and Oinon with masturbation for pleasure? How did masturbating for pleasure become illegal? Is it? Nu, for that, the Ois harkens back to a conversation his father had him with many decades ago. Armed with the Kitzur Shulchan Oruch (The Code of Jewish Law) which acted as the law of the land in many homes back then, his dad showed the future Ois the following words:

קיצור שלחן ערוך קנא אָסוּר לְהוֹצִיא זֶרַע לְבַטָלָה. וְעָוֹן זֶה חָמוּר מִכָּל עֲבֵרוֹת שֶׁבַּתּוֹרָה.

“It is prohibited [for men] to spill their seed in vain. And this is a graver sin than any other transgression in the Torah.” Well, blow me down: worse than any other sin in the entire heylige Toirah? Worse than the three cardinal sins? But wait, there’s more to this sin, let’s read some more:

וְאֵלּוּ שֶׁמְּנָאֲפִים בַּיָּד וּמוֹצִיאִים זֶרַע לְבַטָּלָה, לֹא דַי לָהֶם שֶׁאִסּוּר גָּדוֹל הוּא, אֶלָּא שֶהָעוֹשֶׂה זֹאת, הוּא בְנִדּוּי, וַעֲלֵיהֶם נֶאֱמַר, יְדֵיכֶם דָּמִים מָלֵאוּ, וּכְאִילּוּ הוֹרֵג אֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ.

“Those who masturbate (fornicate with the hand) and spill their seed in vain, not only do they violate a serious transgression, but also one who does this is placed under a ban. Regarding such people, it is said on the Novee: (Isa 1:15), “Your hands are full of blood,” and it is akin to killing a person.

And if that weren’t enough to scare us straight -seemingly it wasn’t for most of you- the Kitzur closes out with these words:

וּרְאֵה מַה שֶּכָּתַב רַֹשִ”י בְּפָרָשַת וַיֵֹשֶב בְּעֵר וְאוֹנָן שֶׁמֵּתוּ בְּחֵטְא זֶה.

 ְלִפְעָמִים בְּעֹנֶשׁ זֶה, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, בָּנָיו מֵתִים כְּשֶׁהֵם קְטַנִים, אוֹ שֶׁיִהְיוּ רְשָׁעִים, וְהוּא בָא לִידֵי עֲנִיוּת.

See what Rashi wrote in Parashas Vayeshev concerning Eyr and Oinon, who died because of committing this sin. Sometimes, as a punishment—G-d forbid—one’s children die when they are young, or grow up to be wicked, while the sinner ends up living in poverty. And all that being said, the Ois asks azoy: Is taking the matter into one’s own hand – if you chap- for pleasure, prohibited in the heylige Toirah? If masturbation is, as stated in the Shulchan Oruch (Even HaEzer 23:1), “the worst sin in the Toirah,” then why is it not listed in any of the various lists of 613 commandments, and why is there no verse in the heylige Toirah that mentions it directly? Where can one find “Do not masturbate?”  So happens that The Semak, in his list of the 613 Commandments, does count male masturbation as a Biblical prohibition in Negative Command #292, but others who compiled the list -including the Rambam- do not list this as a sin.

Is the act forbidden directly in the heylige Toirah? Certainly not explicitly for those who conclude that it’s forbidden based on the stories of Eyr and Oinon. What the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 15:16–18) does tell us is this: any male who emits semen is considered ritually impure – whether the emission came through masturbation, nocturnal emission, or sex between married heterosexual partners. And that being the case, how did masturbation become so evil?  And the answer raboyseyee is azoy: The wasting of seed takes on grave overtones in the heylige Gemora (Niddah 13a-b) where our Sages compared one who wastes seed to a murderer, an idolater, and an adulterer. Mamish? This is quite shocking, considering that murder, idolatry, and adultery are the three “cardinal sins” of Judaism. These are the things one must give up their life for in order to avoid, even if coerced. Our Sages mamish equated wasting seed with the worst possible sins? And we are all still alive to read these words? Let’s read what a few had to say.

Rav Yoichonon holds that one who wastes seed “deserves death.” Interestingly, his opinion is based on the pisukim of our parsha where he connects masturbation to the deaths of Eyr and Oinon! Yet, as we have read above, their sin was not the act of wasting seed, but their evil ulterior motives. The bottom line: our Sages of the heylige Gemora were hard-pressed to find a good source for the prohibition. What to do? How to stop the masses from pleasuring themselves like monkeys? Wise men that they taka were, they resorted to various colorful interpretations of Scriptural verses in their attempt to illustrate the evils of wasting seed. For example, in the heylige Novee (Isaiah 1:15) we read this: “And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; when you make many prayers, I will not hear, [because] your hands are full of blood.” Said Rebbe Elozor that “hands are full of blood” is referring to those who masturbate, since spilling seed is like spilling blood! Is that what the posik means?

And if you think our sages were a shtikel homophobic, wait until you read these next few lines:  in the same Gemora, our Sages are not just prohibiting masturbation or wasting seed, but even for a man to simply touch his “member”—even to urinate! “Rabbi Eliezer said: Whoever holds his member when he urinates is as though he had brought a flood on the world.” As an aside, one can just imagine flow, the stream and the pressure. Rebbe Tarfoin adds that his hand should be cut off! It goes without saying that avada our Sages were exceedingly careful to avoid any sexual transgressions, and raised many “fences” to ensure that no one should even come close to sinning so gravely. Of course!

Another bottom line: We must remember that the heylige Gemora often uses hyperbole to get a point across and it isn’t always wise to take statements literally. The Sages themselves question Rabbi Eliezer, and say that not holding one’s member would be very impractical, for “would not the spray splatter on his feet…?” You think? One can only imagine how pissed off one would get were he to get pished on by a gentleman who decides to urinate free-style.

Why taka would the heylige go to such lengths and exaggerate the sin and or the punishment? Efsher we should kler azoy: the heylige Gemora wanted to scare us straight. And all that being said, what does one do if -despite all these warnings- one cannot control himself and does masturbate once in a while, or even daily? The good news: Our man Ezra chapped that the nature of humans was mostly bad. He knew that man will masturbates; kimat all man. He established a takona (enactment) that a man who is impure from any seminal emission (not just masturbatory) cannot say the Shema, daven, or say other blessings until he has gone to the mikveh. The bad news: mistama they couldn’t get a minyan together of ten clean people and changes needed to be made. Where were the people? They were all frolicking in the mikveh. What to do? The good news: this decree was later rescinded, and the law -and the popular custom in our times- is not to change one’s liturgical practices if one is impure. Is that emes? Check it out in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 88).

Now hear this: According to some, the practice of using the mikveh daily comes from this old custom, so that no one know when the bather had an emission and when he did not.  Is it a wonder the mikveh is so damn busy daily with otherwise good people? Not! What about those who don’t like going to the mikveh? To those who remain traumatized from memories of people brushing up a bit too close for comfort? There is good news: If one is not available, a shower will do. Some say that seed-spillers should recite the Tikkun HaKlali in Hebrew but English works too, if one cannot read Hebrew. These ten psalms were set out by Rebbe Nachman of Breslev as a means by which to completely repair emissions outside of normal marital relations. Givaldick!

A gittin Shabbis, a happy Shabbis Chanukah and a gittin Choidesh Teves

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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