Sunday, April 23, 2017

Am I Really Guilty of Murder?

Please accept my apologies for the long breaks I sometimes need to take between posts.  Pesach, life's necessities, work, and more just get in the way sometimes :-(.  Furthermore, people are constantly sending me new reading material, and of course I have to read it all before I continue to write this blog.  This time I was sidetracked by several books and articles, but most notably by Yaakov Shapiro's book "Halachic Positions" which is plain and simply a spectacular book.  I could not continue to write this blog until I finished it completely. Hence, the long absence, but here I am now, so let's move forward again.

Now that we've analyzed the sugyah in Niddah, it would be appropriate to review the other places in Chazal that discuss issues related to the prohibition of "spilling seed." Specifically, I am going to try to redefine for you what it was that Chazal prohibited, and what the meaning and definitions are of the terms used by Chazal to describe what they believed one may not do.

It is abundantly clear from Chazal, that the prohibition is absolutely not that one may not "spill seed" in a way that cannot potentially lead to pregnancy.  Whatever the nature of the prohibition is, it must be defined differently, and we will be working in future posts to define what is meant by "Hotza'at Zerah L'Vatalah".   In this post I will bring numerous examples throughout the Rabbinic literature that clearly demonstrate that "wasting seed" i.e. ejaculating in a manner that cannot potentially lead to pregnancy, is NOT the true nature of the prohibition.

From here on, I will use the acronym HZLV to refer to the sin that Chazal prohibited.  The reason I will do this, is because I believe that translating it as "wasting" or "spilling" seed causes a huge misunderstanding and is not an accurate translation at all.

Allow me to explain why this is so important.  There is a huge amount of literature that describes the "sin" of masturbation as one of wasting potential life.  We already saw how the Zohar and Chazal compared this sin to murder, and the explanation that many sources have given is because the semen contains the "seed" from which life is born.  Thus, by wasting it, one is "killing" the potential offspring.  As you can imagine, this can be a source of immense consternation to a young Yeshiva bochur who occasionally masturbates due to the normal sexual arousal that happens to a healthy young man from time to time. People like Yosef Mizrachi use this idea to promote guilt, shame, and dangerous misconceptions in videos such as this one on YouTube.

In fact, Chazal could not possibly have believed that HZLV is prohibited because one is killing potential lives.  The comparison to murder has to mean something else entirely.  That is because there many places where Chazal permit or even recommend ejaculation which cannot lead to pregnancy for various purposes.

Just a few examples,

  1. "Biah Shelo Kedarkah" which the overwhelming majority of commentaries understand refers to anal intercourse.  See Nedarim 20a - 20b where it is expressly permitted.
  2. "Letzorech Bedikah" refers to intentionally causing ejaculation in order to examine if a man falls under the Halachic category of a "K'rut Shafchah"  , see Yevamot 76a where it is expressly permitted
  3. Unintentional seminal emission as a positive thing.  See Yoma 88a where it is described as a positive sign if someone has an emission on Yom Kippur.  Although it is clearly referring to an unintentional act, it is inconceivable that Chazal would describe "murder" in such a positive way if indeed "spilling seed" was akin to murder in the way it is often (mis)understood.
There are other examples from the Aggadic literature that also clearly demonstrate that Chazal did not consider any ejaculation that cannot result in pregnancy to be akin to murder in the way it is understood  by many. I will choose not to mention them for the sake of brevity, but if there are enough requests I would be happy to bring more examples. 

If the reason HZLV was prohibited is because one is "killing" potential human beings, I don't believe that anyone can reasonably explain why the above examples were expressly permitted by Chazal. Clearly, something else is involved here.

(Now, I am fully aware that many poskim and commentators over the centuries have taken the approach that HZLV is prohibited and is compared to murder because potential life is being wasted. See Maharal Be'er HaGolah p213-214 for one of many many examples.  I plan on dealing with this at great length in a future post.  Right now, I would like to first be allowed to make the point that this is clearly not exactly what Chazal had in mind, and I will come back to the obvious objections to my claim later, BL'N.)

So far, I have given enough evidence to prove that when Chazal state that HZLV is akin to murder, and they compare those who commit "ni'uf beyad ub'regel" , that they do not mean that it is murder because one is spilling potential life.  So what did they mean? Why did they compare it to murder?  We will investigate that in my next post.