In this episode, Dr. Marcus and Rabbi Linzer tackle female masturbation and interview Miryam Kabakov about Eshel, a group for LGBT Orthodox Jews. In the Q&A: is it permissible to talk “dirty?”This episode was recorded live at Limmud NY.
These sources accompany the third episode of the Joy of Text podcast
The Mishna states that there is no problem with women manually stimulating their genitals.
MISHNAH. Every hand that makes frequent examination (for blood from the vagina) is in the case of women praiseworthy, but in the case of men (overly checking for penile emission), it (the hand) ought to be cut off.
GEMARA.] Why do women differ from men? — Women do not experience “sensation”, hence they are praiseworthy, but in the case of men who do experience “sensation,” [their hands] ought to be cut off…
Rashi states that the key problem is ejaculation, which would not be an issue for women.
Tosafot states that women might even be permitted to destroy a man’s semen because they are not commanded regarding procreation. He concludes that this may not be the case, but there is no problem for them to manually stimulate themselves, since they do not ejaculate their “seed” outside their bodies.
Women do not experience “sensation” – According to Rabbeinu Tam who explains (in Yevamot 12b) the Gemara’s case of the three women (for whom pregnancy would be dangerous) who use a sponge (to prevent semen from staying in their body), to mean that these women must use a sponge, and that other women may use such a sponge, because women are not commanded to procreate (and therefore not prohibited to waste the man’s seed), we can say that [the Gemara means not that they don’t have sensation but that] they are not prohibited regarding “sensation” (wasting seed), even if they were to have “sensation”. [In other words, the Gemara means that they are not prohibited against wasting seed because they are not commanded regarding procreation.]
But Rabbeinu Tam’s explanation would not work according to Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka who teaches (Yevamot 65b) that “regarding both of them (man and woman) the Torah says, ‘be fruitful and multiply’.” [and thus women are commanded to procreate.] In addition, even if they are not commanded to procreate, they should be bound by the same restrictions as men regarding wasting of seed, just as they are bound by all restriction.
We can answer that there reason [that women are to be praised, and we are not concerned about wasting of seed,] is because women always ejaculated inside their bodies, and there it is the proper place to emit seed, but men ejaculate outside [of their and the woman’s body], and it is not the normal way to emit seed there (and hence forbidden.)
Ramban states that women may manually stimulate themselves because they do not become aroused as a result (!). If they would be aroused, it would be a problem not of destroying seed, but because they are causing themselves to have sexual thoughts. It would seem according to this, that for Ramban women would not be allowed to masturbate if it led to sexual thoughts.
רמב׳׳ן על נדה י׳׳ג א
אף על פי שאינן מצוות כאנשים ולא דינן ליקצץ מ”מ לא היתה יד המרבה לבדוק יותר מדאי משובחת לפי שהיא משחיתה ואין שבח בהשחתה אפילו לנשים, ועוד דהא מביאה עצמה לידי הרהור ואלו היתה בת הרגשה בת נדוי היא כדלקמן, ולפיכך הוצרכו בגמ’ לפרש דלאו בנות הרגשה נינהו
Ramban, Niddah 13a
Arguing against Rabbeinu Tam who states that women are not commanded regarding wasting seed because they are not commanded regarding procreation -] But even if they weren’t commanded in this regard like men, and their hand would not be deserving of being cut off, it would not make sense to say that if they check excessively they should be praised! For [if they did have “sensation” and this did cause their seed to emit,] she would be destroying her seed, and there would be nothing to praise for their destruction of seed, even for women! Moreover, through the checking she would be bringing herself to have sexual thoughts if she did ‘experience sensations,’ and she would be deserving of being put under the ban, as the Gemara states later (for someone who brings himself to have sexual thoughts). Therefore, the Gemara needed to explain that they do not, in fact, experience “sensation.”
The Talmud believed – as was widely believed at the time – that women emitted seed which combined with the semen to make a fetus. Nevertheless, it was not prohibited for them to stimulate themselves, either because the seed would not spill outside the body (Tosafot), or the stimulation would not lead to sexual excitement (Ramban).
Hippocrates, On the Generating Seed and the Nature of the Child 4-5
(4) In the case of women, it is my contention that when during intercourse the vagina is rubbed and the womb is disturbed, an irritation is set up in the womb which produces pleasure and heat in the rest of the body. A woman also releases something from her body, sometimes into the womb, which then becomes moist, and sometimes externally as well, if the womb is open wider than normal. Once intercourse has begun, she experiences pleasure throughout the whole time, until the man ejaculates. If her desire for intercourse is excited, she emits before the man, and for the remainder of the time she does not feel pleasure to the same extent; but if she is not in a state of excitement, then her pleasure terminates along with that of the man…. The pleasure experienced by the woman during intercourse is considerably less than the man’s, although it lasts longer. The reason that the man feels more pleasure is that the secretion from the bodily fluid in his case occurs suddenly, and as the result of a more violent disturbance than in the woman’s case.
Another point about women: if they have intercourse with men their health is better than if they do not…
(5) When a woman has intercourse, if she is not going to conceive, then it is her practice to expel the sperm produced by both partners whenever she wishes to do so. If however she is going to conceive, the sperm is not expelled, but remains in the womb. For when the womb has received the sperm it closes up and retains it, because the moisture causes the womb’s orifice to contract. Then both what is provided by the man and what is provided by the woman is mixed together. If the woman is experienced in matters of childbirth, and takes note when the sperm is retained, she will know the precise day on which she has conceived.
According to Rav Moshe, the only problem with sexual thoughts when there is no concern of spilling semen is if the thoughts are a concrete planning to do a sexual sin. For Rav Moshe, it would be permitted for a woman to masturbate and excite herself sexually, even to the point of orgasm, as long as everything remained in the realm of fantasy and not actual planning to sin.
אגרות משה אבן העזר א:סט
באיסורי הרהור מקרא דונשמרת וקרא דאחרי עיניכם ה’ מנ”א תשי”א…
והנה שני עניני איסור הרהור יש האחד מקרא דונשמרת מכ”ד רע בכתובות דף מ”ו שאיתא שם מכאן א”ר פינחס בן יאיר אל יהרהר אדם ביום ויבא לידי טומאה בלילה… משום שזה מביא לידי טומאת קרי שאסור להוציא לבטלה. והשני מקרא דאחרי עינכם דדריש בברכות דף י”ב זה הרהור עברה אינו מצד חששת הוצאת זרע לבטלה אלא הוא איסור מלהרהר לעשות העברה דזנות…
ולכן יש חלוק בנשים דבאיסור הרהור מקרא דונשמרת ליתנהו דאינו גורם להן שום דבר במשמוש עיי”ש בנדה וכ”ש שלא יגרום בהרהור ואף שלפעמים רואות דם מחמוד אין ראיית דם שום איסור.
אבל איסור הרהור מקרא דאחרי עיניכם שהוא שלא להרהר לעבור עברת זנות איכא גם בנשים כמו שאיכא איסור הרהור ע”ז כדאיתא בחינוך שהבאתי. אבל לאיסור זה אין לחוש בהסתכלות ובראיית בע”ח נזקקין שכל אלו דרשינן מונשמרת שהוא רק שלא לבא להוצאת זרע לבטלה שליתא זה בנשים.
ולחוש שמא תבאנה מזה להרהר לעשות איסורין להבעל לאסור לה לא מצינו ששייך לחוש לזה בהסתכלות וכדומה וכדאשכחן שהיו הנשים מותרות להסתכל בר’ יוחנן כשסלקו מטבילה.
אך יש איסור אחר בנשים מדין דת יהודית שלא להתנהג בפריצות בכתובות דף ע”ב אבל מצד זה הוא רק כשהיא עצמה עושה כך אבל כשדרך כל הנשים בעירה כן אין שייך להחשיב זה לפריצות ואין חלוק מה שנעשה דרך הנשים שבעיר היה משום פריצות דעכ”פ כיון שכן הוא דרך לבישתן והלוכן אין להחשיב זה למעשה פריצות ולאסור עליהן אלא מדרך חסידות לצניעות יתירא ותע”ב, ידידו, משה פיינשטיין
Iggrot Moshe, EH 1:69
Regarding the prohibition of sexual thoughts from the verse “and you shall guard yourself against every evil thing,” and the verse, “do not stray after your eyes,”, 5 Av 1951…
Behold, there are two prohibitions regarding sexual thoughts. One is based on the verse, “And you shall guard yourself against every evil thing,” – see Ketuvot 46 where it states, “From this verse, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair said: ‘A person should not have sexual thoughts in the day lest he come to impurity in the night’.”… This is prohibited because it leads to seminal emission, which cannot be done for naught. The second prohibition is based on the verse, “Do not stray after your eyes” – which is explained in Berakhot 12 – “this refers to thoughts of sin”. This prohibition is not based on the concern of wasting seed, but it is rather a prohibition to have thoughts to plan to do a sexual sin…
Therefore, there is a distinction regarding women, for when it comes to the prohibition of sexual thoughts based on the verse, “and you shall guard yourself” – they are not included. For their manual stimulation (of their genitals) does not cause them any (emission of seed, which is what this verse prohibits), see there in Niddah. All the more so that their sexual thoughts alone will not cause (any emission of seed), and although they at times see blood due to desire (see Niddah 66a), there is no prohibition in seeing blood.
But the prohibition of sexual thoughts that is based on the verse “do not stray after your eyes,” which is a prohibition against have thoughts to transgress a sexual prohibition – this would apply to women, just as there is a prohibition to have thoughts to transgress the prohibition of idolatry, as was stated in the Chinukh that I quoted. But there is no problem as far as this prohibition is concerned with looking (at things which are sexually stimulating) and with looking at animals who are coupling – for all of these are derived from the verse “guard yourself against every evil thing” – which prohibits only doing things which might lead to the wasting of seed, which is not a concern for women.
And we have no basis for being concerned that looking at such things will lead a person to have thoughts to actually transgress a prohibition and to have sex with someone who is forbidden to her. We have in fact found that women were permitted to look at Rabbi Yochanan when they left the mikveh (although this would lead them to be thinking of his good looks).
There is, however, another prohibition in regards to women on the basis of dat Yehudit, the norms of Jewish women, namely, to not act in a way of immodesty (Ketuvot 72). But from this perspective, it is only a problem if she alone acts this way, but if it is the way of all the women of her town to do this, then her behavior cannot be considered to be immodest. And it is immaterial if what has become the norm of women in the town is because of general immodesty, for regardless, since this has now become the norm of how they dress and comport themselves, this behavior cannot be considered to be immodest, and there is no basis to make this forbidden to them, save from the perspective of extra piety and extra modesty, and let such people be blessed
Notice the different concerns the Gemara has with male masturbation and how weightily some of the rabbis treat it.
גופא ר"א אומר כל האוחז באמה ומשתין כאילו מביא מבול לעולם אמרו לו לרבי אליעזר והלא נצוצות נתזין על רגליו ונראה ככרות שפכה ונמצא מוציא לעז על בניו שהן ממזרים אמר להן מוטב שיוציא לעז על בניו שהן ממזרים ואל יעשה עצמו רשע שעה אחת לפני המקום... וכל כך למה מפני שמוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה דא"ר יוחנן כל המוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה חייב מיתה שנאמר (בראשית לח, י) וירע בעיני ה' (את) אשר עשה וימת גם אותו רבי יצחק ורבי אמי אמרי כאילו שופך דמים שנאמר (ישעיהו נז, ה) הנחמים באלים תחת כל עץ רענן שוחטי הילדים בנחלים תחת סעיפי הסלעים אל תקרי שוחטי אלא סוחטי רב אסי אמר כאילו עובד עבודת כוכבים כתיב הכא תחת כל עץ רענן וכתיב התם (דברים יב, ב) על ההרים הרמים ותחת כל עץ רענן
[Reverting to] the main text: ‘R. Eliezer said, Whoever holds his penis when he urinates it is as though he had brought a flood on the world’. But, they said to R. Eliezer, would not the spray splatter on his feet and he would appear to have an injury in his penis, so that he would be the cause of casting aspersions upon his children that they are bastards (could not have been his)?
He said to them, “It is preferable that a man should be the cause of casting aspersion upon his children that they are illegitimate than that he should make himself a wicked man, even for a moment, before the Omnipresent…”
But why all these precautions? — Because otherwise one might emit semen in vain, and R. Yochanan stated: Whosoever emits semen in vain deserves death, for it is said in Scripture: “And the thing which he (Onan) did was evil in the sight of the Lord, and He slew him also.” (Gen. 38:10)
R. Isaac and R. Ammi said. He is as though he shed blood, for it is said in Scripture: “You that inflame yourselves among the terebinths, under every leafy tree, that slay the children in the valleys under the clefts of the rocks” (Isa. 57:5) read not ‘that slay’ but ‘that squeeze out’.
R. Assi said: He is like one who worships idols; for here it is written, ‘Under every leafy tree’ and elsewhere it is written: “Upon the high mountains . . . and under every leafy tree.” (Deut. 12:12)…
Here the concern about causing an erection focuses on sexual thoughts, not on wasting of seed. Notice that the concern for sexual thoughts does not seem to be that it is inherently bad, just that it may lead to a person acting on them (as per Rav Moshe, above). Is it possible that Rebbe Ami is saying something more – that it is always a bad idea to indulge in one’s desires, even if it will not immediately lead to anything bad?
Rav stated: ‘A man who wilfully causes an erection should be placed under the ban’. But why did he not say, ‘This is forbidden’? Because the man merely incites his evil inclination against himself.
R. Ammi, however, stated: He is called a transgressor, because such is the art of the evil inclination: To-day it incites man to do one wrong thing, and to-morrow it incites him to worship idols and he proceeds to worship them.
There are others who read: R. Ammi stated, He who excites himself by lustful thoughts will not be allowed to enter the division of the Holy One, blessed be He. For here it is written, Was evil in the sight of the Lord, and elsewhere it is written, For Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; evil shall not sojourn with Thee. (Ps. 5:5).
R. Eleazar stated: Who are referred to in the Scriptural text, “Your hands are full of blood?” (Isa. 1:15) Those that commit masturbation with their hands. It was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:13) implies, Thou shalt not practice masturbation (lit., adultery) either with hand or with foot.
Q & A – Talking Dirty
ותנא דידן מאי טעמא לא קתני לילי לישנא מעליא הוא דנקט וכדרבי יהושע בן לוי דאמר רבי יהושע בן לוי לעולם אל יוציא אדם דבר מגונה מפיו שהרי עקם הכתוב שמונה אותיות ולא הוציא דבר מגונה מפיו שנאמר מן הבהמה הטהורה ומן הבהמה אשר איננה טהרה רב פפא אמר תשע שנאמר כי יהיה בך איש אשר לא יהיה טהור מקרה לילה...תניא דבי רבי ישמעאל לעולם יספר אדם בלשון נקיה שהרי בזב קראו מרכב ובאשה קראו מושב ואומר ותבחר לשון ערומים ואומר ודעת שפתי ברור מללו מאי ואומר וכי תימא הני מילי בדאורייתא אבל בדרבנן לא תא שמע ואומר ותבחר לשון ערומים וכי תימא הני מילי בדרבנן אבל במילי דעלמא לא ואומר ודעת שפתי ברור מללו
For R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: one should not utter a gross expression with his mouth, for behold the Torah employs a circumlocution of eight letters rather than utter a gross expression. For it is said, “of every clean beast . . . and of the beasts that are not clean.” (rather than saying “unclean”). R. Papa said: Nine [extra letters], for it is said, “If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of that which chances by night.” (rather than saying “unclean”)…
The School of R. Ishmael taught: one should always discourse in decent language, for behold the case of a zav it is called riding, while in connection with a woman it is called sitting (such as to suggest her riding side-saddle); and it is said, “And thou shalt choose the tongue of the subtle;” and it is said, “And that which my lips know they shall speak purely.”
Why [quote] the additional verses? [For] should you object, that is only in the case of Scripture, but not in the case of Rabbinical [discussions], then come and hear, and it is said ”And thou shalt choose the tongue of the subtle.” Yet should you [still] object, that that is only in reference to Rabbinical [discussions] but not everyday matters, then come and hear, and it is said, “And that which my lips know they shall speak purely.”
With regard to copulation, I need not add anything to what I have said in my Commentary on Avot (i. 17) about the aversion in which it is held by what occurs in our wise and pure Law, and the prohibition against mentioning it or against making it in any way or for any reason a subject of conversation.…
You know the severe prohibition that obtains among us against obscene language. This is also necessary. For speaking with the tongue is one of the properties of a human being and a benefit that is granted to him and by which he is distinguished. As it says: Who hath made man’s mouth? (Ex. 4:11). And the prophet says: The Lord God hath given me the tongue of them that are taught. (Isa. 50:4). Now this benefit granted us with a view to perfection in order that we learn and teach should not be used with a view to the greatest deficiency and utter disgrace, so that one says what the ignorant and sinful Gentiles say in their songs and their stories, suitable for them but not for those to whom it has been said: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6). And whoever has applied his thought or his speech to some of the stories concerning that sense which is a disgrace to us, so that he thought more about drink and copulation than is needful or recited songs about these matters, he has made use of the benefit granted to him, applying and utilizing it to commit an act of disobedience with regard to Him who has granted the benefit and transgress His orders…
I can also give the reason why this our language is called the Holy Language. It should not be thought that this is, on our part, an empty appellation or a mistake; in fact it is indicative of true reality. For in this holy language no word at all has been laid down in order to designate either the male or the female organ of copulation, nor are there words designating the act itself that brings about generation, the sperm, the urine, or the excrements. No word at all designating, according to its first meaning, any of these things has been laid down in the Hebrew language, they being signified by terms used in a figurative sense and by allusions. It was intended thereby to indicate that these things ought not be mentioned and consequently that no terms designating them should be coined. For these are things about which one ought to be silent; however, when necessity impels mentioning them, a device should be found to do it by means of expressions deriving from other words, just as the most diligent endeavor should be made to be hidden when necessity impels doing these things.
The male organ they have called gid [sinew], which is used because of the likeness; for they have said: And thy neck is an iron sinew (Isa. 48:4). They have also called it shaphkha [instrument for pouring out], because of its function.
The female organ has been called qebatha [her stomach], qeba being the term designating the stomach. As for rehem [vulva] it is the term designating the part of the inner organs in which the fetus is formed.
The term designating excrements is tso’a, deriving from yatso [to go out]. The term designating urine is meimei regalim [waters of the feet].
The term designating sperm is shikhbath zera [layer of seed]. The act itself that brings about generation has no name at all, the following expressions signifying it: yishkab [he lies], yib’al [he marries], yiqach [he takes], yegalleh ervah [he uncovers the nakedness], and no others. The verb yishgal should not lead you into error so that you think that it s the term designating this action, for shegal is merely the term designating a female slave prepared for copulation… And its saying, yishgalenah (Deut 28:30), in the text that is written, means he shall take her as a slave girl for this purpose.