Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Homosexuality and Masteurbation -- a continuation of the Brokeback Mountain conversation.

[The post on Brokeback Mountain has created such a response that I felt that it was important to respond to everyone's comments here.]

I do want to stress that because Torah forbids male homosexual relations, a practicing homosexual damages his own Jewish soul and the Jewish soul of his male partner. However, according to all opinions, he is still a Jew and must be respected as one.

I commend any homosexual Jew that continues to practice Judaism and observe the Mitzvot (commandments) in spite of his "genetic" [in my opinion, "preferential"] disposition in that he is attracted to men instead of women. However, this is not the end-all-be-all of his Jewishness.

There are many of us who have difficulties with various halachot (for example, I have difficulty davening and putting on tefillin in the mornings -- among other things, this is my struggle). Let's get a bit more personal and bring up the masteurbation topic, since it is on the topic of sexuality. Masteurbation is a very bad bad bad thing to do. Torah forbids it. However, G-d gave me a very strong sexual drive and so I am tempted by my natural desire to masteurbate.

However, I don't throw my hands up in the air and give up the fight and call myself a masteurbator, nor do I seek to justify myself in my activities and convince society that it is okay to be a wanker. Every day is a struggle. Most days I win the struggle, but sometimes I lose and I give in to the desire. This doesn't make it right or moral and because I have been "genetically" given this desire DOES NOT MAKE IT OKAY for me to act upon it.

Masteurbation and even moreso, sleeping around (see Tanya, Chapter 7) are grave sins that cause a lot of impurity to come to the world. The Torah prohibits sexual immorality in the form of pre-marital sex, masteurbation, adultry, incest, and homosexuality, among other sexual immoral practices. Homosexuals, you are not alone -- all of these activities are forbidden.

Consequently, because they carry so much unholiness, Chassidus will teach you that they also become an unbearable desire for most of us. Sex has its source in holiness -- "be fruitful and multiply" -- and as such, it gets twisted by the non-Godly forces into unholy desires that we experience every day. This is true also with animal sacrifices. Sacrificing an animal to G-d [when done in the Beis Hamigdash and in the proper time and in the proper way] is one of the holiest acts a Jew can take part in. However, have you ever noticed what the most demonic black magic cults do as their ultimate unholy activity? Animal sacrifices.

I kid you not, in our world we're tempted by the lowest, dirtiest, and most unholy activities that do the most damage to our physical, psychological, and spiritual bodies. Masteurbation, adultry, and consequently homosexuality are no different.

Let's be straight [no pun] with what we are dealing with. Sexual impropriety (adultry, masteurbation, homosexuality, incest, and pre-marital sex is a taiva (a desire) -- Godly endowed upon us through either our genetics or through our choices -- upon which we can act upon these desires or we can choose to abstain from them, even momentarily.

Sometimes the desire can become unbearable, and I understand this. However, do what you must, but don't make excuses why it is okay to engage in these activities. They are forbidden, end of story. However, we do what we can, and nobody is free of sin. We each will have to answer for our actions, and this applies to both homosexuals and heterosexuals. We are Jews, and are commanded to be sexually moral. These rules have been laid out for us by the Torah.

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kasamba said...

I admire you for taking the high road!

Rabbi Akiva Tatz says that one of the reasons for not, 'wasting seed' (cough!) is because of the loss of potential that the seed contains.

Robbie said...

On the topic of masturbation -

Here we're shown the lack of knowlegdge on the Rabbis of the past - the thought that one's semen was not infinite and could not be reproduced at nearly a moment's notice played a huge part in the ban on masturbation. Today, though, we know that's not true, and that masturbation is a normal, healthy thing to do.

Toraically, I'm sure you'll point to Onan, who, as we're told, "spilled his seed." Many sources will say that Onan's sin wasn't spilling his seed, rather, his sin was disobeying God, when God told Onan to impregnate his sister-in-law Tamar.


And in passing, I have a hard time equating putting on tefillin with sexual practice (unless of course you're referring to leather and s&m).


I also have a very hard time with your comparison of a committed homosexual relationship to adultery and incest.


Let the arguments begin.

Ger Tzadik said...

Not to take it off in too much of a tangent, but candle wax, leather and electrodes are prohibited? Explicitly? Really? That seems like another over-arching sexual mores prohibition...anything that is not 'normal' is therefore prohibited. I'd love to see the sources on that one.

Robbie said...

I'm not sure there are any sources... I think it's an over-arching prohibition of anything that seems remotely off-kilter to anyone who's frummer-than-thou.

Zoe Strickman said...

Ger Tzadik,
I give you that one. I took the analogy too far with the point that any activity that is meant for the pleasure of the activity and not for the mitzvah for which it contains is not prohibited but is missing the point. If I can get to a computer later, maybe I'll change the post and take that out. -Zoe

Stacey said...

a practicing homosexual damages his own Jewish soul and the Jewish soul of his male partner.

I completely disagree with this, just as I disagree with the prohibition against masturbation.

StepIma said...

I think you need to be very careful making an argument that is so lopsided...

to say that just because you masturbate from time to time, even though you know it is forbidden, doesn't mean you call yourself a "masturbator" -- doesn't mean that you aren't a masturbator. It just means you're not choosing to use the term. That's fine. But then using that argument, there's only one parallel you can draw directly to homosexuality. Which is that just because someone has a sexual attraction for, or sexual activity with members of the same sex, it doesn't mean they have to call themselves a "homosexual." That you're not defined by the activities that the Torah lists as forbidden and which you therefore should repress. At least it sounds like that's your literal argument.

The problem is (well, the problem with that argument ;) , homosexuals also masturbate. So do women, gay and straight, who have no issue (pardon the pun) (bwahahahaa) with spilling seed. (Interesting aside - Dorothy Parker had a parakeet she named Onan, because it spilled its seed on the ground :). Meanwhile, there are now countless studies showing that homosexuality is genetic. Putting aside the issue of their actions - which I understand is your point, that they should put aside their actions despite their desires - it still defines them. A homosexual man who never has sex with another man could still always define himself as gay.

For you to then say, well, I'm not a masturbator, but I sometimes masturbate because I'm only human, but I'm working on it -- whereas you are a homosexual, who should not call himself a homosexual because that's glorifying the sin, and you should NEVER slip up... is disingenuous. Especially in light of the fact that many gay couples - particularly in the era of AIDS - choose to live their sexual lives limiting themselves to activities such as (please pardon me for being frank -- HIGHLY non-tznius moment approaching: ) mutual masturbation.

I also really disagree with your inclusion of sex with animals on the list. I think it has no place on the list of human sexual desires that normal people struggle with, and a horrifying insult to your specific target.

Zoe Strickman said...

First of all, brilliantly funny comments. You had me laughing.

Second, the value is not attaching a name to the activity (i.e. a masteurbator identifying himself (or herself) as a wanker, or a gay person calling himself a homosexual), rather, the focus is on the activity and acknowledging the truth of whether the activity is permissible or not according to Torah.

Let's go so far away from Masteurbation topic for a second and go to the law of Kol Isha, where a man is not permitted to listen to a woman singing. We know that there is a huge amount of controversy about this law, yet so many people openly break it.

My problem is a congruency problem. When I go to a broadway show (and I haven't gone in many years but that is not to say that I wouldn't go in the future) and I listen to a woman sing, I wouldn't deny that I was breaking halacha.

That's the point with masteurbation, with homosexuality, and with any other halacha. Assuming that Torah and halacha (including Oral Law and Rabbinic Law) is G-dly and is 100% TRUE (Stacey and Robbie, I know you take issue with this point, but this is the premise where as a religious Jew I am coming from), one cannot deny the veracity of ALL the laws.

People have a tendency to rationalize their forbidden activities and to make it okay in their minds so that they don't feel bad about engaging in those activities. [And avoiding feeling bad is not the only reason people rationalize.]

My point is that IT IS MY OPINION that rationalizing is not the proper way according to Torah to view the activities. Rather, I believe that if one is breaking a law, he or she should know what he is doing is forbidden. Whether he (or she) still engages in those activities then become one's own choice based on one's free will and he or she does so at his own risk knowing that there may be consequences (spiritual) for his actions.

Lastly, I feel that it is important that one NOT put a judgment on others for their breaking of the laws. Everyone has their own difficulties and tries their best to deal with the desires they are given. I cannot judge a homosexual because I am not one and I cannot understand the kind of attraction they feel for their own gender. However, homosexuality is only one of many commandments, and like some of my readers who have my respect, breaking one law should not cause others to see them as an abomination or as any less of a Jew.

My advice for those who do have certain laws which they feel that they *can't* keep is to do their best to follow the law and if they cannot, to move past it and to focus on the mitzvahs they *CAN* keep.

Ahuva said...


I don't think female masturbation falls into the category of "wasting seed." If I remember that section of Torah correctly, it also doesn't prohibit female homosexual activity. (The rabbis did that later.)

I don't find the "loss of potential" argument very convincing. If that's the case (please forgive the crudity), why don't we marry off all our girls at 12 so that they don't have that... ummm.. "loss of potential" every month.

The prohibition against wasting seed baffles me, but then there are many things in the Torah that are difficult to understand. I've always been told that part of the point is that not everything can be logically understood.

kasamba said...

Ahuva; What is meant by the 'loss of potential' is that man by gender carry potential, while women take that potential and turn it into reality.
Therefore, without the mans seed, womens menstrual cycle presents no loss at all.

Robbie said...

To point out two things:

On Zoe's side, the same word, toevah, is used to describe someone who does not keep kosher as well as a man who engages in anal sex.

Also, let's be clear, like it or not, the only thing the Torah forbids is male-male anal penetration. The phrase used is "mishkeveh zachar," based on "mishkeve ishah," or "lyings of a woman" or, in simpler terms, vaginal penetration.

On the surface level, what's really being forbidden is vaginal penetration of a male by a male. Being that men don't have vaginas, it's taken to mean the closest version of penetration, anal.

So I can understand when you say that a homosexual should avoid anal sex. It makes sense, in a black and white world.

Unfortunately, we live with all kinds of colors, a rainbow, if you will, and black and white really has no place (except in chasidic clothing, perhaps).

There are greater issues here; mainly the response to homosexuality in general from the orthodox community, the expectation of celibacy in all forms, and the prohibition of love and companionship.

Robbie said...

And if you are going to forbid a man to find true love and express it physically, then at least you have to let him take matters into his own hands, as it were.

Ahuva said...

So sperm is potential life but eggs are not. :) That makes a lot of sense!

The Laws don't have to be logical (red heifer anyone?), but shouldn't our explanations keep pace with what we understand to be the facts?

Ba'alat Teshuva said...

You might have more luck with Technorati if you spell "masturbate" and "masturbator" correctly.

kasamba said...

Ahuva; Think of the sperm as the match and the egg as the wick.
Matches carry potential for fire and are dangerous, wicks on the other hand carry no danger and cannot ignite themselves.

The egg is more of the recepticle and takes the possiblity that the sperm has to offer allowing it to form into a life.

Robbie said...

The egg is more of the recepticle

So women are really not needed for procreation, except for laying there and letting the men do all the work - since they have no potential and can't do anything until that happens.

It all makes sense now.

Robbie said...

the laws don't have to be logical

And you've summed up right there why so many people turn away from Judaism.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The way i see it is that Judaism (read: 'God', if you're traditional like me) has an obsession with Life and Death and adequately separating the two. All our purity taboos are tied in to this idea, that Life and Death must be kept distinct ((no zombies!!!)).

So the waste of potential is a blurring of the boundaries. When women menstruate, it's an involuntary natural process; same with men's nocturnal emmissions — which is fine, but they still make the one losing the gamete tamei' (taboo, impure).

So to voluntarily take that 'spark' of reproduction and waste it (not in the 'there's a finite amount' sense, but in the 'not using purposely' sense) is an affront to the system.

And Robbie is so right about Onan; it wasn't the act itself (although, see above, the act itself is negative), it was the fact that he was reneging on his yibum responsibilities at the last (literal) second.

willendorf said...

Sigh. So many questions.

1. Why are straight people so obsessed with what gay people do, or don't do? Leave us alone already. This preoccupation is icky.

2. Why do so many people who have not seen "Brokeback Mountain" feel compelled to comment on it?

3. Not really a question, more of an observation: this conversation is always about men, men, men. I suppose no one cares what women do because we are so unimportant anyway, what with our being primarily vessels and all.

4. Why do people who are able to find love want to deny that opportunity to others? Does my happiness really hurt you that much?

5. When are people going to get it that gay identity is about love?

Ba'alat Teshuva said...

Willendorf--Most of your arguments don't hold water, set up straw men (or women, don't want to be accused of being sexist), or are outright red herrings:
(1) In the context of Judaism, we are supposed to "watch out for eachother" and if someone believes that their fellow Jew is committing a sin, then they have an obligation to try and help them not commit that sin anymore. This goes for male-male anal sex and for driving on Shabbat. It's not an obsession for this one act, it's an obsession about all acts that a Jew might consider sinful.

(2) I don't think anyone on this blog has commented on Brokeback Mountain without seeing it? It was used as a jumping off point to discuss homosexuality within the context of observant Judaism, but that really isn't commenting on the movie...

(3) It's always about men because the Torah doesn't specifically prohibit two females from having sex with eachother.

(4) See the answer to number one. This comment is a red herring.

(5) It doesn't matter that a "gay identity is about love" the Torah says that male-male anal sex is a sin. It is not against the Torah to love someone of the same sex, it is against the Torah for two men to have anal sex.

willendorf said...

BT: If all Jews agreed with you that male-male anal sex is the beginning and end of what's forbidden, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. If that's the case, why aren't gay and lesbian couples welcome in Orthodox communities? Give all the gay men the benefit of the doubt and assume they're not having anal sex. It's none of your business anyway. There shouldn't be any problem at all with lesbians.

I agree with you that it's not against the Torah to love someone of the same sex -- but that's not how people behave. Look at the suffering of the people in the film "Trembling Before G-d." That's not about anal sex. That's about not being able to remain part of your Jewish community and have an open relationship with the person you love.

Drew_Kaplan said...

I thought those involved in this conversation would be assisted with the following information:
-The rabbis do not consider any problem with female masturbation.
-The prohibition against masturbation is mentioned nowhere in either the Five Books of Moses, nor in the rest of תנ"ך (Scripture). Rather, it would seem that Rabbi Yishmael's academy heremeneutically derived it from the prohibition of adultery (Nid. 13b), though that read is peculiar. Alternatively, it could have begun with Rabbi Yohanan's idea of wasting seed, bringing me to the next point
-Rabbi Yohanan suggested that from his close reading of the text in Gen. 38.7-10 that the wrong that Onan had committed was wasting his seed (Niddah 13a).
-While the author of Genesis is really showing that Onan went against his father, Yehudah's order to him to raise up seed for his dead brother, but, as Onan was selfish in this regard, he did not. Furthermore, what was agregious about his action is that the context of the chapter is the building of the house of Yehudah, whereas what he was doing was preventing it from continuing. As such, he was evil in God's eyes.

Hope this helps. :)

XVI (R) - NY said...

I think a major issue in the battle for gay rights in Judaismn, and in law similarly, is that it is termed a "lifestyle choice." This seems to me to create a major distinction between gays and straights. If you are gay you are leading an alternate lifestyle, whereas if you masturbate fifty times a day until you bleed, your still just a regular guy that likes to jerk it a lot. The discussion cant be had that holds these two things in similar regard, until the issurim can be delineated and even quantitized.

As for the egg being a receptacle... Sounds like an easy way out. Technically it is just as much a haploid cell as the sperm is and lends its 50% of the genetic material to the forming zygote. Moreover, spermcells are in an abundance, squirming out a million at a time (pardon the visual), while the eggs are numbered from birth and thus severely limited. A healthy guy could conceivably sire a child at an exceptionally old age, providing the right conditions, while a post-menopausal woman has a better chance of being impregnated by being struck by three consecutive bolts of lightning.

Just for the sake of argument of course :)

kasamba said...

Oh come on!!!!
nobody is acvtually getting it;
About the egg and sperm- it all comes down to gender roles as discussed in the Zohar.
Man has infinite possibilities- sperm
Woman takes that possiblity and makes it finite- egg
We are talking spirituality here, not science and genetic material.
(Tumah and Taharah cannot be measured by physical terms, ie. you can't wash off Tumah.)

Ahuva said...

Some of us aren't familiar with the Zohar. :) Care to define Tumah and Taharah?

kasamba said...

Sorry about that!
Tumah is literally an 'impure' state whereas Tahara is a spiritualy 'pure' viable state.
Actually, in the place where Tahara (purity) resided, the absence creates a form of Tumah (impurity). That's why a woman is rendered tumah after her menstruation. Pregnancy is the holiest state a person can be in , as it is the closest that a human can be to G-d in the sense that the woman is also 'creating' a life. The loss of this possiblitly renders her tumah, until she is cleansed by the mikvah (spiritual waters).

Ahuva said...

Thanks for the information! You know... it amazes (disturbs?) me that orthodoxy always seems to graduate towards wording that can be interpreted as offensive. Take what you said..

"Man has infinite possibilities- sperm
Woman takes that possiblity and makes it finite"

My first reaction on hearing that was.. Okay, so women are LIMITING the infinite potential of men (sperm). That's a really unpleasant thought.

Now if you had said something to the effect of "Sperm represent infinite possibility. The woman takes that possibility and actualizes it-- makes it a reality", then my secular feminist streak would have been all glowy and happy with womanly pride.

I THINK the two mean the same thing (please correct me if I'm wrong).

I'm still struggling with the whole "impurity" concept. I've been told that being a niddah is not a bad thing. It's not a time of mourning. But maybe this that is more an issue for than frumpter.

kasamba said...

We have so much to talk about!!!!!
Your words were much better than mine! That is EXACTLY what it means!
Jewish mysticism is really very pro feministic.
Would you like to continue this conversation on my blog? every time I log into this one, my kids jump from the volume of the song frumpter plays and by the time I turn it off, they're all crowded around the computer!

Ahuva said...

That sounds like fun. I've put your blog on my list of blogs to visit.