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If masturbation is, as stated in the Shulchan Oruch (Even HaEzer 23:1), "the worst sin in the Torah", then why is it not listed in any of the various lists of 613 Mitzvos and why is there no verse in the Torah that mentions it directly ("Do not masturbate")?

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It's polemic.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ –  Double AA May 2 '12 at 3:40
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@DoubleAA, did the rabbis also explain why something really really really bad was not stated clearly in the Torah? –  Baruch May 2 '12 at 3:53
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Baruch, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for bringing your question here! Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  Isaac Moses May 2 '12 at 3:56
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But I don't want to get all tied up here in the comments. I'm sure someone soon will come along with a well done answer. –  Double AA May 2 '12 at 4:01
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@sam What is your point in the Rambam? –  Double AA May 2 '12 at 14:09

4 Answers 4

Although I think he is a Da'at Yachid, the Semag, in his list of the 613 Commandments, counts male masturbation as a Biblical prohibition in Negative Command #126.

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Whether or not the prohibition is biblical or merely rabbinic is debated amongst the Rishonim, IIRC. The "so terrible" association that OP mentioned has its origins in kabbalistic literature, somehow identifying hotza'at zera as particularly "soul-diminishing", which later influenced the halachists, such as Shulchan Aruch, apparently. –  jake May 2 '12 at 4:26
    
@jake I'm not so sure you're right. See the Rambam IB 21:18 –  Double AA May 2 '12 at 5:05
    
Does the Semag really count it as biblical? It seems he lists lots of things under the general prohibition of arayos there in #126, but it doesn't seem like he means that all of them are actually Biblical -- isn't he is just listing related mitzvos d'rabanan? –  Curiouser May 2 '12 at 5:21
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@Curiouser And I quote: ודרשה גמורה היא ולא אסמכתא –  Double AA May 2 '12 at 5:25
    
@DoubleAA, What are you referring to exactly? Rambam there is merely quoting the gemara. There is no mention there of soul deterioration or being worse than all the issurei arayos in the Torah (as the Zohar supposedly claims) let alone "the worst sin in the Torah". –  jake May 2 '12 at 6:01

Chazal would emphasize through exaggeration (דברו חכמים לשון הבאי). (Tamid 29a) One of the examples given there is that the Mishna says that they let the animal for the tamid sacrifice drink from a gold cup (so that it would be hydrated and the carcass would be easier to manipulate). In reality, Rava argues, a copper cup was used and the Mishna was merely expressing the service in terms of magnificence. Another example of Chazal using לשון הבאי can be found in the Teshuvos HaGeonim (Musafia, 26).

Chazal would frequently employ a similar device when denouncing certain bad behavior, for example:

ארבעה דברים שהן נפרעין מן האדם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא ואלו הן ע"ז גילוי עריות ש"ד ולשון הרע כנגד כולן (Yeushalmi, Peah 4a)

and

אמר רבי יוחנן משום ר' שמעון בן יוחי נוח לו לאדם שיפיל עצמו לתוך כבשן האש ואל ילבין פני חבירו ברבים (Sotah 10b)

The following Rambam (Commentary to Sanhedrin 7:4) might be interpreted as saying that similar exhortations found in tractate Niddah (13a,b) can be similarly understood:

‎וכבר הזהירו חכמים מאד על ההרהור והרחיקו מגורמיו, והאריכו לירא ולהפחיד מקשה עצמו לדעת, ומוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה, וביארו שכל זה אסור, אבל לא חייבו מלקות בשום דבר מסוג זה.

Likewise, the Beis Shmuel (Even HaEzer, 23:1) is of the opinion that statement of the Shulchan Aruch cited above in the original post is not meant literally.

Some opinions hold that this is a Biblical prohibition, though there is disagreement as to the primary Biblical source of the prohibition (possible candidates include bal tashchis, v'nishmarta mikol davar ra, and others). (For example: Based on the severity of Talmudic and rabbinic statements on this topic, as well as on the Biblical source discussed by Tosafos [Avoda Zara 20b], Rabbi Moshe Feinstein holds that it must be an outright Biblical prohibition). The Tzitz Eliezer cites other opinions that variously maintain that the prohibition either is or may be Rabbinic with Biblical allusions (asmachta b'alma).

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Can you please cite an example of an opinion who holds it is a Biblical prohibition? –  Double AA May 3 '12 at 2:59
    
Tosafos on Avoda Zara 20b, s.v. "Shelo y'harheir" presupposes such an outright Biblical prohibition. –  Fred May 3 '12 at 3:30
    
Pri Megadim (OC 3) concludes that we hold it is a Biblical prohibition. See also Nida (13a), Ramban (ibid 13b), and Tosfos in Sanhedrin (59b). –  Barry May 3 '12 at 17:32
    
@Barry, the Pri Megadim concludes that the Taz holds that it is Biblical; that would explain why the Taz holds safeik l'chumra in the case given there. In support of this, the Pri Megadim cites the Bach, who explicitly takes that position and writes that it is an issur d'oraysa derived from v'nishmarta. The Pri Megadim himself, however, holds that the prohibition derived from this verse (hirhur) is Rabbinic [and presumably that the verse is an asmachta b'alma] (ibid., OC, P'sicha Kolleles 5:34). It is possible that he also holds that שכבת זרע לבטלה is a Rabbinic prohibition. –  Fred May 6 '12 at 23:47
    
Regarding the Pri Megadim's position mentioned in the second half of my previous comment, I should add that he presents this idea as a "yeish lomar," so one might infer that he does not definitively dismiss the Biblical status of the prohibition. –  Fred Sep 16 '12 at 23:52

Your first question, "why is it not one of the 613 mitzvos", assumes that all important commandments are part of the 613. This is not the case. The Behag, for example, does not list belief in God as one of the 613, and Ramban explains because this is a foundational commandment, therefore it is not listed. Similarly, the obligation to develop one's character is a foundational commandment, and therefore is not included (per R. Chaim Vital). There are other commandments which are not listed in the 613 for different reasons.

Additionally, according to Rabbi Jacob Tam, this prohibition is included in the mitzva of procreation, thus it is part of the 613. And Smag counts it as an explicit commandment in his list, as other responders have noted.

Your second question, "why is there not an explicit verse", again is based on the premise that all important commandments are explicitly stated. Again, this is not so. There are indisputably important commandments which are not explicit, for example the annulment of vows, the sacrifice offering of a convert, the prohibition of bypassing one mitzva for another, seclusion with a forbidden woman, and many others.

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Re first paragraph: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/13872/… –  jake May 3 '12 at 17:33

I will stick to the Kra. I think it mentioned implicitly in the Torah:

Last Shabbat we read in the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim:

דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם - קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני ד' אלקיכם

("Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them: Ye shall be holy; for I HaShem your G-d am holy").

Rashi Mefaresh this as:

הוו פרושים מן העריות ומן העבירה, שכל מקום שאתה מוצא גדר ערוה אתה מוצא קדושה

That is to one can reach Kedusha by refraining himself from the Arayot. Clearly, if a man MeKadesh himself by refraining from excessive intercourse habits he should Kadesh himself by refraining from masturbation.

That being said, we are shown how the Torah relates to masturbation in general: BeReshit 38, 9:

וידע אונן כי לא לו יהיה הזרע והיה אם בא אל אשת אחיו ושחת ארצה לבלתי נתן זרע לאחיו. וירע בעיני ד' אשר עשה וימת גם אותו

("And Onan knew that the seed would not be his; and it came to pass when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did was evil in the sight of HaShem; and He slew him also.").

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I'm not following how this answers the question. –  jake May 2 '12 at 6:04
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Forgive my boldness, since I'm not Jewish, but isn't Onan's true sin the fact that he refused to give his seed to his brother? By not completing the act with his brother's widow, he was not allowing his late brother to have an heir (which would've cut into his own share of his inheritance) and isn't that the sin and not necessarily coitus interruptus or masturbation? –  DataGirl May 2 '12 at 17:27
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@DataGirl - excellent question. I suspect there is a tradition saying that Onan's sin was specifically "spilling his seed," but I agree with you that the plain meaning of the text is that he refused to fulfill his Leverite obligation. –  Shemmy May 2 '12 at 20:20
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@DataGirl: the Talmud (Yevamos 34b) points out that the Torah's phrasing indicates that Er and Onan were both guilty of the same offense. Since in Er's case there was no levirate obligation that he was evading, then that leaves "wasting his seed" as the only possible sin. –  Alex May 2 '12 at 22:21
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How is quoting Rashi "stick(ing) to Kra"? –  Seth J May 3 '12 at 16:23

protected by Isaac Moses May 25 '12 at 11:18

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