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")?

  • 4
    It's polemic.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
    – Double AA
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 3:40
  • 2
    @DoubleAA, did the rabbis also explain why something really really really bad was not stated clearly in the Torah?
    – Baruch
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 3:53
  • 3
    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
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 3:56
  • 1
    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
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 4:01
  • 2
    @sam What is your point in the Rambam?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 14:09

5 Answers 5


The Semak, in his list of the 613 Commandments, counts male masturbation as a Biblical prohibition in Negative Command #292.


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)


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).

  • 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
    Commented May 3, 2012 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
    Commented May 6, 2012 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
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 23:52
  • 2
    @Yishai The literal interpretation of that gemara (א"ר יוחנן כל המוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה חייב מיתה) is not the only one. The gemara may have used "death penalty" non-literally to express the severity of the sin (along the lines of this answer).
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 3:00
  • 1
    @Yishai What is your source? In MT there is no punishment at all associated with it. Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 12:46

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.


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.").

  • 3
    I'm not following how this answers the question.
    – jake
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 6:04
  • 6
    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
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 17:27
  • 2
    @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
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 20:20
  • 5
    @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
    Commented May 2, 2012 at 22:21
  • 3
    How is quoting Rashi "stick(ing) to Kra"?
    – Seth J
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 16:23

Arizal in his Sefer on Chumash Shaar Hapesukim understands the verse "ke ger yehiyeh zaraacha", as saying that the reason for exile of the children of Abraham is because of wasted zera. It also does say that God killed the children of Yehudah because they wasted on the ground. Also says that the Generation of the flood were destroyed because they wasted their seed on the ground

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .