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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

The “Can We Really Do THAT?” Episode Part 2- Joy of Text 3:1

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on March 6, 2018)
Topics: Source Sheets, Sex & Niddah

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Which sexual acts are permitted in a marriage? The answers might surprise you! Find out why co-host Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus calls this one of “the most important episodes” of the podcast. Plus we interview the creator of the hit YouTube series SOON BY YOU, Leah Gottfried, about the challenges of dating as an Orthodox Jew, and we introduce a new take on the Final Word.

These sources are Part 1 to accompany the first episode of the third season of the Joy of Text.

To view the sources for Part 1- From Husband to Wife, click here.

Part 2 – From Wife to Husband

Overturning the Tables

We have already seen the passage in Nedarim where Rabbi Yochanan rules that all acts of marital sex are permitted between husband and wife {source 1}. Rabbi Yochanan makes the analogy that this is just like how people enjoy eating meat or fish in all different ways. The message is clear: There is nothing inherently wrong with this sex act or that one. People just have different tastes and no value judgment should be assigned to that. If a person finds a certain sex act repulsive, it is no different than finding someone’s eating choices repulsive. The reaction might be visceral, but at the end of the day, this is an emotional reaction about one’s tastes and preferences, and should not be taken as evidence about the rightness or wrongness of the action.

1. Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 20a-b – selection 1

אמר רבי יוחנן בן דהבאי, ד’ דברים סחו לי מלאכי השרת: חיגרין מפני מה הויין? מפני שהופכים את שולחנם, אילמים מפני מה הויין? מפני שמנשקים על אותו מקום, חרשים מפני מה הויין? מפני שמספרים בשעת תשמיש, סומין מפני מה הויין? מפני שמסתכלים באותו מקום.

א”ר יוחנן: זו דברי יוחנן בן דהבאי, אבל אמרו חכמים! אין הלכה כיוחנן בן דהבאי, אלא כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו עושה; משל לבשר הבא מבית הטבח, רצה לאכלו במלח – אוכלו, צלי – אוכלו, מבושל – אוכלו, שלוק – אוכלו; וכן דג הבא מבית הצייד.

R. Yochanan b. Dahavai said: The Ministering Angels told me four things: People are born lame because they [sc. their parents] overturned their table [i.e., practiced unnatural cohabitation]; mute, because they kiss ‘that place’; deaf, because they converse during cohabitation; blind, because they look at ‘that place’…


R. Yochanan said: The above is the view of R. Yochanan b. Dahavai; but our Sages said: The halakah is not as R. Yochanan b. Dahavai, but a man may do whatever he pleases with his wife. A parable; Meat which comes from the butcher, may be eaten salted, roasted, cooked or seethed; and so it is with fish from the fishmonger

In this discussion, our interest is not about all acts, but specifically those that can or will lead to the husband ejaculating outside of the wife’s vagina. This would include anal intercourse, oral sex, or the wife’s use of her hands to cause the husband to ejaculate. These acts receive separate treatment in the halakhic discourse, because they raise the potential problem of hashatat zera, “wasting of seed.” At stake is how we define the problem of hashatat zera. Is it prohibited because (1) the semen being “spilled,” that is, not entering the woman’s vagina? If so, it could be relevant to cases such as oral sex and the like. Or is it prohibited because (2) the ejaculation is considered to be a “wasting” of seed, and hence primarily a problem in the context of masturbation, which is not seen as serving a licit purpose, and much less a problem, or not a problem at all, in the case of marital sex?

The evidence points to the second framing. The Gemara’s discussion of hashatat zera appears in Niddah (13a-b), and is devoted solely to masturbation or seminal emission not in the context of marital sex. In our passage (Nedarim 20a-b), the entire discussion focuses on different forms of marital sex makes no mention of a problem of wasting of seed. The logical conclusion is that no such problem exists in this context. Similarly, Rabbi Yochanan blanket permission for all forms of marital sex would certainly seem to include oral sex and the like, as these are common ways that a husband will want to have sex with his wife.


The stories in the Talmud that follow Rabbi Yochanan’s ruling reinforce this understanding {source ‎2}. The Talmud relates two stories where women complained to the rabbi that their husbands were “overturning the tables,” and the rabbi ruled that it was permitted for them to do so (see above where we discuss the issue of consent). These stories make it clear that Rabbi Yochanan’s ruling that “all is permitted” applies to this act. Rishonim debate what “overturning the table” refers to, but the general consensus is that it means anal intercourse (the other likely possibility is that it refers to vaginal intercourse from behind). Assuming that this is the case, we would be dealing with an act where the semen does not stay in the wife’s body. If this is permitted, the same should hold for oral sex and the like.

2. Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim, 20b – selection 2

ההיא דאתאי לקמיה דרבי, אמרה לו: רבי, ערכתי לו שלחן והפכו! אמר לה: בתי, תורה התירתך, ואני מה אעשה ליך. ההיא דאתאי לקמיה דרב, אמרה לו: רבי, ערכתי לו שלחן והפכו! אמר: מאי שנא מן ביניתא.A woman once came before Rabbi and said, ‘Rabbi! I set a table before my husband, but he overturned it.’ Rabbi replied: ‘My daughter! The Torah hath permitted thee to him – what then can I do for thee?’ A woman once came before Rav and complained. ‘Rabbi! I set a table before my husband, but he overturned it.’ Rav replied; Wherein does it differ from a fish?


Acts of Er and Onan

The matter would have ended there, were it not for a passage in Yevamot {source 3}. This passage is a little complicated, but the upshot is that the Talmud, for reasons that do not concern us here, argues that Er and Onan (Genesis 38:7-10) engaged in anal intercourse (and not coitus interruptus) to ensure that Tamar would not become pregnant. The conclusion is that, Rabbi Eliezer’s permissive position aside, it is forbidden to use anal intercourse (or coitus interruptus) as a form of birth control, even when it is imperative for health reasons that the woman not get pregnant.

3. Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot, 34a-b

ער ואונן שמשו שלא כדרכן.


מיתיבי: כל עשרים וארבעה חדש דש מבפנים וזורה מבחוץ, דברי ר’ אליעזר; א”ל: הללו אינו אלא כמעשה ער ואונן!


כמעשה ער ואונן ולא כמעשה ער ואונן, כמעשה ער ואונן, דכתיב: והיה אם בא אל אשת אחיו ושחת ארצה; ולא כמעשה ער ואונן, דאילו התם שלא כדרכה, והכא כדרכה.

Er and Onan indulged in “non-natural” (i.e., anal) intercourse.

An objection was raised: “During all the twenty-four months [when the mother is nursing and it is a danger to the baby for her to conceive]. one may thresh within and winnow without (use coitus interruptus); these are the words of R. Eliezer. The others said to him: Such actions are like the practice of Er and Onan!” [This shows that Er and Onan engaged in coitus interruptus and not anal intercourse!]

[The answer is: Coitus interruptus is] like the practice of Er and Onan, and yet not [exactly] like the practice of Er and Onan. Like the practice of Er and Onan, for it is written in Scripture, “And it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground” (Genesis 38:9) [and here to the semen is being spilled to the ground.] But it is not [exactly] like the practice of Er and Onan, for there the sex was “not-natural” (anal intercourse), while here it is done in the natural way (vaginal sex with coitus interruptus).

Although this above passage in Yevamot does not explicitly mention the problem of hashatat zera, many assume that that is the underlying problem with these acts. If so, this Talmudic passage would be evidence that there is a problem with hashatat zera in the marital context, in seeming contradiction to the permission given in Nedarim. Or, said another way, here it seems that anal intercourse is forbidden, while in Nedarim it seemed that it was permitted. How can this contradiction be resolved?

Tosafot raises exactly this question {sources 45}. Tosafot gives two answers, both in the name of R”I (Rabbeinu Yitzchak of Dampierre, France, c. 1115-1184). The first answer is that wasting seed is a problem in the martial context and that the Nedarim passage would only permit anal intercourse (and other forms of sex that are not vaginal intercourse) provided that the man does not ejaculate {source 4}.

4. Tosafot, Yevamot 34b, s.v. Vi’Lo – part 1

ולא כמעשה ער ואונן דאילו התם שלא כדרכה – משמע דאסור לשמש שלא כדרכה ותימה דבפ”ב דנדרים (דף כ:) אמר ההיא דאתיא לקמיה דרבי ואמרה ליה שולחן ערכתי לו והפכו אמר לה בתי התורה התירתך לו ומסיק דהלכתא הכי והפכו היינו שלא כדרכה לפי שמצטערת בכך…

ואר”י דהתם מיירי בלא הוצאת זרע דשרי דכיון דליכא השחתת זרע לא הוי כמעשה ער ואונן

But not like the acts of Er and Onan, for there it was non-natural – This implies that it is forbidden to have sex in the non-natural way. But this is astounding, for in the second chapter of Nedarim (20b) it states: A woman came before Rebbe and said to him, “I have set a table and he overturned it.” He said to her, “My daughter, the Torah has permitted you to him.” And it concludes that law is such. Now “overturning” means sex in the non-natural way, because it is painful to her [and this is why she was complaining]…

In response, R”I states that there it is referring to [anal sex] without ejaculation, which is permitted. Since there is no wasting of seed, it is not like the act of Er and Onan.

R”I’s second answer is that anal intercourse (and other forms of non-vaginal intercourse) is permitted, even if it leads to ejaculation {source 5}. The Yevamot passage that opposes acts of Er and Onan, refers only to cases where the man is engaging in exclusively non-vaginal intercourse to prevent pregnancy. Under such circumstances, the act would be defined as “wasting seed” and not just a natural part of marital sex.

R”I brings support to this latter position from the statement that a man can do whatever he wants with his wife and from the analogy to the eating of meat. The statement “whatever he wants” is categorical and should surely include all acts. Furthermore, the analogy to eating meat underscores the emphasis on pleasure. To say that a man can have sexual pleasure with his wife in whatever way he wants, but that this does not include ejaculation in many of the cases, seems bizarre to say the least. This statement makes it clear that all acts of sex, including those that will lead to orgasm, are permitted.

5. Tosafot, Yevamot 34b, s.v. Vi’Lo – part 2

עוד אמר ר”י דלא חשוב כמעשה ער ואונן אלא כשמתכוין להשחית זרע ורגיל לעשות כן תמיד אבל באקראי בעלמא ומתאוה לבא על אשתו שלא כדרכה שרי כדאמרי’ בנדרים (דף כ:) כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו יעשה משל לבשר הבא מן הטבח ודג מן הציד רצה אוכלו צלי רצה אוכלו מבושל רצה שלוק.R”I additionally states that it is not considered like the act of Er and Onan except in a case where he intends to waste his seed and is accustomed to doing so regularly, but when it is only occasional and he desires to have sex with his wife in this way, it is permitted, as it states in Nedarim, “Everything that a man wants to do with his wife, he may do, an analogy to meat that comes from the butcher, or to fish from the fish-seller, if he wants he may eat it roasted, if he wants he may eat it cooked, if he wants he may eat it boiled.


Tosafot Rid discusses this issue as well, and concludes, like R”I, that there is no problem of wasting seed in the marital context {source 6}. Noteworthy here is that he states that such acts of marital sex are permitted even if the husband is doing it for no other purpose than to satisfy his lust (consistent with the analogy of eating meat however one likes).

6. Tosafot Rid, Yevamot, 12b

ואי קשיא האיך התירו חכמים להוציא זרעו לעשות כמעשה ער ואונן

תשובה איזה הוא מעשה ער ואונן שאסרה תורה כל שכוונתו שלא תתעבר כדי שלא יכחיש יופיה ואינו רוצה לקיים פו”ר ממנה, אבל אם כוונתו שלא תבא לידי סכנה מותר, וכן נמי אם מתכוין לתאות יצרו ואינו מתכוין שלא תתעבר מותר

כדאמרינן בפ”ק דכתובות [צ”ל פ”ב דנדרים] ההוא דאתא לקמיה ד”ר א”ל ערכתי לא שלחן והפכו והתריו, והא ער ואונן שלא כדרכה שמשו כדאמר’ לקמן במס’ אלא ודאו הם שהיתה כוונתם שלא תתעבר היו עוברים אבל מי שכוונתו להשלים תאות יצרו אינו עובר, שכל מה שרוצה אדם לעשות באשתו עושה ולא יקרא משחית זרעו שאלו כן אל ישכב אדם עם הקטנה והמעוברת ועקרה.

If you were to ask – how can the Sages permit a man to spill his seed (by having the wife use a mokh, a vaginal sponge), and to thereby do an act of Er and Onan?

The answer is as follows: What is an act of Er and Onan that the Torah forbids? An act done with the intent that his wife does not become pregnant, that he should not mar her beauty, and that he does not want to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation through her. But if his intent is that he does not want to endanger her, it is permitted. Similarly, if he intends to satisfy his desire, and does not intend that she should not become pregnant, it is permitted.

Proof to this is that it states… A woman came before Rebbe and said to him, “I have set a table and he overturned it.” And he permitted it. Now behold, Er and Onan had sex in the non-natural way, as we say later in this tractate. [So why did Rebbe permit it if it was an act of Er and Onan?] The answer is as follows: [Er and Onan], who acted as they did so that she [Tamar] should not become pregnant, transgressed. But someone whose intent is to satisfy his lust, does not transgress, for whatever a man wants to do with his wife he may do, and he is not called a “waster of seed.” For were this so, a man could not have sex with a minor [1] or a pregnant woman or a sterile woman.


Why is there no problem of “wasting of seed” in the marital context according to R”I? We have been explaining that this is because the focus is not on whether the seed is “spilled” (falls outside the woman’s body) but on whether it was “wasted,” that is, ejaculated without a purpose. Since marital sex – which includes achieving orgasm – is always considered to be licit and serving a purpose, there can be no problem of “wasting” of seed in this context. This explanation is given by a number of poskim, including Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin {source 7} and Rav Moshe Feinstein {source 8}. Only when these acts are performed regularly as a way of avoiding pregnancy is it considered to be a wasting and destroying of seed, and not just part of marital sex.

7. Responsa Meishiv Davar (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin ,Volozhin, 1816-1893), 2:88

ונראה טעם התוס’…דכל דרך תשמיש לא מיקרי מז”ל שהרי שרי לשמש עם קטנה וה”ה שלא כדרכה דמשכבי אשה כתיב… אבל דוקא באינו מכוין לכך כדי להשחית הזרע דא”כ הוי מעשה ער ואונן. אבל באקראי אינו מכוין לכך It seems that the reason of Tosafot regarding non-natural sex, and also regarding the mokh is that he maintains that anything that is the way of sex is not considered wasting seed, for behold it is permitted to have sex with a minor. Thus the same would obtain with a woman in the non-natural way, for the verse says “the layings of a woman” (which includes anal intercourse)… But all of this is only when he is not intending to do this to destroy his seed, for if this were the case it would be an act of Er and Onan. But if it is occasional, then he is not doing it for this purpose.


8. Iggrot Moshe (Rav Moshe Feinstein, New York, 1895-1986), Even Ha’Ezer, 1:63

אבל לפ”ז ניחא דכיון דפירוש לבטלה הוא לבטלה ממש שאין בה שום צורך ומטעם זה מותר לצורך מצות עונה ושמחת אשתו לכן סברי הר”י והרא”ש מצד הגמ’ דנדרים מקרא דכי יקח איש אשה שהיא לקוחה לעשות בה כל חפצו שמזה אמר רבי התורה התירתך עיי”ש בר”ן שבענין אישות לאיש עם אשתו התירה תורה להחשיב גם זה שמתאוה לבעול שלא כדרכה כצורך ואינו לבטלה ומותר. But according to what I have explained it makes sense. For the explanation of “wasting seed ‘for naught’” means that it is completely for naught and no need is served. Because of this, it is permitted for the sake of the mitzvah of onah and making his wife happy. Thus, R”I and Rosh hold, based on the gemara Nedarim, which is based on the verse “When a man takes a woman” that she is taken by him to do with her all his desire, and based on this Rebbe said, “The Torah has permitted you” see there in the Ran, that in matters of sex (lit. marriage) for a man with his wife, that Torah has permitted her. Thus, [the R”I and Rosh] consider even this desire – that he wants to have sex in a non-natural way, as a [legitimate] need, and it is not for naught and it is permitted.


Halakha – Rishonim and Rambam

How do the Rishonim rule? Do they follow the first answer of R”I and forbid non-vaginal sex that leads to ejaculation? Or do they follow the second answer and permit these acts?

A small number of Rishonim rule restrictively like the R”I’s first position (see, for example, Rav Avraham min haHar, Nedarim 20b). Overwhelmingly, however, Rishonim rule like R”I’s second answer (which seems to be R”I’s conclusion as well). One major Ashkenazi (and Sephardi) Rishon who rules this way is Rosh {source 9}, whose ruling on this matter has apparently been censored out of the standard printed edition of the Vilna Shas, but can be found in the manuscript editions (Venice, 1538), and is attested to by Yam Shel Shlomo (Yevamot 3:18), Beit Yosef (EH 25 and OH 240) and Bah (EH 25).

Others who rule like R”I’s second answer include: Tosfot Sanhedrin (58b, s.v. Mi); Mordechai (Hilkhot Niddah, 732); Hagahot Maimoniyot (Issurei Biah, 21:4); Rabbeinu Yerucham (Toldot Adam vi’Hava, 23a); Ritvah (Shita Mekuvetzet, Nedarim 20b); Ran (Sanhderin 58b); and Riaz, Kuntrus Ha’Raayot (Sanhedrin 58a) (Riaz is following the parallel position of his grandfather, Tosafot Rid).

9. Rosh, Yevamot, 3:10

ועוד יש לומר דלא חשיב מעשה ער ואונן אלא אם כן רגיל לעשות כן תדיר אבל אם באקראי בעלמא מתאוה לשמש שלא כדרכה שרי כדאמרינן בנדרים כל מה שרוצה לעשות באשתו עושה… והאי שינויא עיקר… מדקאמר רבי התורה התירתך לו בסתם ולא דקדק לידע אם היה שם הוצאת זרע אלמא בכל ענין שרי וההוא עובדא באקראי הוה כדמוכח לישנא שולחן ערכתי לו והפכוAdditionally, we can say that it (anal intercourse) is not considered to be an act of Er and Onan unless a man is accustomed to doing so regularly, but if one occasionally desires to have anal intercourse, it is permitted, as we say in Nedarim: Whatever a man wants to do with his wife, he may do… And this explanation is the correct one… since Rebbe said: “The Torah has permitted you to him” (i.e., your husband is permitted to have anal intercourse with you), without any qualifications, and he did not inquire to determine if the act involved ejaculation. From this it can be inferred that it is permitted under all circumstances. And that case was one of an occasional (and not regular act), as is clear from the phrase (that the wife used): “I laid a table for him, and he has overturned it.”


There is a good amount of discussion regarding Rambam’s ruling. Rambam rules, following Rabbi Yochanan, that all forms of marital sex are allowed {source 10}. Rambam even states explicitly that the man can have intercourse with his wife “whether in a natural way (vaginal intercourse), or a non-natural way (anal intercourse), or by way of limbs (e.g., oral or the wife’s use of her hands).” All this would seem to give explicit license to all forms of marital sex, even those that result in ejaculation outside of the wife (Rambam does not mention the qualification found in R”I that one would not be allowed to do it regularly to avoid pregnancy).

However, in the text of Mishneh Torah that a number of Rishonim had, a caveat was added at the end of this ruling: “provided that he does not emit his seed to waste.” Interestingly, Ran in one place quotes Rambam’s ruling with this caveat, and in another place without it {sources 11 and 12}.

In truth, this caveat reads like a later gloss, and indeed it is not present in most of the manuscripts of Rambam (see the notes in the Frankel edition). It is also clearly out of place, as Rambam only introduces the concern of “wasting of seed” later in the chapter, in halakha 18, a point made by Rav Yosef Kafach in his edition of Mishneh Torah (“בנדפס השמיטו בין דרך אברים והוסיפו ובלבד שלא יוצא שכבת זרע לבטלה ואין לה מקום כאן כי כבר כתבה רבנו לקמן הל’ יח אע”פ שהיתה לפני המ”מ גם כאן גם שם”). There is little doubt that Rambam permits all forms of marital sex, and the issue of ejaculation is irrelevant.

10. Rambam. Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, 21:9

אשתו של אדם מותרת היא לו, לפיכך כל מה שאדם רוצה לעשות באשתו עושה, בועל בכל עת שירצה ומנשק בכל אבר ואבר שירצה, ובא עליה כדרכה ושלא כדרכה בין דרך איברים (במקצת כ”י: ובלבד שלא יוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה) A man’s wife is permitted to him, therefore whatever a man wants to do with his wife he may do, he can have sex whenever he wants, and kiss any part of her body that he wants, and have sex with her in the normal way and in the non-normal way, or sex by “way of her limbs,” [i.e., with other body parts, e.g., oral sex] (some manuscripts add: provided that he does not “spill his seed to waste.”).


11. Ran, Sanhedrin 58b

ויש שתירצו שאע”פ שהענין אסור לעשות מ”מ הביאה בעצמה אינה ערוה ואינה ביאה של איסור אבל ענין השחתת זרע איסור אחר יש לו ומאי דאמרו לה התורה התירך לו היינו שאין בה משום איסור ערוה אלא משום השחתת זרע ואם הזכר משחית זרעו אין על הנקבה כלום,

ובתוספת ז”ל אמרו שהוא היתר גמור בכל מקום שאינו מכוין להשחתת זרע ולא יוציאוהו לבטלה וכן הם דברי הרמב”ם ז”ל בפ’ כ”א מה’ איסורי ביאה, מיהו מדרכי חסידות אסור לעשות כך שלא יקל ראשו לכך ושיתקדש בשעת תשמיש:

There are those who explained [that the reason the Talmud in Nedarim does not forbid one to “overturn the table” although there is spilling of semen] is that the act is in fact forbidden, but the sex itself is not an act of forbidden sex, but the act of spilling the semen [which results] is a separate forbidden matter which does apply. And when the Talmud says “The Torah permitted you to him” this means that there is no illicit sex [between husband and wife] but it is only forbidden because of the spilling of seed, and if the man ejaculates on the woman, then the woman does not transgress at all.

In the Tosafot they said that it is totally permissible, wherever he does not intend to spill his seed, and thus he does not spill it to waste. And such are the words of Rambam, who says this in Chapter 21 of Forbidden Sexual Relations. Nevertheless, by the way of piety it is forbidden to do this, for a person should not be frivolous in such matters and should sanctify himself at the time of sex.


12. Ran, Nedarim 20b

התורה התירתך – דכתיב כי יקח איש אשה שהיא לקוחה לו לעשות בה כל חפצו וכתב הרמב”ם ז”ל בפרק כ”א מהא”ב (הלכ’ ט) ובלבד שלא יוציא שז”ל.The Torah has permitted you – as it says, “When a man takes a woman” – for she is taken (or ‘acquired’) by him to do with her all he desires. And Rambam writes in Chapter 21 of Forbidden Sexual Relations (Law 9) – “as long as he does not ‘spill his seed.’”


Halakha – Shulhan Arukh and Poskim

Whatever the original version of Rambam’s ruling may have been, Tur quotes Rambam with the caveat that these acts may not lead to ejaculation {source 13}. However, he immediately follows this with R”I’s permissive ruling, that these acts are always permitted. It is thus unclear how Tur rules in this matter.

13. Tur, Even Ha’Ezer, 25

[לשון הרמב”ם:] לפיכך כל מה שירצה לעשות באשתו עושה בועל בכל עת שירצה ומנשק בכל אבר שירצה ובא עליה בין כדרכה בין שלא כדרכה בין דרך אברים ובלבד שלא יוציא ש”ז לבטלה ור”י פירש דאפילו בהוצאת ש”ז נמי מותר לשמש שלא כדרכה ובלבד שלא יהא רגיל כן אלא אקראי בעלמא שמתאווה לאשתו לשמש שלא כדרכה אלא אסור להיות רגיל בכך. [From Rambam:] “Therefore a person may do with his wife whatever he wants, he may have sex at any time that he wants, and kiss any part of her body that he wants, and have sex with her in the normal and non-normal way, or by way of limbs, as long as he does not waste his seed.” And R”I explains that even with ejaculation it is permitted to have sex in the non-natural way, provided he is not habitual in this, but it is only occasional, that he desires to have sex with his wife in this non-natural way, but is prohibited to do so habitually.


Surprisingly, Rav Yosef Karo does not give a ruling on this matter in Shulhan Arukh either. When we consider how many restrictive rulings and guidelines Shulhan Arukh usually gives for marital sex, absence of any restrictive ruling here suggests that for Shulhan Arukh, and hence for Sephardim, these acts are not forbidden. Arguably consistent with this is his comment in Beit Yosef that it is “difficult to permit” this behavior and that a pious person should avoid doing so {source 14}. This indicates that while he cannot endorse this position, he does not believe that it is in violation of halakha, either. This would explain why he chose to not address this issue in Shulhan Arukh – he did not want to permit it or forbid it.

However, in Bedek HaBayit, Rav Yosef Karo’s later gloss to Beit Yosef, he notes that the Zohar treats the sin of hashatat zera harshly, and suggests that R”I would have never issued his ruling had he contended with this Zohar {source 15}. It is hard to know what to conclude from this statement as a matter of halakhah. In general, while Beit Yosef was a serious kabbalist and did occasionally incorporate kabbalah- based concerns in his halakhic rulings, he just as often, if not more frequently, rejected their relevance and ruled only based on traditional halakhic sources.[2]

In our case, it is possible to conclude from his comment in Bedek HaBayit that Rav Yosef Karo is ruling against R”I on the basis of the Zohar. Alternatively, one could conclude that since, even after acknowledging the Zohar, he did not rule (or emend his ruling) on this matter in Shulhan Arukh, it is clear that he chose to not allow kabbalah to dictate the halakha in this case, and to not forbid this practice as a matter of halakhah.

[The larger question of the influence of kabbalah on religious and halakhic attitudes towards hashatat zera is outside the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say that R”I, or a contemporary posek for that matter, could reject in principle that the kabbalistic treatment of hashatat zera should have any relevance to halakhic concerns. Alternatively, he could simply claim that since ejaculation in the context of marital sex is not hashatat zera, there should be no problem even from a kabbalistic perspective.]

14. Beit Yosef, Even Ha’Ezer 25

ודבר קשה הוא להתיר לו להכשל בהוצאת זרע לבטלה אפילו באקראי ושומר נפשו ירחק מזה ומכיוצא מזהIt is a difficult thing to permit him (the husband) to stumble (with the sin) of emitting seed for naught, even if just occasionally. And one who cares for his soul will distance himself from this and from similar matters.


15. Bedek HaBayit, Even Ha’Ezer 25

ואילו היה ר”י רואה מה שאמר הזוהר בעונש המוציא זרע לבטלה כי הוא גדול משאר עבירות שבתורה לא היה כותב זה שכתבHad R”I seen what the Zohar said about the punishment for one who emits his seed for naught, that it is greater than all other sins in the Torah, he would not have written what he did.


Although Shulhan Arukh is silent on the matter, Rema, after citing the more restrictive position, rules explicitly like R”I: it is permitted for a husband to have any form of sex with his wife, even if it leads to ejaculation outside of the woman’s vagina {source 16}.

16. Rema, Shulhan Arukh Even Ha’Ezer, 25:2

הגה: ויכול לעשות עם אשתו מה שירצה, בועל בכל עת שירצה ומנשק בכל אבר שירצה, ובא עליה בין כדרכה בין שלא כדרכה, או דרך אברים ובלבד שלא יוציא זרע לבטלה (טור). ויש מקילין ואומרים שמותר שלא כדרכה אפילו אם הוציא זרע, אם עושה באקראי ואינו רגיל בכך (גם זה טור בשם ר”י). ואע”פ שמותר בכל אלה, כל המקדש עצמו במותר לו קדוש יאמרו לו (דברי הרב).Rema: And he may do with his wife what he wants – he may have sex at any time that he wants, he may kiss any body part that he wants, and he may have sex with her whether in the natural way or in the non-natural way, or whether by way of limbs, provided that he does not spill his seed to waste. And some are lenient and say that it is permissible to have sex in the non-natural way even if he ejaculates, if this is done occasionally and he is not habitual in this behavior. And although all such behavior is permissible, whoever sanctifies himself in permissible realms, “holy” will he be called.

Rema seems to be offering a blanket permission: he initially makes reference to “intercourse by way of limbs,” referring to – among other things – oral sex or stimulation by the wife’s hands – and he concludes with the words: “All such behavior is permissible.” Nevertheless, Netziv, as well as some other poskim, attempts to limit Rema’s ruling to cases of anal intercourse, stating that only in that case is ejaculation outside the vagina permitted {source 17, cited earlier, source 7}. For him, the principle is not that hashatat zera does not apply to marital sex, or that any ejaculation that is part of marital sex is considered to not be wasteful, but rather that ejaculation is permitted only when it is a result of an act of “intercourse,” and such an act is defined halakhically as vaginal or anal intercourse, and nothing else.

17. Responsa Meishiv Davar, 2:88

ונראה טעם התוס’ גם בשלא כדרכה… דס”ל דכל דרך תשמיש לא מיקרי מז”ל שהרי שרי לשמש עם קטנה וה”ה שלא כדרכה דמשכבי אשה כתיב ואע”ג דכתיב בעונשין מכ”מ ההיקש הוא לכ”ד… It seems that the reason of Tosafot regarding non-natural sex… is that he maintains that anything that is done as an act of intercourse is not considered wasting seed, for behold it is permitted to have sex with a minor . Thus the same would be true concerning intercourse in the “non-natural” way, for the verse says “the lyings of a woman” [from which we learn that anal intercourse is halakhically considered to be an act of intercourse]– although this is said regarding punishments (for violating the Biblical prohibitions against forbidden sexual unions), it applies to all other cases as well…


This suggested limitation is not based on any earlier source. Although R”I spoke specifically about anal intercourse, this was because it was the case that the Gemara was dealing with directly. However, part of the R”I’s proof was the categorical ruling of Rabbi Yochanan that “whatever a man wishes to do with his wife he may do,” which came without any qualifications and implicitly would assume that they were being done with the intent that the man achieve orgasm. Indeed, Drisha, in his discussion of coitus interuptus, takes for granted that R”I’s permissive ruling applies equally to “intercourse by way of limbs” as it does to anal sex {source 18}.

The reason to reject this limitation is straightforward and is articulated by a number of poskim. Rav Moshe Feinstein, as we have seen earlier, explains that this position is based on the principle that any act that is part of marital sex, in whatever form, is not considered to be “wasteful” and not an act of hashatat zera {source 19, and earlier, source 8}. This explanation is echoed by Rav Kook {source 20}. Following this, all forms of marital sex – including oral, or the use of hands – are permitted in the marital context, and there is no problem of hashatat zera.

18. Drisha (Rav Yehoshua HaCohen Falk, Lvov, Ukraine, 1555–1614), Even Ha’Ezer, 23:1

אסור להוציא שכבת זרע לבטלה וכו’. נראה פשוט דבזה אפילו ר”י מודה דאע”ג דכתב רבינו בשמו בריש ס’ כ”ה דמותר לשמש עם אשתו אפילו שלא כדרכה ואפילו דרך איברים ואף על פי שמוציא זרע לבטלה שאני התם דמוציא זרע דרך שימוש ולא נתכוין להוציא זרע לבטלה אלא שבא ממילא מה שאין כן בדש מפבנים וזורה מבחוץ דנתכוין להוציא לבטלה וק”ל…It is forbidden to waste seed [having sex vaginally and ejaculating outside of the woman] (Tur) – it seems obvious that even R”I would agree to this. For although the Tur writes in his name in Siman 25 that it is permitted for a man to have sex with his wife even in the non-natural way and even by way of the limbs, and even if he ejaculates – there it is different, for the seed is spilled by way of intercourse and he does not intend to spill it to waste, rather it comes about incidentally. Such is not the case here, where one “threshes on the inside and winnows on the outside” where he intends to spill it to waste. And this is easy to understand…


19. Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:63

אבל לפ”ז ניחא דכיון דפירוש לבטלה הוא לבטלה ממש שאין בה שום צורך ומטעם זה מותר לצורך מצות עונה ושמחת אשתו… דמתכוין לתאות יצרו נחשב באיש ואשתו לצורך מחדוש הקרא For the explanation of “wasting seed for naught” means that it is completely for naught and no need is served. Because of this, it is permitted for the sake of the mitzvah of onah and making his wife happy… For when one intends to satisfy his lust [by engaging in sexual activity] with his wife, this [the ejaculation] is considered to be a legitimate need [and not considered to be “for naught”].


20. Responsa Ezrat Kohen (Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, pre-state Israel, 1865-1935), 35

דס”ל דגם בכה”ג באקראי כיון שהתורה התירה לשיטה זו הוי בכלל קצת מצוה ליתובי דעתי’ בזה, וממילא א”ז ממש לבטלה.[Those who permit] are of the opinion that in such circumstances, when it is occasional, since the Torah permitted such acts according to this opinion, there is somewhat of a mitzvah to “settle his mind” in this manner (allow him to satisfy his desire), and thus it is not fully for naught.



Overwhelmingly, Rishonim rule like R”I, that there is no issue of hashatat zera when ejaculation occurs as part of the sexual activity that the couple is engaging in for the sake of variety, sexual pleasure, and the like (in contrast to when ejaculation outside the vagina is being done regularly as a way of avoiding pregnancy). This ruling is followed explicitly by Rema, and even Shulhan Arukh, who limits many forms of sexual activity between husband and wife, nowhere restricts these acts. While some poskim choose to limit Rema’s ruling to cases of anal intercourse, the evidence is against this narrow reading of Rema. For Drisha, Rav Moshe and Rav Kook, this position permits all forms of marital sex, whether it does or does not end in ejaculation. In short: for Rema, it is permitted for the wife to perform manual or oral sex on the husband and bring him to orgasm. This is not hashatat zera; it is marital sex, and totally permissible.

Beyond the strict halakhic analysis, it is also important to underscore that the shalom bayit considerations here are huge . The reasons range from: the need for variety; cases where it takes a long time for the husband to reach orgasm during vaginal sex, long after it is still pleasurable for the wife; situations where there are different levels of desire, and the wife is happy to perform oral or manual sex more frequently, but not to have vaginal intercourse, and more. Given the very real issues of shalom bayit; and the importance of finding sexual satisfaction in marriage rather than looking for it elsewhere, it is hard to understand the position of those who rule restrictively. Restrictive rulings here seems to be clearly a case of a “stringency that leads to (or that is, in fact) a leniency.”

Finally, as far as Rema’s call to strive for kedusha, we should remember Rav Shmuel Kedar’s comment that the greatest kedusha comes from ensuring that sex in marriage takes place with mutual consent, that each person is attending to the needs of his or her partners, and that it brings sexual satisfaction to both parties. To this we may add that the greatest kedusha is doing everything to strengthen the marital bond and to find sexual satisfaction within marriage.



[1] To demonstrate that marital sex need not take place in the context of procreation, Tosafot Rid provides a number of examples: a woman who is already pregnant, a woman who is sterile and a young girl who has not yet reached puberty. These examples all appear in the Talmud and Rishonim and all would have been fairly commonplace to the readers of those times. Modern readers clearly feel quite differently.

[2] See Yabia Omer OH 4:2:

ובאמת שדעת מרן ז”ל היא שאע”פ שהזוה”ק אוסר לברך, הואיל ומהגמ’ והפוסקים מתבאר להיפך, נקטינן כד’ הגמרא והפו’. שבכל מקום שהקבלה חולקת עם הפשט נקטינן כהפשט. וכמ”ש בתשו’ הרדב”ז ח”ד (סי’ פ) וז”ל, שיש בידי כלל גדול, שבכל דבר שנכתב בגמרא או באחד מן הפוסקים או בעלי ההלכות, אפי’ שיהיה היפך ממ”ש בספרי הקבלה, אני מורה בו, ולא אחוש למ”ש באחד מאותם הספרים. ולעצמי אם הוא חומרא אני נוהג אותו, ואם קולא לא אחוש לה. ע”ש.