05. The Prohibition on Things That Lead to This Sin

A man may not touch his penis, lest it lead to an erection and masturbation. When urinating, if he is concerned about splattering in the area or on his legs, he may aim by touching the corona of the penis, which is less easily stimulated. If he is married and his wife is ritually pure, he may touch his penis to aim. However, for any other reason, even a married man may not touch himself, lest he stimulate himself, for stimulation should be reserved for increasing the love between the spouses.[7]

When necessary to prevent itchiness or discomfort, a man may touch himself through a thick cloth. This way, there is no concern of his becoming stimulated as long as he is not intending to do so (MB 3:15). Similarly, when he is wearing pants, he may adjust himself through the pants.

A man may touch his penis in order to alleviate pain, such as to apply ointment or remove a splinter, as long as he does not cause arousal.

The prohibition is to touch the penis; there is no prohibition to touch the testicles, as long as he does not stimulate himself thereby. Even when a man takes a shower, he should not touch his penis with his hands, lest he stimulate himself. Rather, he should wash and clean around the genital area, and the soap and water will clean the penis as well (MA 3:14; Ru’aḥ Ḥayim, EH 23:3). Some permit a man to touch his penis directly when necessary, as long as he does not cause arousal (Seder Ha-yom). A married man be lenient when necessary (see Otzar Ha-poskim 23:16:4).[8]


[7]. Most Rishonim allow a married man to be lenient and touch his penis, if necessary, when urinating (Rif, Rambam, Rosh, and many others). Shulḥan Arukh records this in EH (23:4) without mentioning the stringent opinion. In OḤ as well (3:14), it presents the lenient opinion as the halakha, adding, “It is a pious attribute for even a married man to be careful not to do so,” which is the position of Rabbeinu Yona, Or Zaru’a, and Tur. Within the lenient opinion, there is still some disagreement. Some say that this leniency applies only when the man’s wife is with him (Smak, Aguda, and Ohel Mo’ed), while others maintain that it is always permitted, even if his wife is away or is a nidda (Tosafot, Me’iri, and implicit in most Rishonim). According to MA 3:14, the leniency applies only when the man’s wife is with him and is not a nidda. Many Aḥaronim agree with this, including Birkei Yosef, Ḥayei Adam, SAH, and MB ad loc. 27. This is the position that I record above, since it is the intermediate position, taking both sides into account. It also neutralizes the major concern of those who are stringent (even though some are stringent under all circumstances). Nevertheless, many Aḥaronim adopt the most lenient position, applying the permission to a married man in all conditions (Beit Shmuel and Bekhor Shor). A married man who wishes to be lenient can rely on these Aḥaronim and touch his penis when urinating, as long as he does not stimulate himself thereby.

[8]. The Talmud records the following dialogue:

  1. Tarfon says, “Any man who extends his hand below his navel should have it cut off.” They asked R. Tarfon, “If a person has a thorn lodged in his gut, should he not remove it?” He replied to them, “He should not.” They asked, “But his stomach will split open because of it!” He answered them, “Better for his stomach to split open than for him to descend into the pit of destruction.” (Nidda 13b)
  2. Tarfon’s intent is to prohibit touching the penis, not the testicles or the surrounding area (SA 3:15). If he is in pain, the halakha follows the Sages, who disagree with R. Tarfon (see Igrot Moshe, EH 1:56; Otzar Ha-poskim 23:13:3).

Shulḥan Arukh states that a man may not ride an animal bareback, lest it cause him ejaculation (EH 23:6). However, riding with a saddle is permitted. If he uses a soft riding cloth, which, on one hand, is not as hard as a saddle, but creates a barrier between the rider and the warmth of the animal, Rambam permits, while Rashi still prohibits. SA seems to follow Rambam’s lenient view. See Otzar Ha-poskim 23:19:1. Some poskim extend this concern to shoulder rides and prohibit them (R. Ḥayim Palachi, Ru’aḥ Ḥayim 669). We are not concerned about this, for two reasons. First, shoulders are hard enough to be comparable to a saddle. Second, a person sitting on someone’s shoulders is afraid of falling, and thus not occupying himself with sexual thoughts (compare Nidda 13a). However, if someone knows that doing this is likely to stimulate him, he must avoid it.

The Sages cautioned that a man should not sleep on his back, face up, lest he get an erection (SA EH 23:3). However, it seems to me that this prohibition is based on the historical reality that people used to sleep in the nude. Thus, according to Rashi, the prohibition is out of concern that one would experience an erection and be ashamed, or that he might unintentionally touch himself. However, now that it is common practice to wear underwear even while sleeping, sleeping on one’s back is not much of an issue. Another concern was that any movement of the blanket could be sexually stimulating (Rashbam, cited in Tosafot, Nidda 14a, s.v. “layit”), but this is not an issue for someone wearing underpants. See Peninei Halakha: Laws of Prayer, ch. 26 n. 3.

The Sages also taught, “Do not gaze at animals or birds when they are mating. However, animal breeders may assist mating animals, because they are occupied by their work and will not have improper thoughts” (Bava Metzia 91a; SA EH 23:3). Orḥot Tzadikim (Sha’ar 26, Sha’ar Ha-teshuva) implies that the restriction is limited to people who have already sinned in this regard.

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