Growing up in the religious world, we learn many dos and don’ts. Shabbat, kashrut, and tzniut: – these are some things we hear about all the time. Yet we know that halacha expands over a far broader range of concepts. The topic of shichvat zera l’vatala is not a topic I have learned much about, and my understanding is that it is a topic that many girls and/or women are not taught extensively, if at all. Shichvat zera l’vatala refers to wasting of seed.

I recently participated in the Eden Center’s kallah teacher training course and in a lecture by Rav Rafi I was surprised to learn that, in contrast to girls, boys do grow up learning about it, and quite often. In fact, it seems to play quite a prominent role in their education and in their experience around sexuality.

What I learned was that the sin of wasting seed is considered to be a particularly grave sin. The Shulchan Aruch, at least on face value, describes the sin of “shichvat zera l’vatala”  as the most severe of all sins, and one who spills his seed is said to have his hands full of blood, as if he has killed a person. I was quite shocked to learn the harsh standards demanded of boys, in order to avoid any issue of the wasting of seed. Rav Rafi described some of the torment that boys and men endure because of the mandate against any wasting of seed.

Yet, with his absolute commitment to the sources and to Torah values, I found Rav Rafi to call for a much more forgiving, accepting and humane approach to this topic.

 As I reflected on this class it made me think about a number of different things. Firstly, in the context of the Kallah teacher training course, thinking about teaching kallot, and having this sensitive issue in mind, I believe that if a kallah would be familiar with the halachic ramifications and the complexity of the matter of shichvat zera l’vatala it would be much easier for the couple to navigate around this topic and be able to communicate openly with each other, even before they marry. As a chatan and kallah embark on their union, both in the sexual and non-sexual spheres, surely we would be better off if there was more mutual ground, deeper understanding of the other’s experience. Secondly, I also believe that having more exposure to these gendered topics would encourage better interpersonal understanding and dynamics; and this by extension would harness a greater appreciation of and sensitivity towards the topic and its relevance in romantic relationships. If as friends, colleagues, parents and mutual members of society we would be more attuned to these gendered issues, we could perhaps be more sensitive to what the ‘other’ may be experiencing and ideally this would lead to better interactions, appreciation of each other and equality.

Thirdly, I found it captivating and refreshing to hear from the  male perspective. This was the first male speaker we had had in the course (there were a few male speakers in subsequent sessions), and it made me wonder if we would be better off having more female voices in yeshivot. Obviously one male voice is not representative of all male voices. However, even just having this exposure to these individuals, made an impact on me. While in midrashot there most often are male teachers, in yeshivot there most often are not female teachers. There is value in having the opposite sex teach and share with us from their perspective. And maybe in yeshivot , while there is not a need for female teachers, because there are enough qualified male teachers, nonetheless there could be worth in having female teachers. It could encourage conversations that otherwise may not happen. Perhaps this would help us, not just in romantic relationships, but as humans; to be able to have a broader perspective and understanding, and as already mentioned greater appreciation of halacha.

I do believe that we, as a community, would benefit from learning more about “gendered” topics ie: facilitate girls having more exposure to topics that are more male related and vice versa. I think, taking such an approach, would help us gain a broader and better understanding of halacha. If we were to expand our scope of learning, and become more versed in a wider range of topics we would allow ourselves more opportunity to connect to and be familiar with Dvar Hashem.