In the course of fertility diagnosis and treatment, it may become necessary for the husband to provide at least one sample of his semen to a laboratory for analysis. Given the prohibition against ejaculation outside of intercourse, this seemingly simple step presents serious halachic challenges. This article examines those difficulties and possible solutions. It should be noted that any individual case requires consultation with a knowledgeable Rabbi. We will examine:
The typical method for obtaining a semen sample for laboratory testing is masturbation. For men unable to achieve or sustain an erection, the process might also include a vacuum system (VES) or vibrator. See the article on erectile dysfunction for more information.
The chief halachic impediment to the standard method of extracting semen is that doing so anywhere but inside one's wife is prohibited, “wasting seed.” Even withdrawing the penis to ejaculate outside the vagina (coitus interruptus) is forbidden. Jewish mystical sources take an even dimmer view of masturbation, identifying it as one of the worst sins.
Two ways around the prohibition appear in the halachic literature: redefining wastage and collection from within the vagina. With wastage interpreted not to include procurement of sperm for reproductive purposes, the prohibition can be bypassed. However, since many prominent authorities object to that redefinition, collection from within the vagina following intercourse is preferred. That might not be possible or practical under all circumstances.
The Tzitz Eliezer (Vol. IX, 59:1.2) establishes a hierarchy of methods for obtaining a semen sample. In order from most preferable to least, each successive method may be used only if the ones above it prove impractical:
Although the halacha prohibits ejaculation outside the woman's body, poskim have found some flexibility in this prohibition. The above hierarchy of methods should serve as a rough guide to permissible courses of action, but a Rabbi must be consulted in each case.