Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Does the prohibition of suppressing urine apply also to women?

Summary: Rav Chaim Kanievsky considers a reason it should not, and a reason it should, based on a derasha on parashat Ekev.

Post: Towards the beginning of parashat Ekev, we encounter this pasuk:

14. You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock.יד. בָּרוּךְ תִּהְיֶה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים לֹא יִהְיֶה בְךָ עָקָר וַעֲקָרָה וּבִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ:

This is darshened in an interesting way in Bechorot 44b:
ת"ר שני נקבים יש בו באדם אחד מוציא שתן ואחד מוציא שכבת זרע ואין בין זה לזה אלא כקליפת השום בשעה שאדם נצרך אם נקבו זה לתוך זה נמצא עקר אמר ר"ל מאי דכתיב (דברים ז, יד) לא יהיה בך עקר ועקרה ובבהמתך אימתי לא יהיה בך עקר בזמן שבבהמתך
Our Rabbis taught: Two channels are in the membrum of a human being, one of which discharges urine and the other semen, and the distance between them is no more than the peel of garlic. If then a person needs to ease himself, and one channel interferes with the other, he is found to be impotent.  Said Resh Lakish: What is the interpretation of the Scriptural text: There shall not be male and female barren among you or among your cattle?  [It is as follows]: When will there not be a male barren among you? If you put yourself on a level with an animal.
As Rashi explains it the derasha there:
בזמן שבבהמתך - שתשים עצמך כבהמה שלא תהא צנוע בהטלת מים:
The slight "difficulty" with this passage in the gemara is that it is not scientifically accurate. To cite Aristotle on this:

Both urine and sperm pass out through the urethra; and trying to connect this to anatomical parts higher up does not work. I have not been able to track contemporary anatomical beliefs to this, but it would seem likely that this is the basis for this erroneous scientific statement in the brayta.

If we could identify some other manner in which holding one's bladder leads to infertility, we could theoretically maintain Resh Lakish's derasha. But it seems that it was stated in the context of the braysa, and if the braysa fails, we should not maintain the derasha.

At any rate, in Taama Dikra, Rav Chaim Kanievsky takes this derasha in an interesting direction. After citing the pasuk and gemara, he writes:

"And it would seem that all this is only relevant by a man and not by a woman, such that she would not have the prohibition of holding back one's need to ease oneself -- משהה נקביו. But this requires investigation, for if so, why is עקרה written here? It should have stated לֹא יִהְיֶה בְךָ עָקָר וּבִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ. And this implies that also by a woman, barrenness is relevant from this, and it is forbidden from holding back her needs. And tzarich iyun."

Perhaps one can establish it just from בל תשקצו, and not from this additional pasuk and derasha about infertility?

It is interesting that he notes the distinction between men and women in this regards, but is willing to assume that there could be some unspoken and otherwise metzius that holds true, based on the derasha, or based on the pasuk.

From my perspective, I think we should be considering whether it is even relevant to men. Say nishtaneh hateva, or that Chazal erred in this medical matter, and then decide whether or not halacha remains unchanged. I certainly would not extend it to include women. After all, the braysa tells us of the concern, which is damage to the garlic-peel-thin membrane separating the two conduits, one for urine and the other for semen. Even based on medical science contemporary to Chazal and maintained by Chazal, I don't see a reason that fertility concerns based on suppression of urine would be appropriate. Any 'seed' put forth my the woman is not traveling through the urethra, but rather, the blood congeals in its place. And I don't know of any reason based on modern medicine, and even if there were one, it would not be one known to Chazal.

As to the derasha and the pasuk which includes akarah, what should we expect?! This is the text of the pasuk, which has a peshat level, being a blessing that there will be no barren among the men, women, and cattle. That Resh Lakish uses this as an asmachta, or even for a derasha, does not change that. All we need to say is that the derasha skips one word in the middle. It does not seem, to me, to be atypical for a derasha to ignore plain-text context.

Note: This post touched on halachic issues. I am not even sure that Rav Kanievsky intended it as halacha lemaaseh, and he left it, anyway, as a tzarich iyun. Ask your local Orthodox rabbi before acting on anything of this sort you see on the Internet.


Dr. Isaac Betech said...

Dear R. Waxman
You wrote:
Both urine and sperm pass out through the urethra; and trying to connect this to anatomical parts higher up does not work.

Could you please explain why "does not work"?

joshwaxman said...

no, i won't.

if someone else wants to know, ask away, and i will elaborate.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Betech, are you aware of two channels in the "upper parts" that are separated by a membrane as thin as a garlic peel, and sperm passes through one and urine through the other?

Dr. Isaac Betech said...

Dear Anonymous
As my English is not so good, I could not understand well the words of the owner of this blogspot, but I suspect that they could mean that I am not welcomed here, so if you want, you can email me to

joshwaxman said...

i thought that anatomical discussions and diagrams might not suit the audience, in terms of tznius.

if necessary, i am willing to elaborate, perhaps even in another full post. but i am not going to get into it just in order to have a pointless "debate".


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