Er, Onan and onanism

Erotica and onanism. Where did these concepts originate? Many believe that the word “erotica” is linked with the name of the Greek god of love, Eros, and onanism is named after the biblical Onan. I think that the version, according to which both words have their roots in the Bible, is more probable. Really, if you think about it, erotica has not become synonymous with love, but the story of Er gives us the key to a deep understanding of this word.

Let's try to understand the words of the Torah. “And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar. And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. And Judah said unto Onan, ‘Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother’. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.” (Genesis 38:6–10).

From the text it is clear that Onan spilled his seed in vain. But what was wrong with Er's behaviour? Rashi gives the comment, according to which in the sentence “...He slew him also” the word “also” means: for the same reason, that Er was slain, Onan was also slain. So, Er spilled his seed on the ground too. Then what's the difference between erotica and onanism? In the inducements. It's said of Onan that his goal was to avoid impregnating Tamar, and if he could, to completely avoid relations with her. Likewise “the descendants of Onan” try to have fewer relations with the living women (saving time, money, nerves) and, therefore, solve their physiological problems “by hand.” Er also did not want Tamar to become pregnant, but his motives were different. He didn't want Tamar to conceive and, as a result, for her beauty to fade (treatise Yevamos 34b). In other words, for Er the aesthetic pleasure of a woman was in the foreground. That is, he loved to watch! It is clear, that when a man watches, and a woman slightly exposes her body, a man's fantasy brings him to such an arousal, that it will not end by itself. As a result, seed will be spilled in vain again. Those who claim that their goal is aesthetic pleasure only are deceiving themselves. This is similar to how a person looks at the process of cooking food, inflaming his appetite, and at the same time claiming that he is not going to eat.

The habit of erotic fantasies and sensation, having become habitual to an onanist, will necessarily lead to difficulties while constructing a harmonious relationship with a real-life companion. But the main problem here is just the waste of semen in vain. It is interesting to watch how not only Jewish but also Taoist sources (which have become available to European and American non-Jewish readers before the Jewish religious texts, despite the fact that Jews have always lived in the neighborhood) do not only say the same thing, but almost in the same words. Judge for yourselves.

“With the frequent ejaculation of sperm, vitality ultimately plummets. The big spender loses stamina, his vision begins to weaken, hair tumbles from his skull, and he grows old before his time. At first he will not feel drained, but after years of abuse his capacities will begin to drop alarmingly. When the hormonal secretions of the sexual glands are regularly leached out, the body is sapped at its roots” (Mantak Chia, “Taoist Secrets of Love”).

And Jewish text says, “The sperm is the energy of the body and the light of the eyes. When too much is ejected, the body is destroyed and his life is lost. Any one who is addicted to having sex, old age comes upon him. His power fades, his eyes darken, and a bad smell comes from his mouth. The hair on his head and his eyebrows, and his eyelashes drop out... Many other troubles apart from these come upon him” (“Kitzur Shulchan Aruch,” 150:17).

The source of true knowledge is one — all knowledges come from God. But the ways of obtaining such knowledges are different. Jewish wisdom is based on divine revelation, while Eastern wisdom — on studying the world, created by God. Here is another parallel. Mantak Chia uses the word “spender,” and the author of “Kitzur Shulchan Aruch” writes that the man, who spills out the seed in vain, grows poorer (151:1). This, at first glance, contradicts the thoughts of the onanist, because it seems to him that he saves on women. While saving money, he is not saving his seed at all. What's next? The attitude toward his body gradually begins to be projected onto other areas of his life, including in relation to money. There is a growing subconscious desire to spend money, and the saving mode, sooner or later, starts to fail. If a man thinks, “There is no reasons to regret spilling seed: I have plenty,” then as a result he loses both health and money.