August 20, 2011 | by

I’m getting to that stage in life where I don’t want to have any more children. I’m considering getting a vasectomy. My wife thinks it's better to leave the body as nature intended. What does Judaism say about all this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

According to Jewish law, a vasectomy is absolutely forbidden.

Further, Jewish law states that one who undergoes a vasectomy is classified as a "kroos shafcha" (Deuteronomy 23:2) literally meaning one whose "flow has been cut.” Jewish law states that that one who falls into this category may not be married to a woman who is Jewish from birth. (He is however, permitted to marry a convert.) In fact, if he was married to a woman who was Jewish from birth and he underwent a vasectomy, he must get divorced.

Exactly who is classified as a "kroos shafcha" according to Jewish law? It includes any one of the following three people.

1) One whose penis has been severed

2) One whose testicles have been crushed

3) Or one who has undergone a vasectomy and has severed the tubes that bring the seed up from the testicles

These laws can be found in Maimonides (Laws of Forbidden Relations, Chapter 16), and in the Code of Jewish Law (Even Ha'ezer, Chapters 5 and 16).

To understand the reasons for these laws, consider:

1) Mutilation of a limb is a disruption of the Divine Plan. Given that man is a creation of God, it is imperative that every limb in the body is there for a reason. God is not fickle to create anything unnecessarily. Indeed, according to one who believes that God created man, there are no "vestigial organs" or anything of the sort. Nothing is extra, and removal or mutilation of organs is permitted only under very specific guidelines, for example, when the limb is endangering the person's life.

Mutilation or removal of an organ without halachic license is either ignorance or arrogance. Even if one thinks he has a good reason, he must submit to the superior wisdom of God who has determined that the reason is not good enough.

2) Mutilation of a limb is an act of ingratitude. One’s body is not his own property. One’s body is a gift from God and it belongs to Him. We were not given the right to mutilate our bodies at will. Mutilation of this gift is an act of ingratitude before God. Imagine getting an expensive painting from a dear friend. Upon receiving the painting you promptly pull out a pocketknife and slash a hole in the painting. Does this not show a lack of appreciation and gratitude for this wonderful gift?

3) Mutilation of a limb disrupts spiritual growth. We are taught in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), that every part of the body represents a physical vessel for the spiritual counterpart in the soul. In kabbalah it is taught that there are 613 limbs in the human corresponding to the 613 mitzvot.

According to kabbalah, the soul attains perfection by using its physical counterpart according to the will of God, through the performance of positive mitzvot and through the abstention from negative commandments. Keeping that in mind one can begin to see how by damaging a physical organ one can affect the soul. And how by mutilating the body intentionally one can even cause imperfection in the soul that can change the person's halachic status.

This discussion pertains to those who are considering having a vasectomy. How about someone who already has a vasectomy and is married? In order for Jewish law to permit staying married, the person would need a vasovasostomy done to repair the vasectomy. If the experienced surgeon/doctor declares that semen flow has been restored to the previous condition, then he may remain married. The vasovasostomy success rate is high for those who were vasectomized within 10 years, and is conceivable that they may remain married. (source: "Igros Moshe" E.H. 4:31) In such a case one should be in touch with a competent halachic authority to find out what is required for this second operation to be considered a successful reversal of the status of a "kroos shafcha."

Moreover, if the vasectomy was done in a manner that the vas deferens was cut outside the scrotum (the section within the body cavity), then one may remain married to (or marry) a Jewish-born woman. ("Chazon Ish" E.H. 12:7)

You may be interested to read an interview with Dr. Sherman Silber, a leading international authority on vasectomy reversal:

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