Religion & Beliefs

Breslov Hasidim’s Obsession with Sex

A pet cause of the Breslov chassidic sect — reputed to be a permissive, new age, gleeful, alternative to the other Hasidic orders — is sexual restraint. Specifically, followers of Breslov Hasidut focus on the widespread eradication of sexual thoughts, … Read More

By / January 20, 2009

A pet cause of the Breslov chassidic sect — reputed to be a permissive, new age, gleeful, alternative to the other Hasidic orders — is sexual restraint. Specifically, followers of Breslov Hasidut focus on the widespread eradication of sexual thoughts, and especially any self-abatement of resulting urges. Accordingly, there have been some robust Web efforts at plugging the sexual dam. Rebbe Nachman was the founder, or ‘patron saint’ of Breslov Hasidism, and was the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, who himself was the founder of all Hasidic Judaism. Nachman placed great emphasis on exuberance, and joyful worship of God. He believed that there is "no despair in the world", and that one should constantly be in a state of jubilant exultation of the creator. For this reason, one faction of Breslovers maintains a small fleet of GMC vans, which they drive around Israel blasting religious music — often featuring the mantra "Na Nach Nachma Nachman"– and roping passersby into dancing and singing with them, sometimes on top of the vans. This faction may also be recognized by their honking white yarmulkes, with the mantra "Na Nach Nachma" printed on them — which have become an Israeli kitsch collectable. The Jerusalem Post estimated in 2006 that there are 80 families belonging to this faction of "Na Nachmanim," most of whom are of Mizrachi origin — many with a history of substance abuse — and were only recently swayed to Breslov Hasidism, or affiliated one generation back. Despite being only a small fringe of the mainstream, they are the more public face of Breslover Hasidut, relaying an image of hippy laxity. The more prevailing group of Breslovers can trace their ancestral ties closer to Rebbe Nachman’s original followers, and the rift from his grandfather’s Hasidic establishment. Breslover Hasidut was birthed in the town of Bratslav, Ukraine at the turn of the 19th century after Nachman’s followers were detached from the larger Hasidic community, because of their cultish adulation of Nachman — an adulation that still continues today. In-fighting for control of the Baal Shem Tov’s Hasidic dynasty between Breslovers and early Lubavitch also caused a rift. Today the Lubavitch and Breslov community still compete — but now in their outreach initiatives, not for control of the Hasidic movement. One of their biggest campaigns has been against the ‘wasting of seed’, or hotza’at zera levatalah. Though the prohibition is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah, it derives from the Biblical story of Onan, who was asked to sleep with his late brother’s wife, Tamar, in order to produce an heir. Onan and Tamar did sleep together, but Onan disengaged, electing to spill his seed on the ground. God killed him. From this, Biblical commentators deduced a Divine prohibition against extra-uteral ejaculation — whether in the audience of a partner, or alone. It should be noted that sex for the purpose of recreation, rather than mere procreation, is perfectly kosher. Also, the (explicit) prohibition against self-satisfaction in Judaism, as opposed to most Christian sects and Islam, does not apply to women.   Breslover Jews are particularly fearful of the spiritual ramifications of Onanism. Rebbe Nachman himself purportedly married soon after his Bar Mitzvah in order to avoid cowing to his urges. He also compiled ten psalms for incantation (in this order: Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150) for what he called the "general fix", which (among other sins) constitute a special spiritual remedy for nocturnal emissions. To be sure, the mainstream ultra-Orthodox community is staunchly against masturbation. However, for penance, most modern rabbis would recommend Torah study and charitable donations rather than the 84 fasts for each one session demanded by one of Talmud’s sages. The esteemed Orthodox rabbi, Abraham Danziger was a contemporary of Rabbi Nachman. Danziger contended in his influential work Chayei Adam, that though the spiritual ramifications of  masturbation are tantamount to murder, if a fellow can’t restrain himself, then self-amusement is a preferable alternative to bedding a prostitute, a menstruating woman, or another guy’s wife. Breslovers and Lubavitchers maintain that it is the worst sin one can commit. Often, they cite a passage in Tanya — a sacred Lubavitch text based heavily upon the Zohar — which indicates that even incest is less heinous than male masturbation. The Zohar refers to spilt semen as "wasted [blood]"; The heft of the sin is attributed to the frittering of sperm, which has the potential to beget life. Even though Tanya is a Chabad text, it is Breslovers who obsess over the prohibition. Sociologically, this is likely tied to Rebbe Nachman’s philosophy of Halakhic observance; pick one mitzvah to observe obsessively, and observe the rest with moderate vigor. Breslovers usually pick the mitzvah of self restraint, because of the grave way the Talmud and Tanya treat masturbation; It reads like the worst sin, and so — very ambitiously — most pick that prohibition to adhere to fanatically.