Sacred Sperm

Ori Gruder is a filmmaker and Orthodox Jew whose documentary Sacred Sperm explores the taboo of self pleasure.

How does an intelligent, educated person respectfully respond to difficult teachings after conversion to a conservative religion? Sacred Sperm, a documentary film released late last year, explores the reasoning behind the Jewish prohibition against masturbation.

A world traveler born in Israel, documentary filmmaker Ori Gruder embraced ultra-Orthodoxy at the age of 30 in response to a search for inner peace. Gruder seems to have navigated the journey to Orthodoxy with commendable grace. He has settled in Israel with his wife and six children and attempts to live within the guidelines established by his chosen faith. Yet he received special permission to continue his chosen career of filmmaking, despite a taboo against media among the ultra-Orthodox community. All of his films are addressed to a secular audience but center on Jewish topics.

Now that he parents his own teenage son knowing the habits and inclination of boys and men, Gruder has embarked on a genuine journey to logically understand the prohibition his chosen religion holds against masturbation. In fact, spilling sperm is considered so wrong that the consequences are among the harshest in the religion. The film visits with parents, teachers, and rabbis about the way they teach male children that all sperm is sacred, therefore it should only be used for the purpose of impregnation. The practical effect of this absolute prohibition makes masturbation sinful, as well as touching the penis at all.

A key concept addressed in the 60-minute documentary is the realization that “the problem isn’t making a mistake, the problem is obsessing about it.” Strong support systems within the ultra-Orthodox community provide a way for members to help one another abide by the rules of their faith.

An interesting byproduct of Gruder using his camera lens to shine a light on a taboo subject is the efficacy of the movie’s distribution among the ultra-Orthodox–despite prohibitions against media consumption. The film could end up helping influence some of the rules of ultra-orthodoxy, in light of the pervasiveness of the media culture. At the very least, it may open a path for legitimate conversation to help remove the shame that inevitably surrounds any topic considered unmentionable.

Sacred Sperm premiered last December in Jerusalem. It will be screened at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival on February 15.

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