22 May, 2006
Now that the sponge is again being sold in the United States as an effective form of birth control, I am interested in finding out what the halachic issues are. Is a sponge sufficiently similar to the diaphragm to be included in R. Henkin's ruling on the diaphragm? Or would the diaphragm still be a more halachicly preferable form of birth control? Also, the sponge must be moistened with water and squished so that suds form prior to insertion. Would this be permissible on Shabbat?
We understand why the sponge is a very attractive contraceptive method. Still, in most cases where its use would be appropriate, a woman could also use a diaphragm. The diaphragm, while itself subject to some halachic debate, is preferable halachically to the sponge when both methods are feasible: the diaphragm sits behind the pubic bone, whereas the sponge is held in place by the vaginal muscles; there is a greater chance of the husband feeling the sponge during relations. Additionally, the sponge's method of action includes absorbing sperm into the foam, which the diaphragm does not do. These factors are relevant to the halachic concern of relations being as natural as possible and to halachic concerns about the treatment of sperm. The sponge resembles the "moch" discussed in halachic sources more closely than does the diaphragm, which brings up many halachic issues. Moreover, the diaphragm is a more efficacious contraceptive method.
Accordingly, the position of our site's rabbinic adviser, R. Yehuda Henkin, is that unless there were a situation in which no other contraceptive (diaphragm included) were appropriate, we would not recommend the sponge. Note that we have heard of at least one rabbi in the United States who permits use of the sponge. On the other hand, rabbis who do not permit use of the diaphragm would most likely not permit use of the sponge.
If you have permission to use a contraceptive it is important to consult both your physician and your rabbi about which method is appropriate. As you see above, choice of method is its own, complex halachic and medical issue.
As for the Shabbat question, the sponge should be inserted prior to Shabbat.
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