Kallah classes

On top of everything else that you need to prepare for the wedding, you need to prepare yourself.  Preparing yourself is not just a matter of getting your hair and nails done but of making sure you cover all you need to know about the halachos pertaining to married life.  That’s what kallah classes are for.  The course you take prior to your wedding should cover all aspects of what is known as taharas hamishpacha [family purity].  There are many complexities involved, so you need to make sure to have an instructor who is thorough and clear, as well as approachable.  If you feel too shy to ask questions, then you won’t be able to get the clarification you need.  You should feel completely comfortable talking with your teacher, and if you don’t, then you should really consider switching.  Consequently, you should allow enough time before the wedding date both to find the right person and to complete all the lessons.

Kallah classes may take place in groups or one-on-one.  While the latter offers more individualized attention, some of the more well-known teachers do teach in groups.  I can say for myself that I took a one-on-one, but I didn’t feel the teacher did anything differently for me than she did with anyone else.  I cannot say I believe that one-on-one is always better, though I’m sure that some women would feel less inhibited by the tête-à-tête than by a roomful of peers.  Consider what situation you would prefer, and then look for a teacher who matches your needs and can accommodate your schedule.  Do bear in mind that group classes may be more economical than one-on-one sessions.  But that is not an absolute rule.  While most kallah instructors do charge a fee for their services, a number of completely qualified ones also offer them leshem mitzvah.   You may have to investigate a bit to get that information, but be sure you know your instructor’s expectations for payment before you sign up.       
How do you find a kallah teacher?   You can ask your local rabbi or rebbetzin for recommendations.  Your teachers from high school or seminary may also be able to recommend someone, as may your married friends. Then there are organizations that can provide you with names of qualified teachers. JME (Jewish Marriage Education) is the organization of Rabbi Yirmiyahu and Tehilla Abramov that has trained numerous kallah teachers in its standardized approach.  It has the endorsements of well-known rabbis.    For more information about JME see .jewishfamily.org

For those who prefer an approach that offers less hashakafa [perspective] and more clinical substance have another option.  The yoatzot are women who have been trained by Nishmat’s program, overseen by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin.  Their information tends to be more biologically precise and thorough, touching on issues that are usually skipped over by others. Visit their website http://www.yoetzet.org  to learn more about what they offer and to see various questions and answers online. You can also submit your own question.
 While you’re looking for a teacher for yourself, be sure that your chasson is also finding someone to teach him all that he needs to know, too.  It is crucial that a chasson understands the halachos of taharas hamispacha, for he also has to be aware of the timing and behavioral guides.  Ignorance is not bliss and can actually lead to serious problems in this instance.  If he does not have access to someone through his shul or yeshiva, ask your kallah teacher for a recommendation for a chasson instructor.  Both of you should also obtain reference books on the subject.  The book can help you review and also serve as a springboard for discussion with your kallah teacher for issues that should be covered beyond the harchakos, vestos, bedikos, chafifah and mikvah immersion.  There are many negative precept involved (thou shalt not) but also some positive ones (thou shalt).
You can find some of the concerns with texts brought to light in Gender Relationships in Marriage and Out. Blau, Rivkah, ed.. Ktav, 2007. This book is comprised of 12 essays that originated as papers delivered during the Orthodox Forum in New York in 2005.  It in inclues a review of some of the books currently available for kallah classes in the chapter by Devora Zlochower entitled, " Preparing Modern Orthodox Kallot and Hatanim for Marriage.”You can access a listing of books on articles on the topic with links to download or order athttp://www.jofa.org/social.php/life/marriage/kallahandhat/+sort=author
One source you may want to look into is  the last of the 3 volumes on  Woman and the Mitzvot: Guide to the Rabbinic Source by Rabbi Elyakim Getsel Ellinson, entitled Ish Veishto [Man and His Wife], which offers many rabbinical sources and explanations about marital relations in halacha.  It has been translated into English by Raphael Blumberg as Partners in Life (1998).  You may already be familiar with some of the texts, but they are explicated in a new light for practical application. Some of these same topics are addressed by Rabbi Knohl in the book reviewed below.  You should carefully consider which books you wish to have in your own library. Your selection should not only be accurate about the halacha, meaning it does not just offer stringencies or leniencies, but should also convey a positive tone.

To appreciate the differences in tone, compare the points of view on onah (or Oinoh, as one book spells it) presented in two books.   Taharas Am Yisroel: A Guide to the Halachos of Jewish Marriage by Rabbi Shaul Wagschal, first published in 1979.  The copy I took this quote from was the 4th edition from 2002 (Judaica Press). On pp. 122-123, the topic is 'The Designated Times for Oinoh." It contains the usual information about frequency with the warning that a man may sap his strength which is needed for kollel or work, so his wife should understand and not demand too much. Here is point #7: "A kallo may not exactly know what oinoh means, [I am refraining from adding my comment in here] but she should accept that this is the way Hashem planned the complete union of husband and wife, though we do not understand why [bold in the source]. She should also know that this is the only way in which a woman can become pregnant."  

 Contrast it with what is presented in Marital Intimacy:  A Traditional Jewish Approach by Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman, published in 2005 on page 21: “What mitzvot did the Rabbis consider so fundamental and paradigmatic that they designated them, simply, ‘mitzvah’?  Those mitzvoth are ‘pru urvu’ (procreation) and ‘Onah’ (a husband’s obligation to satisfy his wife’s desire for marital intimacy) – the two sexually based positive Mitzvot.”  Clearly, this elucidation distinguishes between onah and pregnancy in contradistinction to Rabbi Wagschal’s attempt to conflate the two in his suggested presentation of what to tell a bride about having to endure a physical relationship.  The fact that onah is defined as a wife’s pleasure is completely incompatible with that view.  While Rabbi Friedman’s book offers a much more positive view and devotes an entire chapter to “The Mitzvah of Onah,” as most of the literature in English does, it avoid  using clinical terms in describing marital intimacy.  Many would benefit from explicit instructions within the framework of their chasson and kallah classes.  

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