Kallah Classes – Did They Help?

After a lively discussion yesterday with members of the Twitter JewCrew about Mikvah, Taharat HaMishpacha and its personal significance, I was asked if the Kallah Classes I had taken before my recent marriage made a difference in how I saw the mitzvah of Mikvah and how I view the mitzvah of Taharat HaMishpacha. My answer was way too long to be squeezed into 140 characters, so I promised to blog it.

Firstly from Kallah Magazine – “What are Kallah classes? Kallah classes are given one on one or in a small group to teach Jewish brides the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha (Family Purity) including laws concerning preparation for and immersion in the mikvah, laws of Niddah, Jewish views on topics concerning intimacy and Shalom Bayis.”

(Men are also supposed to learn the laws with a revered Rabbi).

Secondly, let’s define Niddah – A woman is said to be a Niddah when she is menstruating, or has menstruated without yet completing the associated ritual requirements. Childbirth also renders a woman Niddah.

My first go around with kallah classes was when I was 20 and getting married for the first time. From what I remember from that long ago the one on one class was more of an instruction manual, how to go the mikvah and when, when you can touch your husband, when you can’t. I do not remember being given any hashkafah (religious philosophy) at all about the significance of the mitzvah. It was a how-to class. Nothing more.

This time around, even though initially I resisted the request by the rabbi to take classes again, it was a different story. I told the rabbi that I had been married for 12 years, been to the mikvah over 100 times, knew the laws inside and out, what more could I possibly learn. How wrong I was! Yes I knew the basics, but I needed the hashkafah big time!

It was precisely the fact that we didn’t have to dwell on the minutiae of the laws for too long because of my familiarity with them, that we were able to focus on the spirituality of the mitzvah, of the holiness of the marital bond. I was able to take my experiences from my first marriage, learn from them and use that toward strengthening my experience with this marriage.

It helped that my teacher is an awesome woman. A woman who has been married to her husband for well over 20 years, someone whose face glowed every time she talked about him. I wanted that. I wanted to still love my husband and talk about him like that 20 years from now. Teach me, I said, teach me to still look at him the same way after all that time.

There were many things that we discussed that are not appropriate for me to air in this public forum, but I will say that our talks opened my eyes and gave me a perspective that I cherish now, and will cherish forever.

Let me just give one example. We talked about the importance of the Harchakot. What are the Harchakot? Distancing behaviours observed when a women is Niddah and forbidden sexually to her husband. In my view I had thought these practices ridiculous. Why would passing a plate directly to my husband turn him on? Or fixing his collar? Holding his hand as we walk down the street – where is the harm in that? It isn’t sexual. Why are we punishing the woman for having her period?

The way this awesome teacher explained it to me that it isn’t about forbidding all these things because the woman is “impure”. It is about keeping these things special for a time when the couple can be together in all ways. Its purpose is to prevent simple touches from being mundane and boring. The purpose is to make every physical interaction between the couple very special.

Put it this way. You kiss your husband goodbye every morning when he goes to work. And every evening when he comes home. Every day it’s the same. After a while the feeling isn’t special any more. When you haven’t kissed him in 12 days, trust me, that goodbye kiss in the morning is more powerful than anything.

The minimum amount of time that a woman is Niddah / spiritually impure is usually 12 days. After those 12 days she goes to the mikvah to immerse herself and purify her body and soul. It is not about being dirty and getting clean, as in fact a woman has to be squeaky clean before she immerses. It’s about washing away the previous month, and being renewed for a new month.

When a couple has not been together sexually in that time, the anticipation of mikvah night is huge. A husband will be told by his wife when she plans on immersing. It’s a reunion that is so beautiful and so precious and so right and so very private. It would not be that way if there had been no physical separation for a certain period of time. It’s like a honeymoon all over again.

It isn’t easy. No one will lie to you and say that it is. No one will tell you that you are not allowed to spend time alone together either. You just have to be aware of your limits. We are all human, and we hopefully want to be with our spouses in every possible way – but the rewards of observing these laws are huge. Marriage is about intimacy which isn’t just sex. It’s about being in the moment with someone you love. It’s about sharing your personal physical and emotional space. The Niddah period gives a couple time to work on their emotional connection.

To be honest with you all, I learned about a whole different side of marriage with my Kallah teacher. She taught me how to appreciate the Harchakot, and how to make the most of my marriage in many ways. I doubt that I would have been able to learn all of that if her own marital bliss had not been evident and if I would not have felt comfortable discussing all aspects of a marriage with her. Maybe because I was previously married I had a level of comfort speaking about these things.

Taharat HaMishpacha, Niddah, Mikvah – many young people think it is all about sex. It is not. The purpose of these mitzvoth are to enhance one’s marriage and to keep that marital bond strong and sacred.

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28 responses to “Kallah Classes – Did They Help?

  1. Wow, this really helps, Thanks so much for sharing. I’m in the processes of choosing a Kallah teacher. The Rebitzen of my shul gives Kallah classes and I know she talks about Hashkafa too, and she’s really great. The question is can you take classes with someone you know? or does it get embarrassing? As of now I feel comfortable with her.

    • i knew my Kallah teacher. It might be a little awkward at first – but it is all things that you need to know as a new bride, my dear. I am sure she will put you at your ease. Good luck – and if you have any questions you can always ask me.

      • I also knew the kallah teacher and was honoured when she offered to teach me. I guess I was so naive about what I was about to learn, there was no place to get embarassed! Also, I’m very practical, nothing really shocked me. We spoke mostly about the actual mechanics of the mitzvah, not so much about sex, and alot about having a positive, healthy relationship. My hubby has not share with me what he has learned, but I trust his Chosson teacher implicitly!

  2. My husband took a class and I took a class.

    In his class they learned a very restrictive view of intimacy or sex (pick your word). In my class we learned both points of view. And while my teacher was careful to point out certain things should not become the norm everyday things, all was ok.

    We are both very happy to have the wider perspective (and do take advantage 😉

  3. I think the whole concept of Kallah classes has changed dramatically in the last decade or more. I was married 26 years ago. I knew my kallah teacher very well…it was fine and a good learning experience – but there was little in the way of discussions on relationships, respect, life, etc. and much on the basis of Halacha, what to do when (or not do), how, why – the mechanics.

    My daughter was married two years ago – she and her husband went to classes (separately, of course) and received a tremendous amount of information not only on the mechanics, but on so much more.

    I think this whole concept has come so far…all to the benefit of today’s young people entering marriage.

  4. I’m wondering if the teachers of these classes (male/female) ever collaborate on what they’re teaching so there isn’t a dissonance between what men and women learn. These classes sound pretty useful, but harmful if both parties come out of them with different expectations.

    • there are couples who together teach prospective brides and grooms. the rabbi teaches the guy and his wife the girl. when it’s possible to do this, it is great, because they are both coming at it from the same place.

      what is very important tho, is that the couple themselves discuss what they have learnt so that they are both on the same page.

      • Exactly, in my case my husband did learn differently but we discussed it, we are both very happy we did

        • i think there are couples that do not discuss it ahead of time….glad that you did.

          • That part is strange or weird- not sure of right word but we did talk details (positions, where he could look…) before we touched/ kissed
            The conversations were not weird or strange
            Does this resonate?

            • yes, but some couples would see it as untznius to discuss before the marriage.

              • “untznius ” is not the right word either.
                It was like we wanted to talk about or had to because we could not do “anything” but was as if we were watching two others having the conversation. Maybe because it was Halachic and not pornographic we had not problem but (still looking for the right word). Between kiddushin and kidaysha is a big difference, we were on the kiddushin side. Although now that we are married I can say it is not always making love, sex has its place

  5. Halachically Challenged

    Is a woman only impure to her husband (that is touching). My question is as follows: Impurity is impure – how can she touch anyone at all during that period? Why only the husband.

    • Purity/impurity is a bad translation for the idea of tahara/tuma used in the Torah. It is used for a lack of a similar concept in our culture.

      The main source of “impurity” is death. When a person is tame (what we call impure) s/he is restricted from performing certain activities, mostly related to the Temple. At the time of the Temple, the “impurity” was passed on to other people and objects through touch and presence in the same building.

      Since we currently do not have a Temple to purify ourselves, everybody and everything is considered “impure,” so a woman’s “impurity” doesn’t play any role.

      What we are left with is that a women is off limits to her husband during her period and before immersing in a mikva. As to other men, she may not touch/be touched by them at all at any time except for very specific reasons (medical treatment, emergency situations etc).

      Hope that helps.

      • Halachically Challenged

        what about kids, friends (women), parents, etc. where touching is normally permissible.
        It cannot fathom how this was contrived and the halacha arrived at.

        • 1) how this halacha was “arrived” at
          http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=1101

          2) These laws today ONLY affect husband and wife. A man and his mother /grandmother /daughter can hug at ALL times.

          3) As a follow up to Leah
          http://www.yoatzot.org/question.php?id=3033

          • my question remains, why is it permissable to touch other but not mothers, children, etc. The links do not answer this question in any way,

            • One of the links is clear- reason: bc it says so.

              What does it say- husband and wife cannoot touch at times. Does NOT say a 15 yr old son cannot give his mother a shabbos kiss.

              • The nature of the mitzvahis to make all touch betweenhusbandand wife special, not to make the woman feel like she is dirty. Being totallywithdrawn from the world would defeat the purpose of the mitzvah, not to mentionbe totallyimpractical. A mother still needs to mother, cook, clean, change diapers and come into contact with people. cutting out 12 days a month would be impossible. One thing the Torah is NOT is impractical.

  6. I have to say that for all I’ve read/been told many times that niddah and harchakot strengthen one’s marriage and attraction to one another, I find the whole thing bunk, at least for me. I do feel like I’m being ‘punished’ somehow, and don’t get huge highs off of casual touching right after niddah, either. I’m a very huggy-touchy person, and touch always makes me happy. The lack of it is just painful, nothing more exalted than that.

    • Gila,
      I also am a “touchy” type person. Before I had kids, niddah time was very painful for me also, particularly when I was away from close friends and family I could get my “Hug fix” from. these days when I am niddah I try to focus my touchiness on the kids, which is fulfilling in a different way, but am VERY thankful when Mikveh night comes around!

      It also may help to separate what is chumradik behavior from what is halachically prohibited. Find a place that is comfortable for you without transgressing. I know some may look down on it, but try doing something fun or watching an appropriate funny movie (I like “What About Bob” with Bill Murray) without any romantic content.

  7. I wish people wouldn’t keep talking about “12 days” – that’s just the minimum, it can go on much longer than that, sometimes for months at a time if you’re particularly unlucky. I can’t see how that would improve your marriage.
    And I suppose marriages deteriorate without this “time out” after menopause, during pregnancy etc. Sigh.

  8. GilaB, I have to admit that this mitzvah isn’t an easy one to take on, but like many things, it is better to find a way to convince one’s self that it is a positive other than a negative.
    I also used to consider it a punishment and think I am a huggy touchy person, but I have come to appreciate the times we spend apart and look forward even more to those times that we can be together. It helps to know that my spouse feels a huge absence when we are not together, and that it affects him as strongly as it does myself.
    It’s especially frustrating because I feel that after a couple of weeks of “getting to know the person physically” once again it is ripped away and you have start all over again! BH, I think it gets easier with time, but it’s not a comfortable feeling. I look forward to the days when we do not have to practice this mitzvah!

    On another note, what I find most amazing is the practical/biological side of this mitzvah. Timing is everything, and Hashem, through the Torah, has given us such an incredible understanding of biology and given us a method to practice the most important mitzvah to the best of our abilities and potential.

    • Yes, timing is everything. And women with short cycles, who face halachic infertility, probably don’t bless the fact that they ovulate before they can ever go to the mikva. PEOPLE created the chumra that we all wait an extra week (due to a perceived inability to distinguish nida, which involves waiting seven days from the beginning of the period, from ziva, which involves the extra week tacked on), and for some women, the results make it impossible for them to conceive. Please don’t make things even more painful for these women by going on about how Hashem arranged everything to make conception easier!
      While I find everything less awful than I did in my first year of marriage (I am certainly not a newlywed), I don’t find that it’s gotten easier beyond a point.

  9. I see you quoted my site. There are also reviews of some wonderful sources available to kallahs now that did not exist at the time I was taking such classes. See http://www.examiner.com/x-18522-NY-Jewish-Bridal-Examiner~y2009m9d16-What-they-didnt-teach-you-in-school-Jewish-intimacy-and-prewed-classes-part-5
    Links to the first 4 parts appear in the post.

  10. I had my first Kallah class, and it was with my Rebitzen, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all, I’m so happy I decided to use her, thanks to your comment!

    It was funny, she asked me if I knew why it’s a good thing to separate, and I answered her what you wrote, and she said very good. I let her assume that I knew it from Seminary! lol

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