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I often find that a couple is absolutely shocked to hear a religious leader speak about sex so frankly and openly. That shock quickly turns to relief, and then we have a real conversation about the Jewish sex ethic. Couples also love seeing that the Talmud talks about sexuality so openly.
I recently gave a class at our shul, entitled "A History of Jewish Sex Ethics." It was a chance for me to use the texts and training I had received at the Kallah Teacher Workshop for a group that was not my usual audience of brides and grooms. In a room where most of the audience was at least twice my age, there was a deep appreciation for the discussion. One woman remarked to me that she had studied and taught Jewish subjects all her life and “Why did nobody ever teach her this stuff?!”
After teaching one kallah, I checked in about a month after the wedding, and I was pleased that she felt comfortable enough to tell me that she discovered she did not enjoy sex. We were able to have an honest discussion, in which we talked about various things that she could consider doing in order to find pleasure in her sexual relationship. Without the workshop, I would not have known how to have that discussion, nor would she have felt comfortable asking!
When I teach chatanim and kallot in a group, our final session is team-taught with my husband, who is also a Jewish educator, in which we discuss many details of the Jewish approach to sexuality and intimacy. We always hold these sessions in our home, with beer and snacks at the table. It creates a fun atmosphere in which we convey that while sex is incredibly holy and a mitzvah, it is also fun and pleasurable. It gives young couples a healthy and open way to discuss their questions about sex in a safe and supportive environment.
-Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold
I have taught many kallot over the years. They are appreciative of how open our sessions are and non-judgmental. Some of my most interesting interactions have been with women wanting a refresher course. Most of these women only studied how to keep track of when they are in niddah, etc. They did not learn about sex in halakha or in terms of problems in the bedroom.
I was once asked for a refresher class on spotting because of miscarriages, IUD, etc. After the class, one woman asked if I could share what I teach women before they get married in the standard class. After sharing my answer, she asked if I could review the halakhot of sexual acts. We scheduled a time, and started reviewing the sources together. By the end, she had tears in her eyes. She explained, that in over a decade of marriage, neither she nor her husband had ever looked at these fundamental sources. She said that for years they had carried guilt and fought about sex. They had assumed that halakha would not allow the acts that they were engaging in. She told me, "You just changed my life. You changed my marriage. Thank you."
That moment was so powerful. It also reminded me how many marriages we are saving from difficult relationships, arguments, and guilt. The knowledge and resources that we share are fundamental in so many couples' lives.
-Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg
Several years ago I had the distinct privilege of being accepted into an inaugural event. In the spring of 2008, JOFA, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Drisha initiated a Kallah teacher training program entitled: "Demystifying Sex and Teaching Halakha." I had been teaching kallot in the Sephardic community of Brooklyn for several years. This program was offering a unique opportunity to do in-depth study of Jewish text, bond with others in the field, and learn about how to approach issues of intimacy and sexuality with future students. However, the event was so much more. We accomplished all of the desired goals, but for me personally- this was a life-changing experience. The workshop opened me up to a world of learning that had been dormant while I was busy raising my family and working. I was inspired to return to college and am currently pursuing a degree in Judaic studies. I also developed close personal ties with some of the event organizers and faculty. Rabbi Dov Linzer has given me guidance and advice on many difficult and challenging halakhic issues these past few years. I feel honored to think of him as a mentor and more importantly as a rabbinic authority who embodies an educated, sensitive and open-minded approach to Judaism.
Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus has also become a close friend and advisor. She explained and emphasized the essential role that intimacy has in marriage. She taught me how to create a safe space for women to talk about their most private and sensitive concerns. Together, we have helped numerous women who consult with me about hilkhot niddah and Taharat HaMishpacha. Bat Sheva has been a tremendous inspiration; I am lucky to have her support and friendship.
The delicate issue of "Demystifying Sex and Teaching Halakha" is still very much alive. Thankfully, the Jewish world can turn to innovative leaders like Rabbi Linzer and Dr. Marcus for their continued guidance.
I attended the training program several years ago and have been teaching kallot and chatanim ever since. The program was halakhically rigorous, open, taught with honesty and sensitivity, and mutifaceted. In addition to the halakhic presentations, it included presentations by a gynecologist, a sex therapist, a urologist, and a social worker. It was intensive, thorough, eye opening, and inspiring. I truly feel that I have been able to make a difference in the lives of engaged couples as a result. Many continue to reach out to me with questions. I feel gratified to have been able to play such an important role at such a critical, meaningful, and emotional time in their lives. Taharat HaMishpacha is about much more than halakha. It's about intimacy, communication, respect, and navigating one's relationship with one's spouse. The workshop facilitates this understanding and gives its participants the tools to work effectively with kallot and chatanim.
I recently ran into a student from many years ago. She said:
"I've been thinking about you a lot lately in light of the whole [Freundel] scandal. I've talked about it a lot with my friends and they all felt so put upon and pressured by the whole system. But my experience was totally different. I walked away from our sessions thinking 'I know the halakha and I know my body. I know and I decide when I need to involve a halakhic authority. I trust my judgement.' My friends really did not have that feeling. Their classes and understanding of niddah were totally different."
I almost cried. No, really...