Kallah Classes: An Empowered Education

By: Michal Schechter Shira Leff Kreitman  |  May 15, 2016

Kallah Classes

“YES!!!!!!” *mazel tov, mazel tov!*

Ah, engaged life. You’ve got a loving guy at your side, a gorgeous ring on your finger and “mazel tovs” pouring in from anyone and everyone. Being engaged is everything and more you thought it would be.

Fast-forward a couple of months later, and you’re wondering how you could ever have deluded yourself into thinking that engagement was a walk in the park. As you wade through the jungle of the wedding industry, attempt to study for exams, deal with family drama and try to find time to spend with your fiancé, reality rudely sets in. Not to say you aren’t thrilled that you found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. You just never anticipated that this period of time would be so stressful.

In fact, you’re so overwhelmed, that when your aunt calls you up and says “Hey, I have a great kallah teacher for you. She taught your cousin too, and she’s great!” you immediately sign up, overjoyed at the thought that you have one less decision to make right now. Besides, this kallah teacher lives close by, so you won’t have to waste time traveling, and she’ll teach you everything you need to know in just a few classes. In the back of your mind, you think you may want to get other recommendations for this teacher. But that means calling people and potentially awkward conversations. You just can’t devote so much time into figuring out kallah classes now—you’re barely keeping yourself afloat!

Later on, you look back at this moment and come to regret it. If only you had realized how important these classes could be, you would have put more effort into finding the right kallah instructor. It takes a skilled and highly qualified individual to properly teach brides about niddah laws, physical intimacy, and to help prepare couples for married life in general. Looking back, you wonder how you could have made such a callous mistake.

It’s a widely known secret: while there are knowledgeable, trustworthy and committed kallah teachers out there, there are a great many brides who have had negative and even traumatic experiences in their kallah courses.

The main objective of kallah courses is to teach brides the laws of taharat hamishpakha (family purity). Kallah teachers are also generally expected to provide brides with helpful advice regarding the development of the physical relationship with their marital partner, and to offer general relationship advice. However, too often, kallah teachers do not live up to their responsibilities.

It is not uncommon for kallah instructors to teach hilkhot niddah from a very practical perspective, without any background or broader context. This can lead kallahs to feel frustrated and confused by their partial, and not more comprehensive, understanding of niddah laws. Leah* (SCW ’15) recalls, “I felt like my kallah teacher wanted me to view her as the sole proprietor of the information she knew—she presented the information as though she alone owned it. When I asked her to expound on the sources for a particular topic, she said ‘You don’t need to know it; if you have a question, call me.’ I got the feeling that I was expected to know nothing and depend solely upon others.”

In addition, an unclear understanding of the halakhot can lead kallahs to unknowingly take on extra stringencies or leniencies. “About a year after I got married, I realized that [regarding niddah] I had no idea what was going on…” Leah adds, “I finally gathered up the courage to ask a rabbi some questions, and I realized that for the past year, I had been consistently making myself a niddah when in actuality I wasn’t.”

Kallah teachers are also generally expected to guide a kallah through the development of a couple’s physical relationship. In a community that is hesitant about discussing sexual matters, many brides look towards their kallah teachers for direction in this area. Unfortunately, many kallah teachers simply don’t discuss this critical aspect of a bride’s life.

“My kallah teacher just refused to talk about anything overtly sexual,” Rivka* (SCW ’14) says. “She kept putting off discussing the wedding night, and only referred to elements of the physical relationship in euphemistic terms. When she finally discussed it, three days before the wedding, she looked so embarrassed, I thought she would run out of the room. She didn’t even actually say anything about it. She just said ‘He’ll know what to do.’ Needless to say, this did not enhance my comfort level, and instead made me more anxious ahead of my wedding.”

In particularly turbulent moments, brides often turn to their kallah teachers not only for halakhic guidance, but for emotional support as well. However, kallahs are sometimes sorely disappointed with the responses they get from their kallah teachers. “We went through a tough time with hilkhot niddah almost immediately after the wedding,” recounts Ariella (SCW ’15). “Thinking I could confide in my kallah teacher, I called her all emotional, and explained the situation. After giving me curt advice about the halakhic implications of the situation, she told me I should get over it, before hanging up. I literally put the phone down and cried. I never felt so alone.” Lauren (SYMS ’13) concurs: “When I had a question a week after my wedding, I called my kallah teacher and, from the way she spoke, I felt like a huge imposition. The next time I had an embarrassing question, I didn’t know where to turn.”

Beyond the responsibility of teaching taharat hamishpakha and intimacy, many kallah teachers become involved in the bride’s’ personal lives, and give over advice on healthy relationships and marriage. These interactions, however, can go very wrong. Tzippi* (SCW ’15) turned to her kallah teacher for guidance, but she instead got a bride’s worst nightmare. “One night the kallah teacher called me up out of the blue said that there were things my fiancé wasn’t telling me. Thank G-d, my [now] husband and I had been together for a while and had enough trust in each other to communicate with each other rather than through the kallah teacher. That week was the worst week of my life. I ultimately dropped the kallah teacher, but I shudder when I think of the repercussions this teacher could have caused had my fiancé and I only known each other for a few months.”

Afterwards, Tzippi relates, she called up her friend who had recommended the kallah teacher to her and told her what had happened. “There was silence on the other end, and my friend said, “Honestly—the same thing happened to me, but I thought that I had caused it, so I didn’t tell you about it.”

Lest you think that all kallah classes are bound to lead to doom and gloom, there are many who have had positive experiences, sometimes leading to lifelong relationships with kallah teachers. As Rachel* (SYMS ’14) puts it, “I was pretty lucky—my kallah teacher was incredibly helpful. Aside from the fact that she gave me a clear understanding of niddah laws and taught me important information about being sexually active, she really took the time to get to know me better. She spent a lot of time giving me personalized relationship advice, especially during some especially rocky times during my engagement. As a newlywed, I still turn to her for help sometimes and she is totally there for me.” Talia (SCW ’16) concurs: “My kallah teacher was very insightful and made easing into married life a lot smoother than it would have been otherwise. She gave me a lot of confidence as a newlywed. I’m lucky my friend recommended her to me.”

Indeed, why aren’t bad experiences communicated between brides so that more kallot can have positive experiences like Rachel and Talia? Some are reluctant to share their negative experiences with others, thinking that their bad experiences are a reflection of their own poor judgment or relationships. They may also be wary to admit that their engagement period wasn’t exactly the most blissful period of their lives. The unwillingness to discuss kallah class experiences ensures the continuity of negative kallah class experiences. “My former kallah teacher continues to get loads of kallahs, and she’s still teaching confidently…and she shouldn’t be,” Tzippi adds.

In a community that puts great emphasis on marriage and family life, surprisingly little emphasis is put on helping engaged couples find the right instructors to teach them the information that will help them build a halakhic and successful marriage. In our general studies, we make informed decisions about the professors we may take who directly influence our college experiences and grades. Why should our kallah education be any different? Our generation must help each other out and guide each other to choose appropriate kallah teachers, so we can increase the number of women who have positive experiences in their kallah classes, and decrease the number of kallahs who are hurt by their experiences.

‘I agree!’ you enthusiastically respond. ‘But what can I do?’

Ladies, we might just have the solution you’re looking for. Few people would take a college course before finding out information about the instructor. Whether we get our information from our good friends, the people crammed next to us in the elevators, or online, we make sure to sign up for classes with professors who we think we’ll have good experiences with. Why not do the same for kallah classes?

We hereby present to you mykallahteacher.com. We’ve developed this site to help kallahs make the most informed decision they can about choosing their kallah classes. We believe that women can be better educated about choosing their kallah teachers by the simple sharing of information in a respectful and informative manner. In order to prevent reviews of kallah teachers from getting too personal, the questionnaire includes only structured, scaled questions. In addition, while entries will be reviewed for verification purposes, they will be kept anonymous. By creating a website designed to present brides with available kallah teachers and people’s previous experiences with them, the common problem of kallahs having frustrating and traumatic class and teacher experiences can be decreased.

Not receiving a good education in kallah classes can lead to negative consequences not only during the engagement period, which is a sensitive time for kallahs, but also in marriage. It’s time for our community to take a more active stand to ensure that kallahs have the opportunity to make informed decisions for a matter that has great halakhic and emotional marital implications.

*Names have been changed