I used to be a Kallah teacher, before I became a therapist. I found this article in my files, never published. I know that I tried to publish it in many venues only to have it turned down repeatedly. I assume that it is because no publication felt comfortable with such information in a public forum. This article is a little rough around the edges, but the content remains relevant today as it was ten years ago when I wrote it. So here it is:
Mazel Tov! I heard your daughter became engaged last night!
From the trend I have been observing, the uppermost concern of yours will be to book the wedding hall and invest hours upon hours, thousands upon thousands of dollars into the one night of the wedding; yet the investment of a lifetime, you'll casually entrust to your daughter's friends or to some passing acquaintance's opinion. I am referring to your choice of person who will be teaching your daughter the information that will not only lay the groundwork of her marriage but will give her the tools to build that bayis ne'eman b'yisroel and to rejoice in her future role as wife and mother. The Kallah teacher.
Choosing the proper kallah teacher for your daughter is even more important today as we see the tens of marriages celebrated in our communities that do not last out the year. That girls getting married today are different not only from their mothers, but from their older sisters, is a given. Ask any high school teacher who has been in the field for ten years or more and she will tell you. Why they are different is a discussion for a different article, but different they most certainly are and we must be there to help them assume the most awesome responsibility they have ever encountered: the Jewish marriage.
For hundreds of years the traditional method for preparing a girl for marriage has been for the mother to transmit the mesorah to her daughter. For all the reasons that there has been a breakdown in
our community and this is rarely done, you, as the mother, must find that mother-like substitute who will help your daughter successfully navigate that crucial period of time in her marriage, shana rishona, be it one year, two weeks, or even two years, as well as the rest of her married life.
Why is being properly prepared for marriage with the right kallah teacher more important than other new and perhaps even more difficult stages in a girl's/woman's life? Why should a girl have a harder time being a successful wife than say, a mother? The answer, I feel, lies in the support system a girl lacks when she marries in contrast to the normal support system she can access at other crucial times.
To explain this concept further, think of the scenario in which a woman is pregnant with her first child. Despite the knowledge of the inherent difficulties and possible pain in having a child, despite the fear of the unknown and unexpected mishaps during pregnancy and possibly afterward, woman navigate this stage successfully due to the tremendous support she receives at ever step of the way with doctors, nurses, doulas, nursing consultants, and of course her mother and extended family. But that support would be glaringly absent when a girl in newly married. In the first case scenario, a woman is not shy to ask for help, even more, everyone is offering help; while in the latter, she feels alone because she does not, cannot ask for help. The nature of marriage is such that the relations;hip between husband and wife is private; it does not, and should not lend itself to moaning over the phone to friends or complaining to a mother. It is not appropriate to talk to friends about issues in marriage; and as caring as a mother is and as willing as she is to help; a mother (and father) s too subjective and the husband may feel his privacy is being invaded. A rav is a good choice, but often a girl does not have such a relationship (or his gender is a barrier) in order to approach him comfortably; the same goes for a teacher from school with whom she may enjoy a close relationship but never discussed issues of marriage. A therapist would be an extreme solution for most issues that surface within shana rishona.
This brings us to ask two questions: How will a properly chosen kallah teacher help in this area and why is it that a kallah teacher is most likely to help?
It is the kallah teacher, the objective mother-like substitute who has spent many hours with this girl discussing halachah, hashkafah, and intimate details of marriage and developing an open, close relationship, who would be natural choice for this girl to call for support when all she needs is clear guidance, information, reassurance, and if need be, clarify when it is necessary to have the involvement of the parents, a rav, and/or a therapist.
Now that we have established the importance of finding a perfect kallah teacher for your daughter, we must address how we find such a person. Here is a list of qualifications to look for in a teacher. It is not necessary for her to possess all of these qualities (although many kallah teachers do!), but it can give you a clearer idea of what you may want to look for and know so you may make an educated decision that you aspire to when you research wedding related issues of lesser importance like the quality of the music and flowers, and the the fleishige pots you plan on ordering. These are some questions you may want to ask to narrow down your search.
Does the teacher instruct one-on-one or in a group setting?
In Eretz Yisroel, it is virtually unheard of for a kallah to be taught in a group setting. It is almost impossible for a teacher to develop that close relationship necessary when she is directing her subject matter to a group rather to the individual. Firstly, each kallah is unique and although the information is the same, there is a way to reach the heart and mind of each individual. No two kallahs can be taught identically, especially when we are dealing with a subject she has never learned before, she does not see her mother—or other role models, practicing, and to which she most likely has limited—and often—distorted exposure. Secondly, only in a private session can the kallah stop the teacher at any point to ask sensitive questions or clear up misunderstandings that may arise is halachah or hashkafah. Thirdly only in a private session, is the teacher free to address any and all concerns of a kallah without feeling that the others in the class need not hear this.
Yes, there are many excellent kallah teachers who teach in groups (for various reasons, mainly financial ones), who may be better than private teachers, but even those teachers will agree that the ideal is one-on-one.
What is the teacher's training?
Rebbetzin Tehilla Abramov, the author of Secret of Jewish Feminity and other books relating to marriage and Taharas Hamishpacha, is endorsed by many rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel (you can check the approbations at the beginning of her books) and trains teachers all over the world. Her non-profit organization JME (Jewish Marriage Education), whose goal is to reach each individual kallah from all walks of life to build loving, Jewish homes, has teachers based in most communities. To find the number of a JME counselor, you may look in the back of any of her books, and call the number given in your area code. There are also rabbonim who teach individual kallah teachers who then give their haskamah to their work. Other teachers are taught by experienced kallah teachers. There are frequent workshops geared to kallah teachers run by different organization. It is prudent to check a teacher's credentials and extent of her training.
What is the teacher's level of experience and/or expertise?
Experience and expertise is a crucial aspect of informal training, because by being in contact with many kallahs, and being involved, the teacher learns not only how to deal with each kallah but also which rabbonim and professionals can guide her when necessary. Some teachers are experienced with girls from specific communities or chassidus; some are proficient with teaching kallahs who fall under different categories: kallahs with physical or mental disabilities, second-time kallahs, newly observant kallahs, or religiously distant kallahs. Again, it is not the halachos that change, but the individual approach; and in some cases, there may be some variation of the material to be taught.
Experience and training are both very important but what does the teacher actually teach in her classes?
Most teachers cover and halachos and hashkafah of Taharas Hamishpachah, but does she cover also basic anatomy, shalom bayis, pregnancy and childbirth, mothering/nursing, and any other topic the kallah and/or mother may want her to address? Does she work with a specific text that is clearly written out for the kallah to follow instead of relying on the accuracy of her notes transcribed from her teacher's lectures? JME counselors use a book in which all halachos are clearly delineated. Minhagim and chumros the kallah may encounter are written into margins (to remind her to discuss these, and the rest of the halachos, with her husband after the wedding), thus making it easier for the girl to review the halachos, certain she has not forgotten or misunderstood anything.
What is the length of time the teacher ideally requires to properly prepare your daughter?
Most teachers need between 8-12 classes, spaced once or twice a week. Again a teacher who teaches one kallah at a time is more flexible and able to accommodate either a girl who needs more time or is getting married in a shorter time frame without feeling she is compromising the needs of another girl she is teaching simultaneously.
How available is the teacher outside scheduled classes?
You want a teacher who will give your daughter her phone number and encourages her to call with questions or concerns. You want a teacher who will not think twice about calling or involving a rav with shailos; or the chosson teacher with issues that arise. Even if your daughter does not need that extra attention, it is comforting to know that the teacher is there for her. One more aspect of availability is knowing the teacher's phone line is open for your daughter after the wedding, and even more, she will schedule a session or even two a few weeks or months after the wedding. This post wedding class is more significant than you may realize. Firstly, before the wedding, much that is taught is theoretical; therefore it is likely that questions arise afterward when practical application takes place. Secondly, this gives the newly married woman the opportunity to discuss issues big and small that may be bothering her, allowing her to either be reassured that this is normal adjustment, or advised to involve a rav and/or parents if there is more serious cause for concern; nipping problems in their early stages.
How much does a teacher charge?
As far as I know, most kallah teachers will not refuse to teach a girl due to a true lack of money; often counting that as a way to give maaser. JME counselors, for example, are asked not to charge at all, but most will ask for compensation or accept whatever is offered. Kallah teachers charge anywhere between $500-$1500, with some group classes costing as much as private ones. (It is a interesting phenomenon that a mother who will spend one thousand to ten thousand dollars on a gown worn for a single night will bargain with a kallah teacher who gives both her days and nights...)
How do I find a kallah teacher for my daughter?
Usually, finding a kallah teacher is word-of-mouth. But the test of a kallah teacher is if she is referred to you by others one or more years after the wedding. I say this because most girls are excited to go their classes; the subject matter is new and exciting, and they gush, “She's sooo interesting! She's great!” But it is only years later that a woman can judge if her wedding preparation with the teacher was adequate and if the teacher was available to guide her during rough patches of shana rishona and beyond. Try, therefore, to get referrals from friends—or their mothers—already married. Call the rav of your community or shul for a recommendation, or even from the chosson's teacher. Speak to more than one referral and do not be hesitant to interview the kallah teacher via phone or even in person to see if she is the right fit for your daughter. Lastly, determine that the kallah teacher adheres to the highest standards of confidentiality, and does not toss out “stories” and “cases” of those she has helped or taught without their explicit consent in conversation.
In closing, I would like to say that none of the other preparations for your daughter will have such far reaching effects as that of the classes in taharas mishpacha she will attend. Not the choice of menu or gown, nor the color of her dinette set or window treatment; and that is why so much effort much be expended in finding the perfect kallah teacher for your child. And truly, we have many, many such dedicated women in our community.
And mazel tov again!
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