Before Sarah Roven got married, she knew she wanted to learn all about the Jewish laws of marriage and get a clearer sense of what her relationship was going to look like. And, as a frum Jew, that meant taking kallah (bridal) classes.
“Aside from kallah classes being a Jewish rite of passage for most unmarried Orthodox girls, I wanted to take them so that I could learn what it meant to have a happy, healthy marriage from a Torah perspective,” Roven said. “I was hoping my kallah classes would provide guidelines I would base the foundation of my marriage on [like] trust, mutual respect for one another, and love.”
During kallah classes, an engaged Jewish woman, like Roven, is taught taharat ha-mishpachah, which are the laws of family purity for niddah (a menstruating woman). Essentially, a married Jewish couple must separate when a woman is menstruating, as well as seven days following the end of her cycle. They cannot touch each other, share food or drinks, or sleep in the same bed until this time is over and the woman dips in the ritual bath, the mikveh. The laws are based upon passages from Leviticus 18:19 and 20:18 that ban sexual relations between husband and wife when the wife is on her cycle.
Kallah teachers disseminate the intricate and intimate details of the laws to each student over a several week period typically. Aside from being someone she could turn to for guidance, Roven’s teacher also became a rock during the time leading up to her wedding.
“My kallah teacher was like a therapist to me during my wedding planning,” she said. “She calmed me down every week and helped me feel less stressed about all the crazy details that go into a wedding. She listened to all the insanity of family, friends, caterers, dresses, yadda yadda. She even helped me with some of the planning. … But what I really walked away with was the knowledge of what it means to be in a successful marriage.”
There are numerous kallah teachers around Los Angeles — who can be found by asking a local rabbi or rebbetzin — with various backgrounds and styles of instructing. (Grooms can take classes too: chossen classes.)
Nechama Denbo, who has been giving kallah classes for 21 years, started out by learning the laws of family purity under Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits at Yeshivas Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. She also studied with rebbetzins in Jerusalem who specialize in training kallah teachers.
“I had such a positive experience with my own kallah teacher that I felt like I could see where a kallah teacher could make it or break it for people,” she said.
Located in Pico-Robertson, Denbo teaches students during 10- to 12 1/2-hour lessons. She tailors the course material to each individual based upon her background and knowledge. There’s an understanding, according to Denbo, that “the bride will take on the laws as she becomes more observant. It’s a very wide range depending on where the kallah is, and what she’s hoping to take away from the experience.”
It’s not unheard of for the relationship between teacher and student to continue after the wedding.
“I believe everybody needs that special role model or mentor in their lives they can look up to,” Denbo said. “They can be intimate and personal with their teacher about things they wouldn’t want to discuss with other people. Not everyone has a mom they can go to, or maybe they don’t want to because it’s personal. A teacher and bride can build that relationship, and the bride can understand, on a deep level, what this mitzvah is really about.”
A major piece of the kallah course is about the mikveh. Brides learn how to figure out when they’re ready to go, the laws of bathing themselves properly before an immersion, and what blessing to say when they’re immersed in the water. Denbo serves as an attendant for the mikveh in Pico-Robertson, which means she supervises and
makes sure the woman’s immersion is kosher.
One of the reasons that Sarah Almogue decided to take kallah lessons was because she “had so many questions about the mikveh and what I was supposed to do before the wedding. There are all these little nuances. It’s very daunting if you’ve never done it before, and I was kind of afraid to go.”
Through her classes, the Pico-Robertson-based resident, who was married nearly three years ago, learned the details of the mikveh, along with interesting information about becoming a parent.
“My rebbetzin taught me what to do when you’re having trouble with shalom bayit (peace in the home) and the steps to take to alleviate it, when you need to go to your rabbi for questions, and the important times for intimacy,” Almogue said. “I wanted to get pregnant right after I got married, and my teacher told me about the most probable times for fertility after the mikveh.”
Like Almogue, Roven gained valuable knowledge about the Jewish laws that she has instilled in her marriage.
“I learned healthy communication skills as well as Judaism’s approach to intimacy in a marriage, as well as the laws of niddah, which I believe keeps so many religious couples together,” she said. “It was the most amazing experience, and I felt very privileged I was able to have it.”