Marriage Prep is a Teaching Moment
Show young, searching Jews that Torah works
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
The most effective kiruv is that which demonstrates to a nonobservant Jew that the Torah has the power to dramatically increase his or her life satisfaction.
Rabbi Noach Weinberg's world-famous series of classes, "48 Ways to Wisdom," was the key component of his initial outreach to newcomers to Torah. Show young, searching Jews that Torah works, that it contains unimagined wisdom, Reb Noach felt, and it becomes much easier to demonstrate that it is true.
One area in which this principle has demonstrated itself time and again is the laws governing family purity. The requirement instituted by the Chief Rabbinate of South Africa in the mid '70s that all couples marrying under its auspices (i.e., almost all South African Jews) would receive private one-on-one instruction in the laws of family purity is generally believed to be one of the major impetuses of the powerful teshuvah movement that swept the community in the 1970s and '80s.
Most nonreligious couples enter marriage today acutely aware of the fragility of the marital bonds in modern society and knowing that the chances of divorce are far from negligible. They worry that the excitement that they feel at the time of their marriage will wane with the passage of time. When they learn that the Torah has a time-proven formula for keeping the flames of marital bliss burning brightly, they are keen to learn more. In addition, marriage is one of those points in life when people are most open to considering new paths.
In Israel, as in South Africa, there has long been a requirement of the Chief Rabbinate that brides receive some instruction prior to marriage. Historically, that instruction was perfunctory and done in a manner more likely to serve as a turnoff.
In 2004, a group of young Americans came up with the idea of subcontracting the instruction from the local rabbinical councils. In place of a tedious class taught by a disinterested functionary, they would offer one-on-one instruction offered by teachers filled with enthusiasm for the mitzvah and capable of presenting the material in a sensitive manner. In place of a sterile government office, they would offer the instruction in pleasant surroundings and at convenient times.
And thus Lahav was born. Today Lahav provides instruction to slightly more than 3,000 couples a year, in six centers in the Gush Dan/Central Region, with a new one in the process of opening in Ashkelon. A number of other religious councils in major cities have asked Lahav to open a local branch: Only budgetary constraints stand in the way.
Of the 300 couples who married this past October, all said that they would recommend the Lahav class to friends and relatives, and on a scale of 1–5, the average teacher rating was 4.996. Just under three-quarters of the couples expressed an interest in continuing Torah learning.
In 2015, Lahav conducted an extensive survey of over 500 new couples who had married within the past year, with the average couple having been married six months at the time they were surveyed. Each of the couples had expressed an interest in continued learning. Of those surveyed, 93 percent responded affirmatively to the question: Were you provided tools that helped your relationship with your spouse? And of those, 59 percent said that the tools had helped greatly.
To get the full flavor of the impact of Lahav, however, one must read the written evaluations each kallah fills out. The most heartening are those in which the kallah expresses her amazement at her eagerness to keep a mitzvah about which she previously knew nothing or which carried very negative associations. An economist expressed her gratitude for her wonderful teacher — "warm, cordial, who knows exactly how to teach" — and her "surprise" at her eagerness to keep a mitzvah she had just discovered.
Timona, a doctor doing her internship, described how she completely changed her mind about the laws of family purity after she understood that the mitzvah is "beneficial for the family and a healthy relationship between the spouses." She added that she was surprised to see the congruence of the halachah and health and medical issues.
In many cases, the teachers may be the first Orthodox Jew the secular couple has ever gotten to know well. A number are therapists and marriage counselors, as well as kallah teachers. "She accepted me as I am, did not interrogate me, and did not press her opinions on me," wrote one high school teacher. And her response to that non-pressurizing approach: "I have even started attending classes on Judaism where I live."
Though Shomrat and her soon-to-be husband Ayal, co-owners of a music studio, did not yet commit to keeping the mitzvah, they "would very much like to try." And they had only praise for the way their teacher tailored the lessons for people from no background and wove together the spiritual aspects of the mitzvah with practical halachah.
Not by accident did 82 percent of those polled in the 2015 follow-up survey say that the Lahav course had given them a more positive attitude toward religious Jews and Judaism; none described the impact of the course as negative. Over three-quarters of the women surveyed said they were still keeping the laws of family purity.
THE LOSS OF ALL STANDARDS OF DECENCY, familial breakdown, and the higher rates of depression among young people in advanced Western societies can all be powerful incentives for secular Jews to at least dip their feet in the wisdom of the Torah and to gain an appreciation of Chazal's acuity in assessing the wiles of the yetzer.
For close to a month now, the media has been fixated on a series of scandals involving men in power using that power in predatory fashion. Not surprisingly, the list of predators started with Hollywood, but it did not end there. Journalism, the belles-lettres, academia, and, of course, politics have all proven fertile ground for scandal.
Actress Mayim Bialik, who is a shomeret Shabbos, was the first to seize on the Hollywood scandals as an opportunity to put in a plug for feminine modesty, with an op-ed in the New York Times. She made several incisive points from which all women could benefit, and Jewish women no less. She wrote how she learned early on that seeking male admiration for one's physical appearance is not the path toward a happy or fulfilling life. (She is herself a PhD neuroscientist.)
But her piece was a bit too precipitous. Because it mentioned by name the person whose behavior set off the unending series of scandals, she was read by some (wrongly, I believe) as claiming that female modesty is a sufficient protection against men who would abuse their power.
More successful in turning a hot media obsession into a teaching moment was a writer in the Forward who offered the halachos of yichud as a much surer protection. True, hilchos yichud is not a firewall against all vulgar male speech or behavior, but it surely would have protected against the most disgusting behavior currently in the media eye.
And making that point is another example of how we can turn the news of the day into an opportunity for demonstrating that far from being otherworldly and removed from life, no one has a keener sense of the nature of men and women and more astute ways of keeping the relationship between the two within its proper boundaries than the rabbis of the Talmud.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 686.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Jewish Ethics, Social Issues
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