by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Many years ago I met a wonderful young man while visiting Rav Nati. He told an unusual story of meeting chassidim from Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY, USA) and becoming a baal teshuvah (a Jew not raised as religious adopting orthodox Jewish practice) via them (unusual as the chassidim from Williamsburg rarely interact personally with non-religious Jews). He lived and learned with them for some years and subsequently moved to Jerusalem to further his Judaism and life. As part of this furthering he was looking to get married.
A couple of years later my wife and I received this interesting phone call. “Hi, Akiva? This is Moshe (name changed). I wonder if I could ask a favor of you? I’m getting married in a few weeks [Mazel Tov I responded!]. I have no family in Israel and I’m wondering… … … could you make sheva brachos for me and my kallah?”
[ In Jewish tradition, after getting married the new couple are hosted for a week after their wedding for a meal and the recitation of the 7 blessings of marriage. (Sheva means sevel and Brachos means blessings.) They are traditionally hosted by family, friends, community, and the blessings ceremony requires the presence of 10 men – so such a meal is usually a big deal. For those who’s family are not orthodox or are not long time members of a religious community, arranging such can be very challenging and even depressing as it can be hard to get acquaintances to make such a commitment. ]
I briefly consulted my wife (to whom most of the effort would fall for a large communal meal) and we agreed.
The meal was prepared, guests arrived as planned (if you want 10 men, invite 12-13), and the chosson and kallah (groom and bride) arrived at a reasonable time. (It’s been my experience at many such events that the bride and groom arrive late.) The meal was a hit (we made Chinese style – easy to prepare but looks fancy.)
The blessings were recited, the wine was drunk (wine is used during the first and last blessing), the guests departed and I began cleaning up.
Some minutes later I was surprised to see the chosson (groom) was still hanging around the table, and glancing around to see where the kallah (bride) was, I found her huddled on the sofa with my wife in intense discussion in Hebrew.
A brief aside on the bride and groom. Our young man had become religious at around 14 or 15 in the U.S. He was a very sweet young fellow out to live a positive life for Hashem and Klal Yisroel (the Jewish people) and was in his early 20’s when they got married. The bride was a sweet beautiful young lady from a very traditional religious Sephardi family who had emigrated to Israel. She was the oldest of 8 or so sisters, being 20 when they got married.
Looking over at my wife as I cleared the table, I signaled if she needed me to come over for anything. She strongly shook her head, waving me off. As she continued I heard her struggling with her Hebrew, which was very strange as her Hebrew is excellent (if at a learned rather than native level).
After some time the conversation concluded, the chosson and kallah said a grateful goodbye and departed.
I approached my wife and asked her what the intense conversation was about. Where they having early marital / adjustment problems? My wife wouldn’t answer, just saying it was private.
A few hours later after we retired for the evening my wife’s cell phone rang. She groggily answered and quickly entered a rapid fire conversation in Hebrew that I couldn’t follow. After it ended I asked her what in the world is going on? Though she tried to avoid telling me, after a bit I was able to get it out of her.
Here’s what she told me…
The kallah (bride) is the oldest sister in the family. The mother, being from a very traditional very modest Jewish sephardi culture, simply never talked to her daughter about adult marital things. Apparently neither did her kallah-teacher, who teaches the Jewish laws of marital purity (times when a couple may not be intimate).
When her husband approached her to perform marital relations, she’d never heard of it. When he said he wanted to, well you know, she thought he was crazy!
Though he was rather innocent himself, never having had marital relations, he did know the technical aspects. When he described to her what should be done between a husband and wife, she thought he must be an animal for suggesting such a thing!
The conversation on our sofa was her asking my wife about normal activity between a husband and wife. Apparently the kallah felt my wife was the first woman she was comfortable enough to approach (or it being the 3rd day after the wedding, perhaps her husband’s insistence drove her to it). My wife’s struggle with Hebrew was because she simply didn’t know the words (in Hebrew) to refer to all the practicalities involved!
The late night call was to re-confirm that what her husband was about to do was indeed the right thing, appropriate and permitted.
For most hearing this story, it’s shocking. But why? Is it really so strange to think that until a young woman (or young man) is about to enter a healthy marital relationship they shouldn’t need to know the mechanics of marital relations? Is it really so strange to to believe there is (or was) a 20 year old woman who didn’t know about “it”?
Innocence is one thing that can’t be returned. It can be taken away, it can be torn away, destroyed, damaged, corrupted. Or it can be proper and appropriate.
Today we seem to be forced to teach our young children about body parts that should not be touched, about people (anyone) who may act inappropriate, about not trusting anyone, not appearing the wrong way, not drawing the wrong attention. We chip away at their innocence bit by bit, both in the name of protection and in the name of defense against an increasingly gender-intense surrounding society.
Innocence has it’s place, it shouldn’t be lost too soon or until appropriate in an appropriate setting. I’m saddened to have had to chip away at my own children’s and feel this corruptive influence pervading modern society [and leaking into religious society].
We don’t live in the garden, but neither to we have to embrace corruption.
[ The last I heard from them, the young couple had a good marriage and had been blessed with children. ]