Internal Affairs Committee calls for regulating bridal guidance programs

Members of Knesset grilled representatives of the Religious Services Ministry about the content, style and instructors of the mandatory classes.

Bride and groom pose under rain clouds [illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)
Bride and groom pose under rain clouds [illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn)
During a discussion about Hadrachat Kalah, the pre-marital bridal guidance that women in Israel are required to take under the jurisdiction of the Rabbinate, the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee called for the Religious Services Ministry and the Chief Rabbinate to regulate the training of bridal counselors, the content of the bridal courses and the costs of the programs, among other factors.
To illustrate issues with the bridal guidance programs, those in attendance cited instances of women being asked very personal questions, being told to treat their husbands as kings if they wish to be queens, and even to share their previous sexual experiences.
According to a release, the discussion was opened by Israel Beitenu MK Yulia Malinovsky. “We’ve discovered that [during] this bridal instruction… [the instructors] ask the bride about her sex life and if she is a virgin... Instead of a warm spiritual experience, they get abusive treatment. Why is there a need to sit across from a strange woman and ask her about intimate things?” Malinovsky said during the session.
Moriah Porat Grazi, deputy director- general of the Religious Services Ministry, told the session that the ministry supervises bridal instructors, but does not directly appoint them; anyone who wishes to lead a bridal course must prove that she has undergone a training course for bridal guides. MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beytenu) questioned Grazi about the ministry’s ability to supervise and know who is running these courses. Grazi said that the ministry is building a syllabus for the courses.
While the committee’s conclusion did not include ending the guidance programs completely, MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) demanded that the Rabbinate completely stop running the classes. She argued that “the Rabbinate is using its power for evil... They teach you [in the classes] based on the male rule of the 16th or 18th centuries, depending on the rabbi who appoints the bride’s guide.”
Elad Caplan, legal adviser and advocacy center director for religious life in the advocacy organization ITIM, told The Jerusalem Post that the practice of bridal counseling does not have a basis in Jewish law, and began in the 1930s to teach the Jewish laws of marriage to brides-to-be who were looking for guidance.
In the 1940s, it became a requirement of the Rabbinate, and today every bride who wants to get married through the Rabbinate must go through this counseling, which often goes beyond its original scope of family purity and marriage to cover how a wife should treat her husband and to convey the perspective of traditional Judaism.
Caplan echoed the concerns that had been raised in the Knesset session. “The Rabbinate is forcing women in the process of registering for marriage to go through an educational course about [issues that are] private, intimate... and [to receive] religious instruction, which is not necessary for marrying according to Halacha,” he said.
He added that during these courses, “the Rabbinate is violating basic rights for privacy and basic autonomy, for the person to decide what they want to do and how they want to behave.”
While he said he does think bridal guidance can be positive for many couples, and that women can choose to attend a bridal guidance course not given by the Rabbinate (albeit certified by them), he thinks the Knesset should “make sure the law is enforced… [and] should supervise what’s going on. And the Knesset also has the right to supervise the Rabbinate’s activities, to make sure they are done according to clear and transparent guidelines.”