Suffering in Silence: Jewish Wives in Need of Intimate Guidance by Anonymous

Suffering in Silence: Jewish Wives in Need of Intimate Guidance by Anonymous

“And how are you doing?” I asked my old friend.

After catching up on families, work, etc, I sensed that something still weighed heavily upon my friend’s heart.

She paused for a few moments, and then shared some difficult shalom bayis challenges she is facing. She and her husband are at an impasse about the issue of having more children and this disagreement has spiraled to affect the most intimate aspects of their marital relationship.

I tried my best to listen and provide some guidance but recognizing that the intimate issues she is coping with are outside my realm of expertise, I encouraged her to talk about this issue with someone with more experience. She thanked me for the advice but said with some hesitation, “I’ll think about it.”

Her uncertainty about getting guidance on such personal issues reminded me of my own personal struggles in this area.

Many years ago, I was very grateful to have an excellent kallah teacher who shared with me Torah wisdom as a foundation for my upcoming marriage. She inspired and empowered me with the beautiful and very healthy perspective of the Torah on the intimate relationship between a husband and wife. I was very grateful for her time and expertise to help me navigate this sensitive area.

That said, once I was married I had no one to speak to about the minor delicate issues that arose in this most personal arena. This teacher had not offered to be a resource after my marriage, nor did she ever check in to see how I was doing. I did not feel comfortable speaking about this intimate topic with my husband’s Rav or with any other mentor that I had.

Things came to a head when I became a mother and went through postpartum depression. While my exhaustion and low feelings obviously affected my bonding with my baby, they also interfered with my relationship with my dear husband.

It would have meant so much to me during that difficult, stressful time to have had someone with whom I could feel comfortable to ask for guidance. But I didn’t.

So I struggled in silence as my friend is now. And that caused much unnecessary damage to me and my relationship with my husband. And today, watching my friend go through a similar struggle motivates me to ask some hard questions.

While it is standard practice for a Bas Yisroel to learn with a Kallah teacher before marriage, shouldn’t we have some system in place where as personal issues arise, true Torah guidance can be easily sought as needed? Just as in every other area of halacha, people can cause much damage by not asking a Rav, I believe that applies here too.

It is possible that some support system for wives does exist, and if so please write in to let me and other readers know. And if not, please consider how you can be part of the solution to this issue. Because in the challenging times that we live in, where the divorce rates have skyrocketed, don’t the women of Klal Yisroel deserve the support to give them strength they need?

Image courtesy of Flickr.com user Michael Mccauslin

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31 comments

  1. Many kallah teachers try to stay in touch with their kallahs, or offer to be available if necessary. The Gateshead Rebbetzin, speaking at a Chana (fertility support services in UK) event in the winter, told teachers that she tells kallahs she will check in with them, I think, after 6 weeks, 6 months and another time. This certainly leaves the door open for future advice/counselling etc. I realise that it’s not always possible if you are teaching a lot of young women, but ideally, maintaining this relationship can be very beneficial. I would recommend turning to one’s kallah teacher as a first port of call, even if she then turns to a rav because it’s easier to ask advice for someone else than for oneself.

  2. Rabbi and Rebetzin Abramov (Israel) advocate partner training. The husband teaches the chasan and the wife teaches the kallah. After the chuppah the husband-wife team maintain a close relationship with the new couple so that when the need arises for intimate conversations the relationship is already established.
    I went through the classes to become a teacher. Unfortunately my husband was not able to take the training to become a chasan teacher. However, we have close relationships with two young couples, but feel that any more would be too much of a strain.
    I wish this system was the norm. It really helps.

  3. Stacey Goldman

    I just want to mention the amazing Yoatzot program through Nishmat which offers a safe forum for women to voice these issues to another religious compassionate learned women for advice and information and even to develop this type of long term relationship. Any woman could go to yoatzot.org or call their hotline and ask for the contact information for a yoetzet near them to discuss their issues. There are yoatzot in Israel, and a few living in North America. They also have a network of trained, professional and sensitive experts in other area of women’s health if necessary.

    • JewishMom

      I also HIGHLY recommend the Nishmat Yoatzot hotline for intimate questions. Here’s the phone numbers and more info:

      Nishmat’s Golda Koschitzky Women’s Halachic Hotline

      Phone Numbers
      In Israel: 02-640-4343
      Outside Israel: 972-2-640-4343
      Toll free from the United States and Canada:
      1-877-YOETZET (1-877-963-8938)

      The toll free call is a public service contributed by IDT Corporation, a multinational provider of telecom, Internet, and video services.

      Hours – Israel time
      Sunday – Thursday: 18:00 – 24:00
      Friday: 8:00 – 12:00
      Saturday night: ½ hour after Shabbat is over to midnight.

      Nishmat’s Golda Koschitzky Women’s Halachic Hotline was established to meet the needs of women who seek a woman-to-woman address to clarify Jewish law (halacha) as it relates to issues in women’s health. It is staffed by yoatzot halacha, women halachic consultants, trained by Nishmat, The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women. Yoatzot Halacha are women certified by a panel of Orthodox rabbis to be a resource for women with questions in the halachic area of Taharat Hamishpachah (an area of Jewish Law that relates to marriage, sexuality and women’s health). This role was devised for women who are more comfortable discussing personal issues with another woman

      The Hotline is under the supervision of Nishmat rabbis Rabbi Yaakov Varhaftig and Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, with whom the yoazot consult for rabbinic ruling (psikah). The yoatzot are available to provide you with information and to help you deal with halachic problems. In certain cases, the yoatzot may be able to provide professional referrals.

      You can call the Hotline to secure information about observing the laws of taharat hamishpachah, including questions you may have relating to

      gynecological problems and procedures
      pregnancy, prenatal testing, and birth
      fertility treatments
      family planning
      menopause
      and more. A call to the Hotline is anonymous and discreet.

  4. Yael Maizels

    I second the call about the yoatzot. First of all they have an amazing hotline and website. Second of all they have refresher courses. I just went through one after 6 years of marriage and it focused on many different topics, I wish I did it earlier.
    Also there is a women’s health center Bishvilaych http://www.bishvilaych.org/ which also helps with this issue. There are frum sex therapists, and frum phsyiotherapists there is a lot out there, but I would start with Nishmat or Bishvilaych for referrals.

  5. JewishMom

    for any Hebrew speakers seeking guidance around shalom bayit/intimate matters I would also HIGHLY recommend the Binyan Shalem Hotline (details below). I’m a huge fan of binyan shalem and everything they do. A tremendous resource if you know Hebrew.

    לבעיה שלך יש כתובת!

    למכון “בנין שלם” צוות ייעוץ מקצועי,
    שיוכל לסייע בצמתים הלא קלים של החיים-
    בחיי נישואין, בזוגיות, בקשר עם הילדים ובבחירת בן זוג, בעצה, בשיחה, ואולי בהפניה אל איש מקצוע מתאים, בהתאמה מלאה אליך.

    הרגישו נוח לפנות, להתייעץ ולקבל רעיונות מנחים שיקלו את ההתמודדות.

    התקשרו:

    בין השעות 8:30-15:00 02-6271525 שלוחה 112/113

    החל מהשעה 15:00 02-6273706

    דוא”ל: mbshalem@gmail.com

  6. Esther Kohn

    There is a site called imamother.com Good luck

  7. my vote for Yoatzot as well – their website and email answer service is excellent and I have used it to check out information before/during teaching kallos.

  8. JewishMom

    a reader sent me this comment below to post. Like her, I have also heard amazing things from a Belzer friend about the support system for married couples in the Belzer community.She said that in general Belzers have strong marriages and almost no divorces on account of the fantastic support and guidance system. This is what the reader wrote:

    I read about a few months ago in the hamodia paper – in Rav Twersk\’s question and answer section – someone asked about shalom bayit. Rav twersky said that there needs to be follow up after the marriage. He then went on to quote, and he said that he thinks, that in the Belz community every young couple is matched with an older couple who have been married for a few years. they meet regularly anfd they become a safe place for the young couple to go to for advice and more often reassurance. According to Rav Twersky, more communities need to develop this mentoring program as it helps prevent small issues from developing.

    • Last week Rabbanit Henkin came to speak to our community. I highly recommend her program. The idea of older couples mentoring younger couples sounds like a great idea.
      When I was first married I had great friends who I could talk to and that was very helpful. But I always said that there needs to be something more substantial in our community to help married couples.

      Dr. Yael Respler also gives Shalom Bayit courses that are worth looking into.
      Thanks Channa Jenny for such a great website.

  9. Daniella

    I absolutely agree and felt the same way as a young kallah. Recently, I discovered some online communities that can fulfill this role of anonymous support, which is a great place to start because it is so non-threatening, you don’t have to talk to an actual person, but rather submit your post and wait for replies.

    I second the recommendation for imamother.com. For Hebrew speakers, there are some great communities on Kipa.co.il. I read the pregnancy & birth and “parents of toddlers” forums, and women regularly come on anonymously to ask about intimate topics.

  10. I’m so glad a few people mentioned the Yoatzot in Israel. There is no better resource than these women. But you don’t need to call Israel if the time difference doesn’t work for you. Several communities in the NY/NJ area (for example, Teaneck and Riverdale) have hired yoatzot and they are more than happy to speak with anyone who calls them.

  11. Anonymous (can contact through chana jenny if necessary)

    How amazing to read about all this support for orthodox women in Torah communities.

    For a slightly different route, I can HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend a haredi therapist, Dr. Joy Ehrman from Bnei Barak in Israel, who counsels couples, separately and together, on intimate issues. I went to her on the verge of divorce with shalom bayit issues, and after the first session knew with absolute certainty that I would be remaining with my husband. I know it’s not for free, but she really is wonderful.

    The number I have for her is 0527615106

    B’Hatzlacha!!!!! Noone should be alone on these issues.

    • Anonymous

      in deference to my hubby I wanted to add that this was WAY before we had kids, almost 14 years ago …. but she’s still working, and amazing.

    • I second the advice to go to Joy Ehrman, she is a highly recommended therapist!

  12. This is a great website Channa Jenny!
    Keep up the good work.

  13. I cannot agree more with this blog posting. So many women face problems in these intimate areas, and because they have no one to talk to about it they think they are the only ones, and it beomces more and more serious in terms of their relationship. I third – or is it fourth or fifth! – the endorsement of nishmat’s hotline. it is a vital resource and we are fortunate that it exists. even those of us who live outside of israel are able to call it.
    Two personal stories: I teach classes on pregnancy and spirituality – inspired by your book – and it so often happens that someone either brings up issues during the class (because we are always small groups and the experience is very trusting and intimate) or comes up to me afterwards to discuss intimate issues. and i do not feel qualified to discuss these things, but because i am there and the setting is conducive to personal talk, these things come up.
    2nd story: many many years ago, i saw someone put a post on janglo asking for an experienced, orthodox, older happily married woman with whom she can discuss personal issues with, issues to do with intimacy with her husband. One part of my mind applauded her courage for seeking the help she needed, and anotehr part was shocked that this was how she had to get it.
    When my husband and I were getting married, we learned with a husband and wife team. and one of the things my husband was told was that when that most intimate area of life goes smoothly, it does not seem to weigh large on the overall relationship, but that if something goes wrong, even something very minute, in our most intimate relationship it brings down the entire structure. I’m glad you are bringing this up, and hope it encourages more women to talk about such issues and more structures to be set up to permit it.

  14. The Lubavitcher Rebbe strongly encouraged ( insisted) that EVERYONE men, women, and children have a Mashpia, a mentor. This is so necessary in so many areas of our lives. It’s very hard to find someone who you can look up to and trust, but it’s so important. We often need a non biased opinion and experienced advice. So if you don’t have one yet, find someone.

    • Just what I wanted to say!

      Thanks, Chany.

      Folks, a mashpia (mentor) is your sunshine in a dark, confusing world. Find a mentor (like Chana Jenny’s Rabbanit) and call her up.

  15. as a kallah teacher and marriage coach, i check in with my kallahs regularly after they’re married. and i have my own mentors as well–older women who are married longer than me.

    • Thank you for doing that! Unfortunately I believe you are the exception and not the rule. I would love to see every kallah teacher doing that!

      • Agreed! I will say that, before my wedding, my kallah teacher offered to be a resource for us, but the one time I called her with a shailah, she informed me that she has many students and doesn’t have the time for her former students to rely on her with follow-up questions. It seems to me that follow-up (or at least, welcoming phone calls) should be an expected part of a kallah teacher’s role, just as it is part of the role of any other seminary or yeshiva teacher.

  16. נעמי וולפסון, מחברת הספר “ודבק באשתו”, היא יועצת שגם עוסקת בתחום האינטימי
    חפשו בגוגל את האתר שלה
    (אני מעדיפה לא לכתוב פה באנגלית, אני לא כותבת כ”כ טוב. אשמח אם מישהי תתרגם את דברי לאנגלית מדויקת)

    translation:
    Naomi Wolfson, author of the book “And he will cling to his wife” is a highly respected therapist specializing in intimacy. You can search for her (Hebrew) site on google.

  17. this week I toured a beautiful health center for women in Givat Shaul, Yerushalim. Their focus is on preventative health care and wellness for women.

    The staff is caring and supportive of all women’s health issues.
    Kallahs would feel very safe discussing their issues with the amazing staff at Bishvilaych. If you have a daughter or friend in Yerushalim please give them the informaton.
    The number is 972-25021096 or info@bishvilaych.org

  18. You post is so important!

    Apart from the help lines mentioned above there is also a hotline that was opened by Tzohar. The people answering are all professionals, and while it might not deal specifically only with intimacy issues, it is certainly for all marriage and shlom bayt issues.
    It is called “keshev zugi”, the number is 078-81-87654. IT is active sunday, monday, tuesday and saturday (motzash) from 8PM – 11PM.

  19. Thank you for bringing up such an important topic. I admire your courage, honesty, and realness.

    It is so important for all of us to have a safe place and platform where we can discuss intimacy openly and honesty, with knowledgeable, sensitive and skilled professionals. One therapist that I highly recommend is Anna Wruble who is a sex therapist, and a professor in the nursing school at Hadassah Hospital. I know Anna very well and work with her often.

    • Anna, (Dr. Anna Wruble), a personal friend, is an amazing person and very knowledgable about sex therapy. I went to hear her speak about “Intimacy after Menopause” and she mentioned that she offers her cell phone for annonymous calls every morning on her way to work. I dont have that info handy i.e. cell or hours available., but perhaps Chana/Jenny can email me for that info and repost it. I will check with Anna if it can be posted.

    • Chaya Jampolsky

      I am trying to get a hold of Anna Wruble’s lectures. Because I live in America I have not been able to attend her speeches. If you know of anyone who has recorded her please let me know. My email address is cjamps@gmail.com. I can be reached at 845-371-7925.

  20. Hi, there is also a Torah teacher who specializes in counseling women on delicate intimacy issues. Her name is Aliza Bulow and you can email her through her website http://www.abiteoftorah.com. I heard her speak and she seems very approachable, open, trustworthy and knowledgable.

  21. Thank G-d we are long past the issues now, but newly married, we had our challenges. What helped us immensely was my husband going to the Mashgiach of the B.T. Yeshivah he had gone to. It wasn’t that the Rav himself helped, but he hooked him up with resources including Rabbi Tauber, and a sex therapist with a lot of experience with Frum men (in Brooklyn). I personally know how challenging it can be, and the pressure it can put on a budding relationship… I urge anyone having challenges to speak to their spouse if possible, and reach out for help. I also agree with the importance of having a mentor, if you don’t have one now, try to reach out to someone and create the relationship. My Rebbetzin also held my hand during that trying time. And remember, Hashem helps up in the way we want to go, so be strong, reach out to any of the help mentioned above, and know the One above will help…

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