Intermarriage relations, and the problems they involve, have always been considered a major taboo in the national-religious and ultra-Orthodox sectors.
But a change is finally happening: A new course launched recently trains 30 "marriage counselors" – the modest equivalent of secular sexologists – who will combine halachic aspects in their discreet counseling.
The course is being held at the Puah Institute, which for the past 20 years has been specializing in giving consultation, direction and help to couples suffering from gynecological problems and infertility.
"I think this is a niche which is missing among the religious and haredi public. Up to now we used to provide initial counseling ion sex issues and send them to a therapist who usually wasn't religious," explains the institute's head, Rabbi Menachem Burstein.
"In such a situation, after talking to the therapist, the couple was forced to return to the rabbi to ask what they could and could not do."
The course, called "Advice on sanctity in marital life", is being held in cooperation with Bar-Ilan University and will train marital counselors and rabbis. It grants its students a "sexual counselor" certificate.
The current course is only for men, but women can register for the next class.
The course deals with a variety of issues, starting with "the physiological side of sexuality", through "enriching marital relations", up to "special problems concerning the religious public."
Another issue which is being studied, due to the growing awareness among the religious public in recent years, is "sexual harassment and abuse."
'Need for extra training'
One of the students in the first class is Rabbi Udi Ratt, an institute staff member. "There is a great need among the public in this field. Only this week we answered the 7,000th question asked on the institute's website, and most questions were about this issue.
"Not every rabbi can provide answers on this matter, and there is need for extra training. There's no doubt that this is a mitzvah."
Due to the high sensitivity, the course's preparation suffered from initial difficulties. Rabbi Burstein worked for years to get the approval of the leading haredi rabbis, until even the strictest of them were convinced that there was a need for "kosher" consultants.
The course even maps the haredi streams according to the level of strictness between the sexes. "There are different approaches event within the Hasidic factions. There are things which are permitted according to Halacha, but in different communities they are forbidden," explains Rabbi Burstein.
Apart from the positive response, the initiative is causing quite a stir in the sector. In the recent "Women" supplement of the Makor Rishon newspaper, a young woman said: "It's unclear to me why I did not get any training on matrimony relations before the wedding. Apart from a connection with my brothers and cousins, I had no meetings with members of the opposite sex. There was a lot of ignorance on the matter."
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