Jewish tradition encourages couples who are on the threshold of marriage to devote some time and thought to planning their intimate relationship. At the marriage bureau, the rabbanit will invite the bride to a guidance class relating to family purity in Jewish tradition. This session goes beyond the brief conversation held at the time of registration when you set the wedding date. It deals with the broad spectrum of the laws of family purity and Jewish marital life and is generally held about a week before the wedding. The rabbanit may find it proper to have an additional meeting, either private or with a group. At the end of the guidance session, she will give you a certificate proving your attendance, to be attached to the marriage file. This guidance session is generally only compulsory for the bride. The groom, if he is interested, can receive guidance from the rabbi at the marriage bureau, the rabbi performing the ceremony, or any other person.
Your choice of a traditional wedding is a demonstration of the significance you attach to the Jewish marriage ceremony, to its history, and to tradition. Preparation for it is bound to add a dimension of depth and meaning to this new stage in your life. Even if you think that marital guidance will have no practical ramifications for you or even if you are troubled by the intrusion into your intimate life, keep in mind that the way of life you will be learning about was one that was practiced by your grandparents and great grandparents—and therefore deserves some consideration. The guidance session may also serve as a catalyst for further conversations between the bride and groom regarding their hopes and thoughts about their intimate relationship.
As an alternative to attending the guidance sessions at the rabbinate, you may opt for a private session with a friend or acquaintance authorized to teach brides about these traditions. You should receive a letter at the conclusion of your study to be included in your marriage file. Realize that not every religious woman possesses the requisite knowledge to give guidance regarding Jewish marital life. If your friend is not an expert on the topic, her letter certifying your study with her may not be accepted by the rabbinate. Some rabbinates will only officially recognize marriage guidance that is given by a certified teacher.
There are various non-profit organizations, which offer an alternative to a marriage guidance session by the rabbanit in the marriage office. Counselors from these organizations meet either with the bride alone or with the bride and groom in their house, in an intimate, relaxed atmosphere—sometimes for a fee and sometimes for free. These sessions deal with the ideas and concepts that are behind the laws of Jewish family life, as well as in the laws themselves.
Various private organizations offer marriage workshops. Together with other engaged couples, you will study relevant texts, listen to experts, and discuss historical, psychological, legal, and halachic aspects related to the marriage ceremony and its customs. This is an opportunity for the two of you to design—to the extent that Jewish tradition permits—your big day.