March 27, 2022 Transcript of a Hasidic groom’s wedding lesson
Note: The following text is a transcription of a 25-minute recording of a real Hasidic groom lesson. In the audio, a paternalistic elderly man tenderly leads a young groom through the various expectations of the wedding night and tries to set the student up for a successful marriage. I translated the audio from the Yiddish, and made minor changes for clarity, to ensure that the student’s identity remains private, and to remove some of the intensely specific sexual instructions. For years, I kept the audio recording public on my SoundCloud page, but I have recently removed it to ensure that the identity of the person who recorded this lesson remains private.
I am sharing this marriage lesson because I believe it is a fascinating sociological study of a unique way in which one community prepares its youth for adulthood. This groom’s lesson is rather standard, and I received instructions not too dissimilar before my own arranged marriage. The lessons clearly try to set up the couple for a loving life together, albeit in a limited, rather scripted way. My aim here is not to satisfy the voyeuristic gaze but to challenge the reader to consider unique ways that different societies might approach youth, romance, and eternal life partnerships.
Ehrm, so you’re getting married.
Turn that off over there, the air-condition.
Kay, so you’ll stand under the wedding canopy at your wedding. The last part when you stand under the canopy: You step on the glass and break it.
So after you step on the glass, immediately afterward, you shake hands and exchange mazel tovs with all men.
Then give your father a kiss on his hand. And tell your mother mazel tov.
Your mother will give you either a necklace or earrings. Emm. Earrings or a necklace?
She gives it to you. Slip it into the inner pocket of your coat. Yes? Okay.
Say mazel tov to your mother-in-law. Say mazel tov to your grandmothers. Yeah? And all the aunts, everyone exclaims “mazeltov mazeltov mazeltov.” Fine.
You take your bride with the right hand, this is your right hand, yes. You walk into the private couple’s room.
As soon as you arrive at the room, lock the door.
What’s your bride’s name?
Libby? Very good name.
You say to her “Mazel tov, Libby!” shaking her hand with both of yours.
Tell her mazel tov, warmly. Tell her, “Recite with me:”
“May god bless us with a good marriage, that we should have a good home, and we should always be healthy, always have a happy marriage…” and so on and on and on.
As soon as you finish this with “Amen,” let go of her hand, embrace her.
Give her a good kiss here and here. Okay? On the cheek. Not on the mouth. Okay.
And as soon as you are done kissing her, you let go of her and you say:
“Wow! Libby, your gown is BEAUTIFUL! It came out so gorgeous! It came out so stunning! Very, very nice!”
Tell her “I have something for you.” Take out the earrings, give her one, give her the other. She puts it on. Tell her “WOW! Very, very, very nice on you.”
The next thing. Say: “Come, let’s sit down.”
Remove your elegant reshvulka or a coat — whatever you’ll be wearing.
Remain in the kitel, the white groom’s outercoat.
Don’t take care of yourself now.
Stay in the kitel, sit down, then the first question to ask is “Libby, how was your day?”
“How was it? When did you come to the wedding hall? When did you say the afternoon prayers? Were you able to sleep last night?”
But you won’t ask everything because she is going to be asking you back: “Yossi, How was your day?”
You’ll say how your day went, and so it’ll go one after the other.
After a minute, serve her a slice of cake, pour her something to drink, take a piece of cake for yourself, say the blessing, then she says the blessing.
Pour a drink. For her, and then for you.
Now. You talk for two minutes, how the day went. Yeah? How you slept, how yesterday went, and today, and someone is already knocking on the door.
The moment someone knocks, open the door, what do you do, you open the door, in comes a woman who will take care of your bride. Of the wig, of the hair, okay, the whole thing.
Now, when your bride is taken care of, the lady took your bride, now you take off the kitel, you fix your shoelaces, and the photographer comes to take pictures of you.
When your bride is ready, you’ll take pictures together. Okay.
When all the pictures are done, you go to wash your hands for bread. And you wash your hands. Of course, put the towel on your wife’s hand. Cut two slices of challah: first for your wife and then for yourself, yeah? Your father does that too?
Friday night when he cuts the bread he gives first to your mother and then for himself. Yeah? Okay.
What else will you do? You’ll eat the appetizer, soup. And while eating the soup, the parents come in.
Clean yourself off so you don’t have crumbs anywhere. Hold your bride, again, by the right hand. Now you walk into the women’s ballroom together. And you walk through until you get to the men’s ballroom.
When you get to the men’s side, tell your bride “Libby, be well! Enjoy the wedding, I will see you later!”
You go into the men’s ballroom, you dance first with your father, next with your father-in-law, then with the grandfathers. Then with your father’s family. Your mother’s family. Your father-in-law’s family, your mother-in-law’s family, your siblings — your father’s children, yeah, and your wife’s… your father-in-law’s children.
Then you can dance in any order with the other guests.
Then everyone stops in the middle, for the evening prayers, for the break, everyone eats ice cream, and the prayers, and then afterward you dance with your friends, and then the wedding is over.
Is there going to be the final dance portion at your wedding?
Ehm, halfway yes, halfway.
Halfway. But you are going to dance with your bride, right?
Yes, that yes.
So the dance will be announced, “They go, they go!”
You get up in front of your bride like this with your hands held out, and you dance to and fro, slowly, slowly, yeah?
When they start singing the lively song, when they stopped the slow melody, take her back to her mother, slowly let go of her hand.
Dance twice around with the men in the circle, and the wedding is over.
As soon as the wedding is over, stand next to your bride, don’t go talk to anyone, stand next to her.
Everyone says how nice and beautiful and gorgeous the wedding was, and everyone gives their last well wishes, and you tell everyone thank you for coming, and thank you for staying to the end, yeah?
Everyone goes home. As everyone goes home, what do you do? You ask your bride “Libby, are we going?”
You go into a car, the back seat, and someone drives you two.
As soon as you get home, if there are steps, lift your bride’s gown. But even in the hallway, lift your bride’s gown from the front, and say “I don’t want god forbid for you to fall.”
You go home, she opens the door, you go in, put everything down on a couch or a chair, wherever you can. Okay?
The next thing: You then start to take off your outer coat, your belt, your weekend overcoat, yeah?
While you take it off, you talk.
Say to her “Libby, please come. Let me help you take off your gown because I want you to be more comfortable.”
Then you go into the kitchen, eat a little, chat a little. Then you go get ready to go to sleep. You’ll recite the Shema and take a shower.
Okay? So now “Come. Come.”
Where do you go?
Go into the bedroom. Open her zipper all the way. Turn away. She can hear that you turned away, turn away all the way so you can’t see her, and tell her “Please, drop your gown on to the floor. I will take it into the other room.”
She drops it on the floor, pick it up. Put it in the other room — put it on the floor.
Before you can look into the bedroom — because I don’t want you to see her, only when she’s dressed — before you can see her, you’ll ask loudly “Can I come in?”
She says “Yeah, yeah, come in.” You come in. You take off your shoes. Make yourself comfortable. Tell your bride,
“Libby, do you want me to be comfortable? When you are comfortable, I am comfortable. Please, make yourself comfortable, the wig, whatever, but just be comfortable.”
You put two chairs next to each other, like at the wedding. Even if she had prepared the apartment one chair here, another there, take the chairs, put them next to each other. Kay?
Sit down, the first thing you talk: “What do you think of the wedding music? What do you think of the pianist? What do you think of the singer?” You talk about the wedding.
After a minute, you’ll take your hand and put it on her shoulder, wrap it around her.
And you tell her: “You know Libby, I was in here in the apartment today, and you did such a beautiful job.” And as you say the word “such” you embrace her with both arms. And you are going to give her a few deep kisses on her cheek; here two-three, there two-three.
But now, FOR SURE, she returns the embrace.
You’re going to kiss each other for a few minutes. Either for three seconds or for three minutes.
I don’t know.
You are allowed whatever you want. However, you feel.
And you talk to her very sweetly. Tell her how much you love her, and how beautiful she is, and how beautiful she looked at the wedding, you can talk to her! Tell her how beautifully she set up the apartment, and how beautiful it is set up inside, in the cabinets…
You’ll take your arm off her, you’ll give her a piece of cake, give her something to drink, give her a chocolate. You eat, you schmooze.
What do you talk about? You talk more about the wedding.
You talk for twenty minutes — not more than twenty minutes, a half-hour tops.
When the time has passed, you see it’s been a half hour you say:
“Okay Libby, we still have a big night tonight. Come. Let’s go.”
You get up. You return the chairs to their place. Put on your floral kaftan, yeah, the long overcoat you wear on shabbes, and the fur shtreimel. And say the night prayers.
If you say the prayers, she’ll do the same.
As soon as you are done you say “Okay Libby, now you go take a shower first.”
And she takes a shower. As soon as she is in the shower you do five things:
The first thing you will do will be that you will go to her bed, let’s say this is the night chest and this is the door. This is your bed, here is the night chest, here is her bed. Go to her bed, remove the covers, clear her bed. Take a white towel, and put the cover like this.
So when she comes into the room, your bed is still the way she made it. Meanwhile, she sees that her bed has been prepared, so she goes into her bed. Okay? That’s the first thing.
The second thing that you will do is: You’ll open the drawer in the night chest and take out two creams, okay? And a bunch of towel paper.
And you’ll put it on the night chest.
That’s the second thing.
What’s the third thing?
You will go to the mezuza scroll on the door, and oh, are you going to kiss it.
Ask the Almighty: Please, come with me in bed, I can’t alone. Yeah? You can’t go to bed alone. That’s the third thing.
Fourth thing that will happen:
Undress in your bedroom.
When you go today in a shower, do you go dressed like this? You go with the shower clothing. You bought a robe? Yes? So you put on your robe, and wait outside of the bathroom. That’s the fourth thing.
So now when she comes out of the shower, she is wearing a nightgown.
The most beautiful one she bought. You must tell her “WOW, Libby, what you are wearing is gorgeous!”
Maybe give her another hug and a kiss. Maybe. You’ll see how she likes it.
But you must say how beautiful it is, because she spent a lot of money, and she ironed it so it looks beautiful, and you say nothing? You can’t do a thing like that. Aright?
Tell her “Wow, it’s gorgeous what you are wearing!”
Tell her that “Libby, now I will take a shower.”
Go into the shower, take a VERY quick shower. Brush your teeth, your mouth should have a good smell, put on deodorant.
When you come out of the shower, put on only your robe. You don’t need more.
A yarmulka, of course, you always wear a yarmulka. A yarmulka and a robe.
Not an undershirt and not underpants.
Wash your hands, because you must wash your hands — before the deed you must wash your hands.
If you come out of the shower, and you see your wife is in the kitchen.
Then no, tell her that “Libby, my teacher said that when I come out of the shower you will already be in bed. So go into the bedroom, prepare yourself, I’ll come in two minutes.”
It’s not a problem. It could be that she doesn’t know. So you tell her.
Go into the bedroom.
She’s already lying in the bed. She’s already undressed. Okay.
But she’s covered, with the coverlet.
She doesn’t see anything.
If she left off the light, it means that she is not ready to see how a man looks, and she is not ready for you to see her.
So, turn off the light so it’s completely dark. Quickly take off your robe. Toss it on your bed.
Go into her bed, and straightaway — straightaway — your hands go under her head. So that when you got in you’ve already embraced her too.
Okay? Do you understand what I said?
So as soon as you are in bed, what happens is: She turns to you.
Okay? So, what you’ll do now… You can’t touch her whole body because she is not ready for that.
It’s allowed, it’s allowed by the religious law.
But as a matter of basic decency, you can’t do it.
So what you’ll do is, you’ll touch only her face.
Stroke her face. Her face, her forehead. You can give her a kiss on her forehead.
And you kiss her, and you stroke her face, and tell her how delicious it is, tell her how much you waited for her, tell her how much you love her, tell her how beautiful she is.
Tell her how much you enjoy her. Tell her how delicious it is to be lying next to her.
And tell her that you only want one thing: that she should be happy. That this is your single mission in life.
She should be happy. You want to make her happy, to no end. She will be the happiest woman on earth.
Talk to her very, very sweetly.
She’ll say such things to you too. Yeah?
That’s how it will go the whole time.
How long will you lie with her?
However long you want!
A half-hour, an hour, an hour and a half. I don’t care. However long you want. Okay?
Now. When you feel ready, you want to go, you want to do it, what do you do?
You need to be able to prop yourself up on your arms.
You see? So automatically you are like so.
The next thing you’ll do: Take her hand, and show her what it looks like.
Not with the light.
Show her: “This is the Part.” And show her. “Here, you feel it. Yes?”
She puts it in.
Tell her, that… “Libby, it’s finished. it won’t hurt anymore, it’s all done.”
The moment you feel that it is finished, you must jump out of bed. Jump out of bed. Okay.
Don’t look because you are not allowed to see her. She’s undressed, okay?
Turn around. Look away, and ask: “Are you covered?”
Clean up. Put on your pajamas. You have pajamas, surely, yeah? Put on your pajamas. Without an undershirt, only the pajamas.
Tell your bride “Libby, I’m going out in the kitchen, please, when I leave, you do the same thing.”
You come out in the kitchen, you can’t pass the towel paper anymore, you are no longer allowed to touch her.
And you inspect the paper towels.
Yours and hers.
You’re looking for blood.
If you find blood: good, then good.
If you don’t find blood, then she is also not permitted to you because her period of impurity began, from now until she goes to the ritual bath. Because if you did the deed, then her period of impurity started anyway, okay?
Very many girls don’t have blood.
They say that forty percent don’t bleed.
But if the deed was completed, then the separation period begins anyway, okay?
You’ll call me afterward to tell me what’s going on.
Tell me, yes, blood, not blood, whatever the case is.
And I’ll lead you from there.
You’ll say a blessing. I’ll tell you if you should say the blessing or not. Okay?
Now. You’ll recite the blessing. You’ll obviously wash your hands, recite the blessing,
Go into your bed, no longer in her bed, only in your bed to sleep. She goes into her bed.
And you’ll wake up like ten, ten-thirty. You’ll go to ritual purity bath and the synagogue for morning prayers.
You’ll put on your prayer shawl. You’ll recite the special blessing for something new. What new thing?
Tell your bride that you will call her before you come home.
Because maybe she won’t be ready yet. I don’t know. So, tell her you will call her.
You will call after the prayers, and ask “Are you ready? Then I’ll come now. If not, I’ll stay in the synagogue a bit longer.”
You’ll come home.
How do you come in?
“YOY! It smells like heaven here!”
The next day you should be sure to tell your mother-in-law, “Mother-in-law, thank you!! Because Libby, she’s a pleasure!”
The mother-in-law made her so great.
It’s good to get on with her. Tell her such things.
You can go to your mother-in-law and say another thing: “The mother-in-law is a billionaire!”
She’ll ask “Why?”
You’ll say, “When you have such a daughter you are a billionaire.”
Yeah? This kind of thing.
Every time you eat at your mother-in-law’s you’ll say, “Thank you, it’s extraordinarily good.”
“The mother-in-law’s food is very, very delicious.” Whatever.
To your father-in-law too. Give him respect. That’s it. He comes in, you get up.
“My father-in-law is here.” Yeah?
Fine, what else.
You will eat breakfast with your wife.
How long? The whole day. Talk and talk with her.
But sometime during the day you should say “You know what? I want you to sleep a little bit. It’s not that I want to sleep, I want you to rest a little bit. Come let’s go take a nap.”
You understand? You were up all night, and there is a party tonight again.
Every time she gets dressed for these events you say “Wow!”
After the second day you’ll say:
“You know what? On everything I have the same taste as you.”
“Everything that you like, I also like. Every dress, everything in the home. Everything that you like, I also like. So, we are the same taste.”
You’ll be crazy nice to her, then she’ll be crazy nice to you, and everything will work out.
If I know you are getting married, I’ll wear my cell phone at night, and you can call me the whole night.
Should I call you the next day?
Of course, you should call me the next day!
I’ll only ask if everything is okay, and make sure that it worked out. If there is blood, then I know for sure that you were. But if there is no blood then we need to make a test, we check. Okay?
Okay, Yossi? Do you have my cell phone? Here, let me give you my cell.
You call me whenever.