By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future and affiliate Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary has launched “Chosson Teacher Training: Teaching for Healthy Relationships Throughout Marriage,” a continuing rabbinic education course that aims to provide communal, campus, and outreach rabbis with the skills and techniques they will need to help newly engaged couples prepare for their wedding and tackle the issues that will arise throughout their marriage.
The course, which boasts 73 participants from around the world, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel, began on November 1, with an in-depth look at the rabbi as a chosson teacher, both before the wedding and over the course of the marriage.
“What inspired me to take this course was a desire to become more proficient in this area of rabbinic responsibility–to become more knowledgeable in guiding chassanim and those aspiring to be such,” said Rabbi Isaac Mann of Far Rockaway. “It’s not enough to be proficient in the laws of family purity; one needs also to be sensitive to the mental and emotional needs of a couple that is about to get married, or is already married, and be able to share and give over those insights to them. One doesn’t usually get such training in yeshiva.”
“This webinar series will equip the rabbis with the tools and information they need to help young couples develop a framework for the construction of healthy and lasting Jewish marital relationships, the backbone of a strong Jewish future,” said Rabbi Naphtali Lavenda, director of online rabbinic programming at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. “We have been supporting our rabbis in numerous ways for years, and there is consistent interest in nuanced instruction from trained professionals. With the launch of this newest offering, rabbis have a platform to discuss and learn about becoming effective Jewish marital counselors in real-time from the top experts in the field.”
Throughout the two-month training period, participants will review a thorough selection of reference materials and related articles. In between classes, participants will interact with one another via the course’s dedicated online forum and schedule offline conversations with the instructors, medical professionals, and marital-relationship experts.
“Rabbis approach premarital education and counseling from a unique perspective, as they often provide ongoing guidance and direction throughout a couple’s married life,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner dean of the CJF. “This course builds upon the foundation of expertise in taharat ha’mishpachah accumulated throughout rabbinic training and addresses much broader issues in building a healthy long-term relationship. We are particularly proud of the diversity of the cohort, especially the many campus rabbis who are joining us for this important course.”
“What is unique about this lecture series is not only the method in which it is given (entirely online) but the variety and diversity of the presenters,” Rabbi Aaron Fleksher told the 5TJT. “Each presenter was carefully handpicked to speak on their topic of expertise. There is an immense breadth of knowledge in a vast area of topics.”
“The course seems to be very well organized,” says Rabbi Mann. “The presenters are quite knowledgeable in their respective areas of expertise, be it halachah or marital counseling, and work well together. Rabbi Lavenda is very helpful and goes out of his way to help those like myself who may not be so proficient in computer skills.”
Included among the course’s impressive lineup are Rabbi Kenneth Brander, YU’s vice president for University and Community Life; Dr. David Pelcovitz of the Azrieli School of Jewish Education and Administration; Rabbi Menachem Penner, dean of RIETS; Abby Lerner, rebbetzin and kallah teacher at the Young Israel of Great Neck; Dr. Martin Grajower of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, director of the Puah Institute; Dr. Scott Chudnoff of Einstein; Dr. David Ribner of Bar-Ilan University; Dr. Jonathan Lasson, a psychotherapist; Dr. Chani Maybruch, a marital-relationship educator; and numerous RIETS roshei yeshiva.
The Chosson Teacher Training course was cultivated by Rabbi Naphtali Lavenda, with the guidance of Rabbi Shmuel Maybruch, LSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach, experienced chosson teacher, and faculty member in YU’s Stone Beit Midrash Program.
“Rabbis are the ones who generally perform marriages and thus have an opportunity to interact with the couple in a way that other professionals don’t have,” explained Rabbi Mann. “I will not perform a wedding without insisting on several prenuptial sessions with the couple to discuss the laws of taharat ha’mishpachah and what it takes–behaviorally, psychologically, emotionally, etc.–to have a healthy and fulfilling marriage from a Jewish perspective. The course will hopefully increase each rabbi’s knowledge in this area of rabbinic practice, both from the lectures and the interactions with others, as well as from the reading material and handouts that are provided or suggested. He will also benefit from the experiences that will be shared in the forum. Moreover, the chosson and kallah will feel more secure in taking advice from a rabbi who has had some formal training in this area.”
Both Rabbi Fleksher and Rabbi Mann feel strongly that as a result of rabbis taking the course, chassanim and kallahs will be better prepared for marriage. Says Rabbi Fleksher, “It used to be that going to a marriage counselor was taboo and considered a last, reactionary resort to saving a marriage. But now we are being proactive and encouraging young couples before marriage that they should attend at least one session of counseling together. We are making it the norm and making the young couple feel that this is just as important as learning halachah.”
He adds that musmachim learn a lot of important areas of halachah in semichah. But what they are also taught in semichah is the importance of “asei lecha rav.” Every rabbi needs a rabbi. In a changing and complex world, preparing a young couple for marriage clearly requires more than reviewing halachah. This course is designed to help rabbis take their chosson classes to the next level, moving beyond teaching halachah, adding hashkafah and marital guidance as well.
The course is the fifth virtual continuing rabbinic education course organized by the Center for the Jewish Future in coordination with RIETS. In previous years, CJF ran online courses on the issues surrounding infertility, every stage of Jewish relationships, child abuse, and the fundamentals of fundraising.
“The up-and-coming Orthodox rabbinate is in a very good place,” says Rabbi Fleksher. “The diversity of the young rabbis taking this course is a great sign of the many energetic and blossoming young rabbanim who are truly devoted to furthering not just their Torah learning but their education as a whole. And they are learning from the best. This will certainly prove to be a benefit for all our communities and Klal Yisrael as a whole, playing a part in ensuring that marriages are healthy, vibrant, within the realm of halachah, and something that Hashem is a partner in–dwelling in the mikdash me’at that is the Jewish home.”