‘If She Says It Hurts, Don’t Stop, Do It Faster’: Ultra-Orthodox Men and Women Describe Their Wedding Night

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis talk about being matched with their spouses, learning the facts of life from marriage instructors and the dramatic experience of the wedding night

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A wedding dress.
Credit: Lea Golda Holterman
Shira Elk
Shira Elk

The Facebook post said simply, “Tell us some of the weird things you heard from your grooms’ counselors and bridal counselors.” But someone reading the responses might have thought they were taken from a horror movie: “If she says it hurts, don’t stop, just do it faster so you can finish faster”; “The bridal counselor told me that even if the bed fills up with blood, I shouldn’t be frightened and I should try to smile”; “I told the bridal counselor apprehensively that I wasn’t sure I was attracted to him. She quickly dismissed that and said, ‘No, no, everything is fine, you can’t know until after the wedding’”; “The bridal counselor told me reverently how much of an obligation it is to fulfill the mitzvah on the wedding night itself, and not to put it off, even if you’re tired.”

Every response I read made my stomach burn with despair and rage. For I, too, was an ultra-Orthodox girl who had married on the basis of an arranged match. I, too, like many others, obeyed submissively and naively. From my perspective, it was only natural. It was the only world I knew.

An abrupt transition from zero to 100. A scene laid out in advance down to the level of the words that are spoken, the fingers that are intertwined, the hand that moves to unzip the dress, and finally the fulfillment of the “mitzvah” and the tearing of the hymen that turns the girl-teen into a woman.

Even though I had ceased to be Haredi long before I read the above post, the comments sparked a host of questions about choice and control, love and estrangement. I collected the wedding-night testimonies that appear here over a lengthy period. I don’t purport to have answers about where the bad is or what good is. I didn’t conduct scientific research, I have no way to quantify the degree of happiness and love existing in the average Haredi home – although I want to hope that it’s plentiful. I can only offer the mute voices, and if I am able to serve as a mouthpiece and a conduit for their stories, it will give me enormous satisfaction. If I am able to change the story of a boy or girl who are set to be married – let that be my reward.

S., 28, mother of two; lives in central Israel

I was considered a “damaged” girl, one who dared to wear sneakers and throwaway clothes and even exchange a few words with boys. At the age of 18, I started to receive offers of matches. My father told me I had been offered a Hasid from the Satmar sect, and added nonchalantly, “You know that they’ll want you to shave your head.” I repressed that thought. We heard good things about the young man. I had a brother who had become secular, and he had a sister who was studying in a college, so we offset each other and the match seemed appropriate.

A meeting was arranged for us at my aunt’s house. The parents on both sides waited in one room, and I went into the second room, where the intended was waiting with downcast eyes. Trembling, I asked, “Who are your relatives?” And he asked, “What are you learning in the seminar [religious girls’ school]?” Then we were silent again. After the meeting, I called my sister, feeling confused. She asked, “Can you imagine him hitting you?” “No,” I replied thoughtfully. “Then it’s from heaven,” she asserted.

We met again at my grandmother’s. In one room everyone gathered with cakes, pastries and soft drinks. We were ushered into another room. We sat with a table separating us for a quarter of an hour of embarrassment and silence. We hardly exchanged a word, but when we came out we were surrounded with noisy cries of “Mazel Tov!” I called my girlfriends to tell them I was engaged. Over and over I proudly repeated his name, Ari. I rolled our names across my tongue – Simi and Ari. I fell in love with the Israeli sound of those words. I could hear envy in my girlfriends’ voices. “How terrific for you.” “You’re both so cool.”

The next time I saw him [in private] was seven months later, in the yihud (seclusion) room after the ceremony under the chuppah. My bridal counselor had prepared me for his giving me a kiss. But he froze and was distant. With eyes lowered he said, “My mother bought a piece of jewelry for me to bring to you, but I forgot it.” We ate in silence from plates of food that had been left for us, and I thought, “This is how it is with everyone.”

The counselor had repeatedly told me, “Ask him about everything. Whatever he decides, you do.” She prepared me for the fact that when we got home after the wedding, he would undo the buttons of my dress in the back. But that didn’t happen. I stood in the bathroom getting tangled up in all the white fabric. Only after tears of frustration streamed from my eyes did I succeed in getting out of the dress and stepping into the shower. I came out wearing a nightgown. I spread a towel on the bed and waited for him.

He wouldn't address me by my name because "it's not modest." I argued, I begged, but it was no use. I remained denuded of hair and name.

At that moment the ritual began that would accompany me for the 10 years that we were married. He mumbled the Shema prayer, added a special prayer ahead of the mitzvah, we washed our hands one after the other from a bowl under the bed, and then he repeated one of his grandfather’s Torah commentaries.

I sat on the bed listening and nodding, trying to get his attention. “Ari…” And he stopped me abruptly. “Naftuli-Aryeh,” he corrected me, with an Ashkenazi pronunciation. I felt as though I’d been punched in the stomach; my own dream had mocked me. This strange man next to me then walked around in his ridiculous robe and turned out every light. A bit of light managed to get in through the blind, and I saw him block the opening with a tissue.

I lay down on the bed and pulled up my nightgown. He stood at the foot of the bed, holding a light blanket behind his back, and then he lay down on me all at once. I felt his weight on me. He breathed on my face in the total darkness that stood between us. What did I feel? Nothing. I didn’t feel a thing. I only repeated silently to myself the stages the counselor had told me about. He tried to penetrate me clumsily, but in vain. I tried to help him with the blind, ugly thrusts, until he suddenly got up and went to the room’s other bed.

In the morning he called his counselor and told him he hadn’t been successful. The counselor instructed him to try again.

Already on the day after the wedding, he asked, “When are you shaving your head?” My body went rigid. Until that moment I’d managed to repress thoughts about shaving. I called my sister in tears. She tried to cheer me up. “You know there are actresses who shave off their hair? It can be cool.” And then she added, “I’ll come with an electric razor and help you.”

When my sister arrived, she asked, “Do you want us to do it in the bathroom?” I told her, “No, there’s a mirror in there, let’s do it in the bedroom.” My sister tried to comfort me, but unsuccessfully. As I was losing every hair on my head, she said, “It’s stunning, you should be happy. And anyway… you have a wig and a kerchief, no one will see it, what difference does it make?”

Naftuli-Aryeh returned in the evening. My eyes were red and swollen from crying. He asked, “Did you do it?” I nodded yes. He said, “Wonderful, what a tzadika [righteous woman] you are. You should know that the more difficult it is, the greater the mitzvah.” I noticed he wasn’t addressing me by my name. “The counselor told me that it’s forbidden to address people by their name; it’s not modest. When you give birth I will call you ‘Mother’ and you will call me ‘Tatti.’” I argued, I begged, but it was no use. I remained denuded of hair and name.

At night, I cried in bed from the affront. I remembered that the counselor had told me that I must not cry because of my husband, that it could cause a disaster or bring illness on him, heaven forbid. She said, “If you cry, you have to say that the tears are because of the destruction of the Temple.” That is what I did, while continuing to weep soundlessly.

A bedroom with two single beds. A wedding dress and a shtreimel are on one of them.
Credit: Lea Golda Holterman

S., 32, mother of two; lives in the Jerusalem area

I come from a conservative, Lithuanian [Ashkenazi, non-Hasidic] home. My parents were newly religious people who had succeeded in integrating well into Haredi society. I was always a rebellious girl, I fought authority, I was anti-establishment and independent in thought, but at the same time I was naive and very “proper”: I was kicked out of school dozens of times, but even when I was at home I made sure to get up on time and pray. I dressed modestly, I didn’t exchange a word with boys – I never even considered such a thing. When I had to talk to a man, I never looked him directly in his eyes and I addressed him in the third person plural.

The world of sex was a closed book to me. My mother is a very introverted woman, and in general my family didn’t talk about things like that. We sisters didn’t even talk about menstruation, but I was curious about everything. By roundabout means I managed to watch a few romantic movies. Once I was on the internet and a window with a pornographic clip suddenly opened. I watched it with my heart pounding and with excitement.

When I reached matchmaking age, it was unclear which boy was suitable for me. Behind my back discussions took place between my brothers and my parents – I was not involved either in the suggestions or the inquiries. Only after a meeting had been arranged was I invited solemnly into the kitchen, where I was told there was an offer on the table and that he was a good young man.

The first meeting of five was the worst. I was embarrassed, too shy even to lift my eyes and look at him. When I got home the matchmaker called and said the boy wanted to meet again: “He felt from her that she was tired.” That remark won the day. From the second encounter, everything flowed better. He was an impressive fellow, charismatic; he led me confidently and made me laugh. I fell completely in love with him.

In the period between the engagement and the wedding we met many more times than was permitted; it was clear to both of us that we were head over heels. We kept from touching; there was only one time, when I handed him a tray of food, that our fingers met by mistake. For long minutes the tips of my fingers burned with tremendous excitement. At night I would lie awake and fantasize about him. About the moment when everything would be permitted. I dreamed about the feeling of body-next-to-body, about his scent, about the moment we would kiss.

I went to an expensive, highly regarded bridal counselor. She asked me, “Don’t you feel a contraction in the vagina when you’re with him? Don’t you get wet?” And even though I wasn’t as innocent as a Jewish girl should be, I felt nauseated; she had crudely violated my body and my innermost emotions. I felt as though my craving and desire were pure and that her nosiness was an ugly sin. I sat with her one time after another, and listened to advice about communication between married couples, lessons from the Jewish sages about modesty, the necessity to accede to the man and satisfy his needs – “He’s waited 20 years” – and my role in helping to prevent a “waste of seed.”

Suddenly there was within me, in the middle of my body, an organ that everyone was meddling with. It was overwhelmed with pain and not under my control.

The counselor told me how to pleasure the man in different ways, and about women who were rewarded for being meticulous about immersing themselves on the right day in the mikveh (ritual bath), “even if snow was falling and we were in the middle of a war.” She talked about punishment suffered by women who did not fulfill their marital role. I never heard a word about a woman’s pleasure, about the feminine voice in the sexual constellation, about mutual relationships, about shared pleasure.

“Will it hurt the first time?” I asked her with concern. “No way! Not at all!” she said. I felt she scorned me just for asking.

When we got to the apartment after the wedding, we closed the door behind us and immediately embraced and couldn’t stop. We sat on the sofa, hugging and kissing. We hardly exchanged a word. I was so thrilled and so caught up inside the white dress that the combination of the two was paralyzing. I could hardly move.

It wasn’t until many hours later that we showered, each of us in turn. We got into bed, not before I lit the candles I’d bought for the occasion. I was aroused. Every touch of his sent chills down my body. We arranged the bed according to the instructions of the marital counselor. A pillow beneath my lower body; our legs pointing toward the wall. “The counselor told me that I need to be on my knees, with the soles of my feet touching the wall, so I will have more strength to enter,” he told me.

I had waited so much for this moment, when we would be joined, become one entity, one body. He bent over me, leaning against my body. He was taller than me and had a large build. I was as light as a feather, my body arched excitedly toward him, as he pushed his legs against the wall and pushed his sexual organ, hard as a rock, into my body.

I screamed. Pain filled my being as though I’d been sliced in two. Never before and never since did I express pain with my voice beyond a groan. Not even in the births that came later. The scream that came out of me that night was a cry of pain over which I had no control.

He carried on. I didn’t utter a sound until he finished. We were confused, because we didn’t see blood and didn’t know whether we were “forbidden” [meaning that they had fulfilled the mitzvah, but now had to avoid any physical contact until she was ritually pure again]. We moved the beds a bit apart and fell asleep with distance between us. In the morning we walked to the home of the grooms counselor. He questioned us about the exact details and then scolded us severely. “Are you out of your minds? Of course you are forbidden. It doesn’t matter if there is blood, the very fact of fulfilling the mitzvah makes you forbidden.”

He sent us to a nurse who would check to make sure the hymen had been torn. The room of the “nurse” who was supposed to receive me turned out to be a dimly lit storeroom with a makeshift bed. A woman in a head covering and faded robe received us. I felt my body freeze with fear. I walked toward the bed with stiff legs.

Suddenly there was within me, in the middle of my body, an organ that everyone was meddling with. It was overwhelmed with pain and not under my control. When the woman took out the metal speculum, I almost leapt of the bed, thinking, “I’m simply not capable of letting her put that into me.” My whole body was shaking. I had never before encountered that tool, which looked to me like something from the Inquisition.

In the evening we met with our families. I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. I felt as though everyone was looking through me, at what had happened at night, at what we did. At the awkward behavior and the tremendous embarrassment because we were now forbidden to be intimate.

A shtreimel and a hat box.
Credit: Lea Golda Holterman

G., 30, mother of two; lives in Jerusalem

I grew up in a Lithuanian home. My parents, as mithazkim [people who were in the process of becoming more observant], took religion totally seriously and became even more extreme. I am an only child. My parents loved me very much and tended to be overprotective. As a teenager, I understood that I didn’t want to be a Haredi, but I knew that my only way out was through marriage. I started looking when I was 17. I met with six young men suggested by matchmakers, but things did not go forward, for various reasons. I went out with two guys my parents didn’t know about. I tried to meet guys alone, through friends, but I was a good girl, after all. I was afraid and stopped doing it.

The matchmaking offer for the person who would become my husband arrived. A prior meeting took place between me and his mother, and afterward I met with him twice. A third meeting took place in Yemin Moshe (a scenic neighborhood across from the Old City in Jerusalem). We walked along the paths there, I told him about my diabetes and he told me he was an orphan. He was charismatic and a smooth talker who could persuade anyone about anything. Afterward we got into a taxi and he said, “We are on the same page.” I asked, “What does that mean? Are we engaged?” And he replied, simply, “Yes.” I was so naive that I didn’t even think about whether I wanted him. I took it as a fait accompli.

I didn’t have thoughts like, Do I love him? Do I find him attractive? The day after the final meeting came the vort (engagement celebration); and a month and a half later we were married.

As a girl I was very curious and impulsive. I masturbated from a young age and I read all the material I could lay my hands on about sexual relations. My mother was a bridal counselor, she taught the subject, so I read the material she had. I had a lot of knowledge, but it was actually Haredi knowledge and formulated from a very specific point of view. Her texts talked about how you must care for your husband and do things for him. Everything relating to sexuality came from a spiritual and technical place. The whole thing about the mikveh, purification. Preparation of the body for the man. My mother taught me that I needed to be beautiful in the eyes of my husband, that he should never see me without makeup.

On my wedding day I got to the hall early. I remember how my mother came to greet me with a floral bouquet and the photographer took dozens of pictures of me. After the photos there was still some time before the ceremony. I walked around outside the hall. There was a path there with a fence and a tree. I felt disconnected from the situation. I asked myself: What am I doing here? I had no feeling of euphoria and excitement, only alienation and disconnect.

He told me later that the grooms’ counselor had told him to do it “strong and fast, and not to take pity on the girl.” After the wedding my sexuality was completely extinguished.

When we got home after the wedding, I was very bashful. He was supposed to unzip the dress, and I had a birthmark on my back that I was afraid for him to see. The transition was sharp. I had never before touched a man; there had never even been a handshake with one.

He told me he had come to the apartment before to drop off his things and how thrilled he had been to see the closet filled with my clothes. In total darkness we tried to have intercourse; on the first night we didn’t succeed. The next day we tried again. The room was completely dark; according to the rules we were not allowed to talk while having intercourse. He was on top of me and I accidentally closed my legs a little. That was the moment when he opened them forcibly and then penetrated my body aggressively. When I tried to utter a sound he scolded me and hushed me rudely, as though I were an animal. I can’t say any more, because I hardly remember details.

That same evening he called the counselor to tell him that he had succeeded in fulfilling the mitzvah. He told me later that the grooms’ counselor had told him to do it “strong and fast, and not to take pity on the girl.” After the wedding my sexuality was completely extinguished. Even when I tried to initiate and improve things, he had no patience to pleasure me. When I tried to suggest ways to do it, he shouted and got upset. I was always trying to placate. For half of the years that we were married, I asked forgiveness every time he hurt me.

S., 43, father of five; lives in Betar Illit

I come from a family from the Bratslav Hasidic sect. My parents ba’alei teshuva [became observant as adults] are newly penitent. I grew up with five brothers – and in surroundings completely without girls. I had no sisters, of course I was forbidden to talk to or play with the neighbors’ daughters, and school was completely male. I remember how when I was 17 a secular girl stopped me in the street and asked, “What time is it?” I was so overcome with emotion and embarrassment that I froze and couldn’t utter a word. During adolescence I was attracted to guys my age from the yeshiva. Those were the only relationships I knew, I didn’t know what it was to be attracted to women.

I turned down the first girl I met at the matchmaking meetings. My parents accepted my decision, even though the rejection was not self-evident. During our encounter I looked at her, straight in the eyes, and we had a long conversation. I understood that she wasn’t suitable for me. I didn’t know how to explain it. I was simply not attracted to her, I had an inner intuition that this wasn’t the right thing for me. When I was 18 I met the person who would become my wife. She was 16, beautiful and full of life. Even though the custom in our sect was to conclude things after one meeting, she asked to see me again and only afterward did she give the matchmaker an affirmative answer.

After the engagement we waited four months until the wedding. In that period you’re not supposed to meet or talk, except maybe a polite phone conversation on the eve of a holiday. Even a phone call like that is not so obvious in the Hasidic community I grew up in; maybe because I came from a home of newly religious parents there was some leniency on the subject. But I was curious to speak beyond a polite conversation, and so we found ourselves chatting beyond the official bounds.

Behind our parents’ backs we arranged to meet in a park far from where we lived in Jerusalem. We met secretly once a week for about two hours. I remember how I waited every week with excitement for the meeting. You could say that, in contrast to my friends, I had a certain acquaintance with the person I was going to marry.

About a month before the wedding I was asked to choose between two grooms’ counselors, both Bratslav Hasidim. One was considered more conservative, the other more “liberal.” I chose the second one. A year before my engagement, I had heard for the first time, from a friend in the yeshiva, how children come into the world. I remember being in shock for a long time. The friend told me about it in technical terms, not in the least romantically. But without his preparation I would have come to the counselor in total ignorance and innocence.

The meeting with the counselor was disappointing. I had the feeling he was doing his job by rote, like on an assembly line. He was late for our appointments and he explained everything in a dry manner. In our initial meetings he focused on niddah (laws relating to menstruation and ritual impurity), and it wasn’t until the last meeting that he referred to the “technical” part of upholding the mitzvah of conjugal relations. Occasionally he used stereotypical slogans about women: He explained that the wife constantly needs the husband to “flatter her” and “pay attention to her.” In retrospect, I think his comments about proper conduct with a wife reflected a shallow approach and superficial assumptions about women.

During adolescence I was attracted to guys my age from the yeshiva. Those were the only relationships I knew, I didn’t know what it was to be attracted to women.

The counselor explained the fundamental concepts of sexual relations in the most basic way. He illustrated the act with the help of a mannequin, using it to show how one bends over the woman’s body. He began with a childish introduction: “Do you know how when you wake up in the morning the organ down below is hard? So it’s with that thing that you have to approach the woman. This also happens in terms of another aspect, the sexual aspect. When there is sexual stimulation, the blood vessels expand and that helps to penetrate inside. Why penetrate inside? In order to inseminate the woman.”

He explained to me that, “sometimes the girl is tense on the first night, so you need to calm her down and speak nice words to her.” He instructed me to do the act in a dark room, even if not completely dark, and as late at night as possible. As to being clothed or naked during the act itself, he said, based on an approach that’s considered relatively liberal, that we could decide for ourselves.

After the wedding ceremony, I was very tense at the moment of truth. I expected to see the bride tense, which I had been prepared for, but to my surprise she seemed relaxed. She is by nature a strong woman who is not afraid of adventures or risks. The problem lay with me: I didn’t succeed in getting an erection. We tried again and again, but nothing happened.

The next day I called the counselor and told him with consternation about my dysfunction in bed. He tried to reassure me that it was all right, that it happens to many grooms and that we should try again the next day. After that first night there were several more attempts when I didn’t succeed, and my frustration only grew. After two weeks, the counselor said I should come to him in Bnei Brak and he would give me something that would help. He gave me Viagra, and with its help we succeeded in having intercourse for the first time. For about three months my performance was dependent on Viagra, until I no longer needed it.

Looking back, I understand that because I am considered to be a person who is sensitive when confronting complex situations, the idea of having intercourse on the wedding night didn’t suit me. By nature I need a process, foreplay and an emotional, intimate connection. With time, and as we grew closer to one another, the sexuality improved significantly.

The top part of a wedding dress
Credit: Lea Golda Holterman

Y., 31, father of four; from the Jerusalem area

A month after I turned 18, my father met with me in the beit midrash [study hall]. After the afternoon prayer with the Gerrer Admor [leader of the Ger Hasidic sect], the beit midrash looked more like an airport than a house of prayer. My father began by saying, “People have started to talk about you as a mature man.” My parents kept a notebook with the names of girls [suggested by matchmakers]; each girl got a page. The name was at the top of the page, and below it recommendations and opinions from her girlfriends and relatives. I was a good boy, and the moment I turned 18 the notebook began filling up.

Now the die was cast. My father said, “There is a certain family about which we’ve heard and made inquiries, and it’s possible we will move forward. We need to buy you a new hat and suit.” I asked, “Who is it?” In my heart I hoped it would the granddaughter of the present or previous Admor. When he told me who it was, I felt a twinge in my heart, because she wasn’t of distinguished lineage.

From the moment the intended was chosen, the wheels of the well-oiled machine started to move. Each person had a role and each stage had a clear action and purpose. First I met with the mashgiach [yeshiva supervisor]. I told him I was going to be married. He prepared me for the meeting with her. He said I would have to talk about three things: a house of Torah; the faith of tzadikim, and faith in the Admor and in the Ger sect; and the sanctity of the home. He emphasized that, “you don’t have to look at the girl the whole time. Take a glance and that’s it.”

I prepared what I would need to say, but my mother intervened. Even though she was from the Ger sect, she did not like its matchmaking system. She insisted that I see a picture of the girl beforehand, to see if I found her attractive. I thought that was a mistake, I barely glanced and immediately said, “Don’t worry, it’s all right.” I was caught in the middle, I wanted to please everyone – my mother, my father and the sect.

My mother was vehemently against the idea of one 20-minute meeting, with a preplanned conversation. Finally we agreed on a longer meeting. It was only thanks to her that our encounter went on for an hour and a half. We sat opposite one another at the empty dining table in the living room. We were bashful and very quiet. During that time our parents stood outside the door and discussed financial matters. A matchmaker had already coordinated expectations between them, like a real estate agent, so all that remained was to formalize things.

Finally her father opened the door and asked, “What’s happening?” We understood that the time had passed and we got up to leave. At this stage we were supposed to raise a toast and close the “deal.” But my mother intervened again, insisting on the need to give the boy and the girl time to decide. My father was at a loss. I felt that she was embarrassing me, that she was a problem that needed to be resolved. Everyone was already waiting, the cakes were ready, people had set time aside that evening. I understood that I was expected to calm her down. I told her over and over that I liked the girl, that the meeting had been so special that we could already finish everything. I went on like that until she was satisfied.

For a full year between the engagement and the wedding there is no meeting between the groom and the bride. At the engagement event we met for a moment next to the mehitza [the divider between the men and the women], looked at each other for a fraction of a second and wished each other a polite “Mazel Tov.” Other than that there was no communication between us. The families sent gifts on every holiday, and I met her father occasionally in the Ger beit midrash. By the time the wedding arrived, I could no longer remember what she looked like – the next time I met her was in the seclusion room.

I remember the first time we embraced naked. We went on a vacation, and there, far from home, we found in ourselves the boldness to taste of the forbidden.

Every guy in Ger knows that there is “the conversation” with the counselor before the wedding day. For an hour and a half on the eve of the wedding, the counselor is supposed to reveal to me what to do in order to bring children into the world. The counselor went around in circles before coming to the point. He explained to me how special this day is. He told me, “I will go through with you step by step what is going to happen from the ceremony onward. What you’ll need to do. You don’t have to worry, we will go through it in order. And whatever you forget – someone will remind you.”

When he told me that after the ceremony I would have to hold hands with the bride, an expression of shock must have crossed my face. The counselor hurried to reassure me, “Just a minute, don’t panic, you’ll soon see that there are more awe-inspiring things.”

The closer the meeting was to its end, the more agitated his attempts at reassurance were. “Don’t worry, I’ll come to the wedding and I will have two Assival [Valium] tablets. If you feel you’re under a lot of pressure, I will give them to you at the wedding itself.”

The whole time he spoke he looked me in the eye to see that I was all right, that I was not fainting (such things have happened). And again he reassured me, “Everything is fine, even if it doesn’t succeed the first time, you will have a counselor who will work with you and explain to you what to do.”

After the wedding our parents came to the apartment with us and sat for a toast with wine and cakes. Then her mother helped her open the dress, the parents left and she went into the bathroom to organize herself. I was not allowed to wash up. Men are forbidden to wash at home, only in the mikveh.

After she finished organizing herself, we sat across from each other in the living room and I said exactly what the counselor had told me to say. “We are going to uphold a very great mitzvah, the most important in the Torah: be fruitful and multiply.” The counselor had instructed me to describe for her how important and good this was, that it was a time of holiness, that while observing the mitzvah we should think about the tzadikim and pray for good children. I did all that, one by one.

Afterward I took off the suit, the hat, I switched to a nighttime kippa and took off my socks and pants. The instructions were: total darkness, blinds completely shut. There is a space of a meter between the beds. She – after having been prepared in advance by a bridal counselor – waits without underpants, with her robe raised, lying on her back with knees bent. The counselor said I should wear gatkes (underwear).

I leave my bed and come to her from the end of the bed. From there to get into the bed slowly and get to her. When I get to her I take off the gatkes.

The counselor explained that I have to put it into the orifice. “But many times it is sealed, and if so it could hurt her, so you need to ask her every so often if it is hurting her.” She was to tell me where to put it in, as there is total darkness and we must also have a blanket over us.

She waited for me according to the instructions. I approached her, following the rules. Nothing happened. We tried for 20 minutes. The counselor had said: “If you try for a long time and don’t succeed, leave it, go to your bed and talk to the marriage counselor the next day. He will explain everything to you.”

The next day I met with the new counselor, who was supposed to accompany me for my whole life. This time, too, they brought me a special counselor, one who was considered calmer, mature, a little more of a compromiser. He explained that everything was all right. He told me, “Instead of coming from the end of the bed, come from the side, lie next to her for a few minutes. Let your organ touch her leg until there is hardening and then try again.”

He also said, “When you do it, put your hands under her back.” That last thing took me completely by surprise. In my view it was insane. Almost an embrace. But that’s what I did. This time we succeeded. During and after the act I asked her if it hurt and she said it was all right.

Already during the first half-year together, I failed by giving her a kiss on the cheek while we were having intercourse, which was forbidden. I was consumed by remorse. She asked, “What was that?” I apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again. But she just laughed. The next time I mustered my courage, and in the middle of doing the act my hands slid carefully down, toward her lower body, under her bottom. That was absolutely forbidden. The next day I went to the counselor and confessed. He said, “Look, it’s not a transgression according to the Torah, but it’s vulgar. Try to see that it doesn’t happen again.” Strangely, that had the opposite effect on me, because he said it’s not a transgression, and it was so tempting for me that it happened a few more times.

I remember the first time we embraced naked. We went on a vacation, and there, far from home, we found in ourselves the boldness to taste of the forbidden. Just like little children, we took off our clothes slowly. I said to her, “Let’s stand up.” We stood naked opposite each other and laughed in embarrassment. Finally we embraced. For a long time we wrapped ourselves in each other. It was a divine pleasure which there aren’t enough words to describe.