Before delving into our daf it is important to acknowledge that the modern ear struggles to reconcile the laws ofהפרת נדרים , as recorded in Bemidbar 30:4-17, with our general attitudes towards equality – and this includes the topic addressed in the Mishna (Nedarim 10:1) in today’s daf (Nedarim 67a) where the vows of a young woman who is (halachically) engaged (i.e. a נערה המאורסה) can be revoked by her husband-to-be and father. However, rather than wrestling with that specific point, I believe that underpinning our Mishna is a powerful observation about the engagement period – namely the dual loyalties that men and women have during this time towards their parents and their spouse to be.
Naturally, there are some situations where this period of time is perfectly smooth sailing. Similarly, there are also sad situations where parents are not in the picture either due to death or physical/emotional disconnect. Beyond this, we cannot ignore the fact that there are instances in the modern period where engagement and marriage has little bearing on the living arrangements of couples. Still, there are many for whom engagement is a transition period both of status and of location, and it is this period of flux which raises many questions about loyalties.
In terms of our Mishna, it seems that the period of אירוסין (halachic ‘engagement’) is where these loyalties overlap. True, at this point a bride is still living with her parents. But equally true is the fact that she now has responsibilities to her spouse. Consequently, what our Mishna seems to point to is how the engagement period is when the parents of the bride and the husband of the bride start to understand their different roles which then further shift upon marriage. And for the sake of clarity, while our Mishna speaks specifically about a bride, the overall point I am making here equally applies to the parents of the groom and their relationship with their soon-to-be daughter-in-law.
Unfortunately, this dynamic is an issue that is often not addressed until it needs to be addressed, and rather couples and their respective parents using the engagement period to start getting to know each other, much more effort is placed on the wedding planning than on these specific relationships. The problem is that if these relationships aren’t prioritised at this point in time, then once a couple do marry they can continue to be confused about their loyalties – and in some cases, if they don’t figure out these loyalties quickly, this can do harm to their relationship/s (with their spouse, or their parents, or their in-laws).
So what do I draw from our Mishna? That dating, engagement and marriage involves shifts in the loyalties towards a range of relationships, and that the engagement period specifically provides significant opportunities towards building towards what the future may be.