I recently encountered an engaged young man, a friend of my son-in-law, and asked him where his kallah is. He responded, “We are not seeing each other today, because you know, the gedarim.” Ah, the gedarim. If you are unfamiliar with the term, “gedarim” are the boundaries suggested by contemporary rabbonim and kallah teachers that prescribe how often an engaged couple should see and communicate with one another.
When I first heard of the gedarim, I must admit I reacted with cynicism and skepticism. I didn’t have gedarim when I was engaged, why are they necessary now? When this couple is soon married, will anyone put restrictions on how often they see each other and speak then? Aren’t communication and spending time together the cornerstones of a healthy marriage? Why would anyone seek to regulate or minimize such fundamental parts of a relationship?
Yet, the more I thought about it and discussed this practice with young people, the more I came to realize the reality today is radically different than when I was engaged. With the gift of technology, nowadays there are no true goodbyes, no disconnecting, no time a couple needs to feel apart. Of course, the engagement period is an important stage, a time to celebrate commitment to one another, to look towards the future, to transition to building a home together. But it is also not marriage, halachically or civilly, and many things permissible in marriage remain out of bounds during engagement. Hence gedarim, boundaries, to remove the pressure to be together or connected constantly and to reinforce the awareness that while engagement is more than dating, it is not yet marriage.
Gedarim are not halachically obligatory and do not even rise to the level of minhag. They aren’t for everyone. I mention them not as a global recommendation but because the concept strikes me that they are a metaphor for what coronavirus is bringing to the broader world.
Six months ago, could you imagine countries outright closing borders to one another? If I told you that states in America would be monitoring their borders and literally tracking people coming in from other states, you wouldn’t believe me. If I described how even in the most progressive and permissive segments of society, not only would nobody greet others with a kiss or hug, but not even a handshake, you wouldn’t even be able to imagine it.
And yet, here we are. For the last five months, coronavirus has brought us unwanted gedarim, greater boundaries, to the world. Something invisible is forcing us to regulate our time together, limit our contact with one another, and deny our ability to fully come face to face.
Many parts of these gedarim are difficult and unwelcome, and we anxiously await the time when they are lifted. But this moment also presents us with an opportunity to take a step back and recognize that some of these gedarim are indeed very welcome, refreshing and positive, and I for one hope they will last a long time.
In a world of #MeToo, and no shortage of stories involving gross violations of personal space, is there not something to be said for only those closely related to one another having physical contact or even coming within six feet of another? Having guests and connecting socially with others are wonderful, but is setting a boundary to compel more time with our immediate family not a positive development? We desperately long to resume davening in Shul together the way we once knew. But has the perfect decorum that has resulted from distanced davening not been so beautiful and welcome?
As we continue living in a world with forced boundaries, take the time to evaluate which of these boundaries you can’t wait to be free of, and which you would not mind keeping around. Of course, we want to travel again without boundaries, to enjoy time in each other’s houses, to sit next to each other in shuls, schools, and restaurants.
Nevertheless, when please God, we turn a corner and resume normal activities and interactions, let’s not just do away with all the gedarim, the boundaries and rules that this pandemic has introduced to our world. Some boundaries restrict and hold back but let’s strive to preserve the ones that liberate us and grant us newfound opportunities to live morally, daven intensely, and spend time with our family.