A BRIEF GUIDE TO ASKING AND ANSWERING QUESTIONS ON SHIDDUCHIM
Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern
Many people have been hurt in the past, and are being hurt every day, by lashon hara. This is especially the case when it comes to giving out information relevant to shidduchim.
Sometimes a person suppresses particulars that he is obligated to pass on according to the halachah, because he imagines that he is not allowed to speak. Other times, all kinds of intimate details are handed out "for shidduch purposes," when actually passing on this information is prohibited.
We must be sensitive to the power we wield when conveying shidduch information. Our words could easily cause the shidduch to be abandoned. Alternatively, withholding crucial details could result in a shidduch going through that will only bring pain and trouble to the innocent.
We may be called on at any moment to divulge information about an individual or family when a shidduch is being considered. Therefore we are obligated to familiarize ourselves with the halachos of what we may and may not say, and also of how to provide the necessary details, or to obtain them for ourselves. Finally, we need to know when to speak: what is permissible to relay in the early stages of a shidduch may not be permissible to say later on, or may require a shailah to a rav.
GUIDE FOR THE נשאל (ONE REPLYING)
1. Before answering, find out where the two sides are holding: before, in the middle, or after settling the shidduch; each stage must be handled differently and rabbinical guidance is needed as to how to give over the relevant information.
2. Before replying, verify:
a) That the information is לתועלת – beneficial, i.e., that is, the information must be relevant and important to the decision being made the shidduch. It is אסור to give irrelevant information or to reply to people asking out of curiosity.
b) If your information can still influence the decision of either side. If the shidduch is going to be made regardless of what you say, then it’s lashon hara to mention anything negative, since this will cause harm by putting the young person in a negative light.
3. If you think that they are not a match and your opinion will be accepted without mentioning a גנות (derogatory information) – e.g., by saying “This shidduch isn’t for you”, or “There’s a personality clash” – then you are prohibited to mention any details. However, if you must elaborate, say the minimal information necessary to stop the shidduch. Be careful not to exaggerate. If you are aware of any זכות – merit – you must mention it.
4. If the נשאל's information is second-hand, it cannot be presented as something certain, since it could be a false rumor. Rather he must say, “This is only something that I heard about Ploni but all the same, be careful just in case it's true.” When the information is uncertain, it is a mitzvah, but not obligatory, to give it.
5. It is אסור to mention any גנות if it results in damaging the person, e.g., others will treat him badly, or he will get a bad name. Similarly, one must not give such information to a gossiper (הולך רכיל), because he will spread the גנות unnecessarily, or repeat it to the person himself
6. If you are asked details about one’s appearance, height, weight, etc., it is מותר to say anything they could see for themselves. This is no worse than showing a photograph. However, be careful not to exaggerate your description, e.g., “fat”, “ugly”. (Sometimes you may think that a person is overweight while others may view him as “solidly built”.) Regarding personality traits, be careful not to give a negative description which can be interpreted as a fault – חסרון, e.g., if a person is naive, don’t say he/she is an idiot or fool. If he is quiet, don’t describe him as depressed or peculiar.
7. Answer questions based on who is asking them, and what they are looking for. If you’re asked whether a boy is a talmid chacham, to another talmid chacham this would mean the boy is a genius or a potential rosh yeshiva, while to an average person it might mean merely that the boy learns and is knowledgeable in Torah. If possible, it is best to ask the שואל specifically what sort of person he is looking for.
8. You don’t have to answer questions regarding Torah knowledge because the inquirers could verify this through the boy’s Rebbeiyim. (However, if a wide gap exists between the שואל’s request and the reality, e.g., the girl’s side is looking for a genius and the boy is average, it must be mentioned.)
9. Be careful when answering about a person’s emotional and physical health. You could ruin a person for life because of a passing or non-genetic health condition. If any health condition exists in the family, a rav should be consulted to decide how and when it should be mentioned. Caution! Exaggeration is also common in this area. Don’t dramatize the situation.
10. Think before replying! Weigh your words carefully, and don’t blurt out the first thoughts that enter your head. An added word or exaggeration can convert something מותר to lashon hara , besides the irreparable damage you might do to a fellow Jew by a simple slip of the tongue.
The rule is: be careful what you say, how you say it and to whom you say it.
GUIDE FOR THE שואל (ONE ASKING)
1. The שואל must inform the נשאל that he is inquiring for shidduch purposes, and ask questions regarding the shidduch only. 10
2. If the שואל knows that the information will not affect his decision, i.e., even if he hears anything derogatory they will still pursue the shidduch, then he not permitted to inquire.11
3. The שואל is prohibited to believe anything derogatory said about the person in question, even if he can’t find any זכות – merit. He may only suspect (be חושש) that the information may be true for the sake of self-protection.12 (Nevertheless, try to find a זכות).13
4. You should avoid using a third party if the information can be obtained directly(This also depends on the difficulty involved).
5. When the שואל gives over any derogatory details (דברי גנאי), he must be careful to say it in an uncertain manner, e.g., "I heard something derogatory about Ploni, but don’t take it as a fact since it may not be true.”15 He should also not mention his source of information, e.g., “Yaakov said this about Ploni.” This could be rechilus and result in causing harm to Yaakov. 16
6. It is prohibited to ask someone who has any enmity towards the person you are inquiring about.17 (Under certain strict conditions, this is permitted if there is no other way to obtain the information. In this case, a rav should be consulted).
7. It is permissible to ask about personal appearance. However, the נשאל should be cautioned to state facts and not his opinion of how the young person looks (See #7 of נשאל).
8. Once the shidduch is finalized, it is prohibited to hear or say anything derogatory about the boy or girl, especially if it can break off the shidduch. If something serious has been discovered, e.g., health condition or serious character flaw, a Rav should be consulted.18
סוף דבר – In conclusion:
Until you clarify beyond any doubt that a statement isn’t lashon hara, assume that it is (ספק דאורייתא). Many people are faced with a dilemma: To tell or not to tell? Whatever is lashon hara is prohibited to mention. Whatever is לתועלת – beneficial – is not only permissible but a חיוב, an obligation, to tell. A person withholding this information transgresses the לאו of על דם רעך לא תעמוד (You shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed).19 However, in between what’s prohibited and what’s permissible lies a large gray area; so just as you wouldn’t pasken (decide) complicated שאלה (halachic question) in hilchos Shabbos or kashrus, certainly don’t decide without consulting a Rav.
Our goal is, that shidduchim, which by all accounts ought to proceed smoothly, should not terminate solely because we spoke lashon hara, while ill-fated shidduchim should not be allowed to continue because we remained silent when we were obligated to speak up.
Condensed from an article מרפא לשון Torah Journal, vol. 3, and a lecture by Rav Moshe M. Lowy of Toronto.
1. הל' לשוה"ר ד: י"א
2. הל' רכילות ט:ג תנאי ג' ושם בסוף ציור שלישי - ז'
3. הל' לשוה"ר י : י"ד ובאמ"ח ססק"ט, הל' רכילות ט :ב תנאי ד'
4. הל' רכילות כלל ט' באמ"ח סק"ט ובהג"ה
5 שם ט :ב תנאי ה' ובבאמ"ח
6. Rav Y. Y. Fisher (quoted in the article)
7. ibid. based on באמ"ח הל' רכילות כלל ט' ציור ג' סק"י
8. ibid. Based on הל' רכילות פ"ט ציור ג' ס"ו
9. הל' לשוה"ר י : ט"ו, רכילות ט :ב תנאי ב'
10. הל' לשה"ר ד : י"א
11. הל' רכילות ט : ג תנאי ג' , ושם בסוף ציור שלישי - ז'
12. הל' לשוה"ר ו :י , רכילות ה :ב
13. הל' לשוה"ר ג : ז
14. הל' רכילות ט : י"ב תנאי ד'
15. שם כלל ט באמ"ח סק"ט
16. שם סע' ב' פרט ג' בסוגריים, ובבאמ"ח סק"ה, ובסע' י"ב אופן ה'
17. הל' לשוה"ר ד : י"א בהג"ה
18. הל' רכילות ט : ה
19. שם ט':א' ובבאמ"ח. This is also alluded to by the fact that these two
prohibitions appear in the same pasuk (Vayikra 19:16)
(Picture courtesy of Shidduchim.com)
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