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Shmiras Haloshon and Shidduchim: A Delicate Balance

The Chofetz Chaim said that, regarding a shidduch, people speak when they should be quiet, and hold back when they ought to speak up. The Soton, he explains, works both sides of the fence. In those who have important information that should be conveyed, the Soton stirs such a dread of speaking loshon hora that they hold their tongues. In those who are eager to pass on their fleeting negative impressions, he provides ample encouragement, warning them not to violate the Torah's prohibition against "standing by as a fellow man's blood is shed."

Many people have been hurt in the past and are being damaged now in the present, by those indulging in loshon hora, especially in the transmission of information dealing with shidduchim.

Since each and every one of us may be called upon at any time to divulge information about an individual or a family in regard to a shidduch, it is obligatory for us to become acquainted with the halachos of what is permissible for us to say and what is not. Furthermore, it is essential to know how to properly transmit those details deemed appropriate and how to obtain critical information ourselves when the need arises. Finally, it is imperative to know when to convey information. What is permissible to relay in the early stages of the shidduch process may actually be prohibited further along in the procedure without a heter from a rav. When one is asked for information regarding a shidduch, one must be sensitive to the power wielded by every detail conveyed. Your words could easily be the sole cause of a shidduch being abandoned. Alternately, withholding crucial information could allow a shidduch to proceed, which might trigger great pain for all concerned. The expressions "Lo Selech Rachil Be'amecha" , Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people and "Lo Sa'amod al Dam Reacha" , Do not stand by as your fellow's blood is being shed, occur in the same posuk. This teaches us that we must be equally concerned about destroying a good shidduch as we are about allowing a bad one to go forward. All those who stand idly by and allow a shidduch to proceed, knowing that it could ultimately lead to heartache, which could easily be prevented by passing along necessary information, transgress the lav (negative commandment) of Lo Sa'mod al Dam Reacha .

Ways to Inquire: Asking Questions for a Shidduch

Note: At the outset, it is important to properly define negative information that is given within the halachic category of " l'toeles" for the constructive purpose of a shidduch. When spoken in the manner the Torah prescribes, the words never fall into the category of loshon hora. The Torah is not "allowing" loshon hora for the purpose of shidduch. It is defining this type of speech as something completely separate from loshon hora.

In conducting the investigation to decide whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch, one must always preface the request for details with the statement, "The reason I'm asking you for this information is because someone is considering a shidduch with the person/family." Even though one feels that his information he is seeking might be compromised by this declaration, he is obligated to announce his intentions.

The reasons for this are twofold:

Ways to Respond: Answering Inquiries for a Shidduch

The Chofetz Chaim specifies five conditions that must be met before providing information for shidduch purposes. Each and every condition must be met concurrently.

  1. Think through your response carefully.
    Are you sure that the information you are about to share is totally accurate or is it, perhaps, partially or totally based on secondhand information?
    Note: This requires carefull consideration, since many of our impressions of other people are actually based on secondhand information. Sometimes acquired many years ago. Because we may not even be conscious of the origins of our information, it is important to give careful thought to this question before answering. (Secondhand information is permitted to be shared under certain conditions. See further for details.)
  2. Don't exaggerate.
    Say only what you know to be one hundred percent true. Don't embellish. Even one word of exaggeration is forbidden and is motzi shem ra (slander).
    Note: Most people exaggerate to a greater degree than they believe. To counteract this tendency, one should imagine that he himself were the subject of the inquiry, that his own future was at stake. In such a case, one would surely pay close attention to the phrasing of any negative information giving it no more weight than would be absolutely necessary.
  3. Prepare to transmit the information with the express purpose of aiding a shidduch.
    If you are aware of important information that you know will disrupt a shidduch for someone you dislike, strive to transmit the details strictly for toeles (constructive intent). The Chofetz Chaim said that in such a situation it is incumbent on a person to at least temporarily eradicate negative feelings from his heart so that he can transmit the information with the right intention.
    Note: This rule is not only applicable to a person that one strongly dislikes. It applies as well to anyone for whom one harbors ill feelings, even if they don't rise to the level of "strong dislike." It is important in all such cases to carefully analyze one's motivations in speaking against someone.
  4. Ensure that the information is transmitted in the least harmful way possible.
    If this shidduch needs to be stopped, is there any way of stopping it without having to provide damaging details? Perhaps the response "I don't think this particular shidduch is for you" would be adequate. Only if the inquirer persists, "Maybe I'll want the shidduch anyway. Please provide me with more details. I don't want you to be the judge." Only then is it permissible to pass on the appropriate information (provided that all the other conditions are met) and even then, strive to keep negative information to the absolute minimum necessary. If the person requesting the information will decide not to pursue the shidduch after the information then one must stop at that point, because any further information is not for a constructive purpose. Note: A sincere effort to refrain from passing on the details of another person's flaws results in success far more often than many people realize, and that is the course that must be pursued. By letting out negative information, one always takes a chance on lowering another person's reputation and life. Therefore, it is imperative to make a sincere attempt to hold back the details if at al l possible.
  5. Weigh the amount of harm your information is liable to cause against its benefit.
    If you are aware that the person to whom you are confiding the information is indiscrete and will spread the details to others outside the sphere of parties involved in the shidduch, you are prohibited by Halacha to say it. If the information is so serious that you feel the shidduch should not proceed, try to achieve that outcome through another means, perhaps by asking someone respected by the family involved to simply advise strongly against the match.
    <U>Note: It is a good habit for one to tell anyone to whom you are relating information, to be extra cautious not to spread the information further.
    The worst thing about loshon hora is its ability to cause machlokes. If through the transmission of the information in your possession a machlokes will be caused, a rav conversant in the laws of Shmiras Haloshon should be consulted as to how best to pass along the critical information, what words should be used, etc.

    Discerning Categories of Permitted Information

    We have already explored the halachic guidelines relevant to asking questions regarding a shidduch. We have also looked at the questions one must ask oneself and conditions that must be met before answering an inquiry. What remains to explore is the content of the answer. By no means does a shidduch inquiry open the door for any and all types of information to flow back and forth among the concerned parties.

    However, the halachic considerations that render some information proper and some prohibited are difficult to define in the space of this article. Expert judgement is often needed to determine when a particular quality becomes something necessary to transmit. The fact is that even a tinge of a problem can be enough to sidetrack a shidduch. Yet, this problem that looms large in the mind of the person giving information may not be a problem at all in the eyes of the potential spouse. For example, someone raised in a calm, quiet home may interpret a higher level of emotion as anger or temper. However, to the couple involved in the shidduch this level of expressiveness might be well within the range of normal, not at all worthy of note.

    On the other hand, there is a level of anger significant enough to truly influence one's ability to establish a peaceful home. This is anger that needs to be reported. The question is, where does the line between personality and "problem causing anger" lie? Obviously, there is a continuum in the tendency towards anger, and nearly everyone falls somewhere along it. One's assessment of another person's temper is subjective. Someone who displays anger toward employees may be perfectly calm and relaxed at home. Someone who shows anger to his family might be on his best behavior at work.

    Nor do the variables end there. One must also take into consideration the personality of the person who is answering the inquiry. From what perspective is he making his assessment? And, one must keep in mind the other party in the shidduch. Someone who is impatient with slowness, for instance will not be a problem for a partner whose personality leans toward thinking and acting quickly.

    One must be aware that withholding negative information does not always violate the lav (negative commandment) of lo sa'amod . The only faults addressed by this lav are those detrimental to establishing a Jewish home, a happy marriage and a wholesome relationship. Such faults as bad character traits, immodesty, a lack of religious commitment or definite health problem rise to that level. P<> There are many minor faults and problems, however, that do not stand in the way of a good shidduch. Perhaps a woman says she won't consider anyone who doesn't share her love of music. Withholding the fact that a potential spouse has no taste for music does not violate the lav. There is no important factor standing in the way of the couple's proper, happy marriage should they come together despite this minor problem.

    One who knows this information and is asked about it may, however, provide an answer. Doing so does not violate the law of lo selech rachil since the information is being offered l'toeles, for a constructive purpose. If he chooses not to answer, in the belief that the shidduch might be successful despite this particular piece of information, he has not violated the lav of lo sa'amod.

    Generally, the rule is that one should not volunteer negative information unless withholding it would violate the lav of lo sa'amod . When considering whether to share negative information, one should ask himself whether this fact would be ultimately detrimental to the establishment of a happy, wholesome Jewish home. If the answer to that question is not clear, it is better to refrain from speaking until the matter is clarified.

    For all these reasons, choosing the information that can and should be relayed is very complex. With so much on the line, it is essential to ask a shaila whenever there is any doubt.

    The purpose of the information that follows is not to provide a basis for making one's own halachic determinations.It is, instead a guide for helping to discern the difference between types of information so that one can see for oneself where questionable situations arise. Learning to distinguish between different types of information provides necessary insurance against accidentally stumbling into loshon hora and unnecessarily damaging another person's life.

    Firsthand or Secondhand Information

    The first way to categorize information is to consider whether it seems from personal knowledge or is based on something one has heard from someone else. The Torah sees secondhand information as possibly inaccurate and is therefore, a potentially dangerous source.

    However, there are instances in which one possesses secondhand information that is serious in nature and relevant to a couple's future together. In such a case, the Torah requires that one expend time and effort to verify the truth of the information for oneself. The prohibition against "standing by the blood of one's fellow man" means that it is essential to check out and report information that, once revealed, could present serious problems in a marriage.

    If, for some reason, it is impossible to verify the information, and all five conditions of relaying information have been met, one should convey it with a clearly expressed warning that it is based on hearsay and one does not know personally whether it is true.

    Information gained from one's own personal experience is the ideal type of information to give. However, this cannot be given without careful consideration. Even with firsthand knowledge, one must analyze the source of one's impressions. Are they based on long-term acquaintance or first impression? A recent encounter or one five years ago? These and many other questions must be considered.

    Opinion, Fact or Armchair Psychology

    Even within the realm of firsthand information, there are degrees of reliability and veracity. Few people pause to make distinctions as to which of their perceptions of other people fall into the category of fact or opinion. But in giving information for a shidduch, these factors must be considered.

    The Torah urges the utmost caution in delivering one's opinion of another. Labels such as "unfriendly" and "disorganized" can be based on little factual evidence and yet, can and do exert enormous power in derailing a shidduch. However, character assessments are certainly important and useful, especially if a person is looking for a spouse that, possesses a certain type of personality trait, for instance, someone who is outgoing and social, or serious, or warmhearted.

    The Chofetz Chaim stressed emphatically that the habit of labeling people and diclosing those labels to others does immeasurable harm. Instead, one must develop the habit of reporting facts without rendering judgement or labels.

    In any case, whenever an assessment is halachically allowed to be offered, it must be clearly defined as such. It should never be passed along as a factual, definitive description of another person's character. One must always be mindful of the subjective nature of an opinion, and the complex nature of human beings.

    Because of the flaws involved in opinion, the Torah favors factual information. However, even here, not everything may be reported. If there is an emotional or medical problem that would undermine the marriage, then the information can be passed along after meeting the five requirements for answering an inquiry.

    However, this does not mean the every medical or emotional problem is relevant. Many couples live in harmony despite a medical or emotional flaw in one or the other. Because such information wields a great deal of power to break a shidduch, one is literally taking two people's lives in his hands. Therefore, it is always advisable to ask a shaila before speaking.

    One piece of factual information that falls into a gray area is that of age. There are differing opinions as to whether there is any latitude in answering a question about a man's or women's age. Therefore, a shaila should also be asked when age is an issue.

    Confidential Information

    Most of the information discussed so far is that which might be known by anyone familiar with the subject. However, some information may be given to a friend in confidence, or within a professional relationship between a patient and psychologist or medical professional. If it comes to one's attention that very important medical or other information is being concealed, and one is in possession of the information under an obligation of confidentiality, a shaila must be asked as to what the halachah requires.

    Saying What Must Be Said

    Even in cases in which halachah permits or obliges one to convey negative information, there are specific ways in which facts must be transmitted. These are requirements of halachah which must be ascertained before speaking.

    When the Couple is Already Engaged

    There is a very significant difference between what may be said in the early stages and what is allowable after an engagement has occurred. Therefore, it is always important to ask a shaila, especially if the engagement has already occurred.

    Information or Sources Not to be Used:

    One is not permitted to request information for shidduch purposes from a known enemy of the prospect or his family or even someone who is known to have had a disagreement with them. Although this source may be tempting in its ability to reveal heretofore hidden negatives, still it should not be used.

    Supply only information that assists the inquirer in deciding whether to pursue a particular shidduch. Leave out extraneous details.

    If you are about to disclose unflattering details about a shidduch prospect but are quite certain that the party requesting the information would be unlikely to heed your advice anyway, the information should not be disclosed.

    If one finds out negative information in a shidduch inquiry, one should use that data soley to determine whether or not to pursue the particular shidduch it was gathered for. Once the decision has been made not to pursue the shidduch, it is forbidden to share the information you have amassed with others, be they the shadchan, one's mother or one's neighbor. To anyone aware of the ongoing investigation, all one has to reveal is. "We decided not to pursue this shidduch, It was not for us."

    However, it may occur in the course of researching a shidduch that one discovers negative information that would be important for the shadchan to know in order to prevent another person from falling into a bad situation. Since this is a subjective judgement that is likely to have major repercussions, one should ask a shaila.

    Let us all be zoche to see nachas from our children and from all of Klal Yisroel.

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