“Disclosing Personal Information For Shidduch Purposes”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayeitzei, Jacob, who is fleeing from his brother Esau, follows his parents’ advice to go to Haran (Upper Mesopotamia), to the house of his grandfather Betuel, where he is to take a wife from the daughters of Laban, Rebecca’s brother.

After the long journey, Jacob arrives at the well in Haran, where he encounters beautiful Rachel, who is caring for her father’s sheep. Jacob chivalrously rolls the stone off the local well and waters Laban’s flocks.

The Torah then states, Genesis 29:11-12, וַיִּשַּׁק יַעֲקֹב לְרָחֵל, וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת קֹלוֹ וַיֵּבְךְּ. וַיַּגֵּד יַעֲקֹב לְרָחֵל כִּי אֲחִי אָבִיהָ הוּא וְכִי בֶן רִבְקָה הוּא, וַתָּרָץ וַתַּגֵּד לְאָבִיהָ, Then Jacob kissed Rachel; and he raised his voice and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative, and that he was Rebecca’s son; then she ran and told her father.

In today’s frenetic-paced world, there is much discussion about the so-called contemporary “shidduch crisis,”–-the problem for young Jewish people to meet suitable life partners. Aside from the exploding rates of intermarriage among the non-Orthodox, even the Orthodox community is faced with a host of very serious social issues: young people delaying marriage and the resulting increase in infertility issues, a seemingly large number of women who are not getting married, and the difficulty Jewish singles face in finding the right venue to meet suitable life partners. Despite the many valiant efforts made in the various parts of the Jewish community to help singles by promoting shidduchim, and the now ubiquitous online dating sites, the problems seem to be escalating.

Aside from the many social issues involved in matchmaking, there are also the halachic (legal) issues. There is much rabbinic discussion about what one may reveal when “negotiating” a potential shidduch and what is forbidden. Is one permitted to volunteer information without being asked, or may information only be shared when asked directly and personally, and only when the information is permitted to be revealed?

What kind of details is one allowed to reveal? Does having a seasonal allergy fall under the definition of illness, like diabetes, which one is obligated to reveal, or is it a “weakness” like hay fever, which may not be appropriate to reveal? Questions of character, such as bad temper or dishonesty are even more difficult to classify. What is one allowed to reveal and what is forbidden?

The issue of revealing private information for the sake of matrimony is a serious matter, especially if there are Torah violations involved. Not disclosing information, may violate Torah statutes such as not putting a stumbling block in front of a blind person, loving one’s neighbor as oneself, and not standing by idly when the blood of one’s brother is shed.

Revealing or not revealing vital information may also result in broken friendships and bitter family disputes. How angry friends and family members can be when they feel that they’ve been betrayed by people they trust who failed to tell them negative things, and they discover, only too late, the significant shortcomings of the prospective mate.

The very first encounter between Jacob and Rachel that occurs in parashat Vayeitzei has bearing on this issue. The commentators who carefully analyze the nuances in the scriptural text reveal provocative and interesting facts.

Rashi notes that in his initial conversation with Rachel, Jacob describes himself as both her “father’s brother and Rebecca’s son,” which seems to be redundant. Citing the Midrash, Rashi explains that by doing so Jacob is informing Rachel that, “if your father, Laban, wishes to deceive me, then I am his brother in deceit and will match him in everything he does. However, if he is an honorable person, I am the son of his honorable sister, Rebecca, and I will act accordingly.”

The Ohr HaChaim, explains that Jacob is not threatening to act deceitfully or illegally, but rather declares that he will use every legal device in order to protect himself from being deceived by Laban.

The Malbim explains that Jacob’s every word to Rachel is intended to clarify and reveal to her all the necessary information that is needed to proceed with the shidduch. By saying to Rachel that he is her father’s brother, he underscores the fact that he is a blood relative and family member. By informing Rachel that he is the son of Rebecca, he reveals that he is the primary heir to all the blessings of Rebecca.

The Malbim also expands on the Midrash cited by Rashi that Jacob told Rachel that he is her father’s brother when it comes to deception and the son of Rebecca with respect to righteousness. In fact, says the Malbim, Jacob revealed to Rachel the entire history of his family’s difficult relationship. Rachel was well aware of the fact that Jacob had deceived his brother Esau, and acted in a manner similar to Laban’s actions. Jacob, however, explains that by acting in this manner, his intentions were to better serve G-d. Thus, he is to be regarded as the true son of Rebecca.

So we see that Jacob was entirely candid with Rachel about his questionable actions and his ignoble past, adding the caveat that it was all done for the sake of Heaven.

Through this story we see how truly challenging the issue of relating information properly for the sake of a shidduch really is. What may seem to the outside observer as negative traits, may very well be perceived as positive to those who are aware of the intimate details. Although we hope to be helpful when revealing information about possible matches, we must always be vigilant not only about what we say, but also about how it is said.

May you be blessed.