To the Shadchan:
My neighbor’s oldest daughter has just started going out, and I have a gotten two calls, so far, about her and her family. People know that I am her neighbor, so they call me. I am in a quandary, because I know too much. My neighbor is a very nice and warm woman, but she suffers from terrible shalom bayis problems as well children with health problems and learning disabilities. I am her friend and sounding board, so I don’t know what to say to callers. I don’t want to hurt my friend or her daughter, who is a nice girl and deserves a chance. But I also don’t want to mislead people. If they ask specifically about these issues and I am evasive or don’t answer, I know that people will assume the worst. Even if the caller does not ask about shalom bayis, am I supposed to volunteer the information? Would I be guilty if not telling this information were to cause problems down the road? What is my responsibility? What is a smart way to handle it?
The Shadchan Answers:
Your question is a difficult one. Please note that my answer is general, based on my personal understanding and lifelong experience. There is, however, an important halachic dimension, and I suggest that you ask a Rav about the specifics of your situation.
As I have written here before, you must have rules as to what you will and will not discuss when someone calls you about a shidduch. In this case, you must focus on the girl. If she is a normal, good girl, mention all of her maalos: her kindness (baalas chesed), outstanding middos (qualities), looks, and personality. This girl needs to be given every chance to marry a wonderful person and true ben Torah. If you know something extremely detrimental about her – like if, G-d forbid, she is currently suffering from an extreme illness or used drugs – you could disclose that. Otherwise, give her a glowing recommendation. The girl will not have an easy time; why add to her difficulties?
With regard to sickness or learning disabilities in the family, if you are not asked specifically, do not offer information. Stick to the questions asked. You do not mention what the sicknesses are. If it is a “special” child with a non-hereditary and obvious problem, you can say only positive things about the child, mentioning that Hashem gives special children to special parents. If they refuse the girl because of this child, they are not people they would want to be associated with.
About shalom bayis, it is not up to you to say anything, especially if they are just seeking general information. Even though you think you know a lot about your friend, you do not know everything. Who are we to wash other people's “dirty linen” in public? If it comes to the surface later on, it is not your responsibility. The ultimate quality of the young couple’s home life does not depend on you – not even on the couple’s parents or teachers – but upon the husband and wife themselves.
In fact, her parents’ shalom bayis should not reflect on the girl at all. I have seen children who came from wonderful homes but had serious deficiencies of character. They did not succeed in marriage due to psychological or biological influences – or their own bad choices – which had nothing to do with their upbringing. On the other hand, some people who grew up in unbelievably difficult situations married and live a very normal and outstanding life. They may even be the mechanchim (educators) of our children.
Remember, each person controls his or her own destiny, with Hashem’s guidance. Most likely, this girl, if she is mature, realizes after years of living with this problem that she does not want it in her home, and she will make doubly sure to meet someone sensitive and understanding and to work with him to create an outstanding bayis ne’eman.
I know of a young man who called a Rav and wanted to know if the mother covered her hair. The Rav responded, “Is that what you are concerned about? Why don’t you ask me about the mother’s middos and chasadim? That is what is important in a reference. In all the years I have known the mother, she has never spoken a word of lashon hara. Those are the things that should concern you.” With that, he ended the conversation. I think he was saying that external behaviors (like head coverings) can be changed, but a lack of middos is very difficult to overcome.
In conclusion, when asked about a young man or woman, one should discuss that person and not put emphasis on the family. If you are put on the spot, say that you do not answer such questions as a matter of policy – and stick to this decision regardless of the caller’s insistence. And, again, I think it is advisable to speak to a Rav.
I hope that your recommendation will enable this young woman to find her bashert in the near future. As we know, it is all in the hands of the Ribono Shel Olam. If the shidduch is bashert, nothing you say or do will matter. We just have to try our best and hope for a favorable outcome. I wish you hatzlacha.