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Beit Midrash Family and Society Marriage and Relationships

May I keep the skeletons in the closet?

What information must we reveal about ourselves while arranging shidduchim for our children (or for ourselves)? And at what point must we disclose it?
Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff19 cheshvan 5769
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I was asked these two shaylos recently:

Question 1:
Mrs. Weiss (not her real name) called me to discuss the following sensitive matter:
"I was once treated successfully for a serious disease. My grandmother had the same illness, yet lived in good health to a ripe old age. The doctors feel that my daughter should be checked regularly from a fairly young age for this same disease. She is now entering the shidduchim parsha. Must I reveal this family information to shadchanim and/or to the families of potential chassanim, and, if so, at what point must I disclose this information? I am truly concerned that this could seriously complicate her shidduch possibilities."

Question 2:
A prominent talmid chacham is not originally from a frum background. His son, who is well respected in his yeshiva, was recently involved in a shidduch. At a certain point, the talmid chacham’s family felt the responsible thing to do would be to reveal certain significant information: The talmid chacham was not originally Jewish and he and his Jewish wife did not discover Torah until after this son was born. They disclosed this information to the family of the girl involved, and her family decided to discontinue the shidduch.

He is now inquiring: "Must we disclose this information in future potential shidduchim?"

Although these situations may be atypical, we all have medical, personal, and/or genealogical issues we want to keep private. What information must we reveal about ourselves while arranging shidduchim for our children (or for ourselves)? And at what point must we disclose it?

Obviously, each individual must ask his or her own halachic authority how to proceed, as one should do with all shaylos. This article is to explain the halachic issues, so that we can present our shaylos in a clearer way.

What halachic issues are involved?

Before we analyze these cases, we need to elucidate several halachic areas. We can divide the questions into three subtopics:

I. Emes – Honesty
II. Geneivas daas – Misleading someone
III. Onaah – Fraud

A person must maintain total integrity in all his dealings – after all, the Torah commands us to emulate Hashem in all our deeds – and His seal is truth (Shabbos 55a). Someone who is meticulously honest will merit receiving the presence of the Shechinah (see Sotah 42a).

One certainly may not be untruthful without any reason and may certainly not do so when it deceives or causes someone personal or financial harm. For example, one may not deny having damaged someone else’s property. Similarly, a person may not blame fictitious excess traffic for a tardy arrival at work when he just left home too late. For the same reason, one may not deceive someone about a shidduch by misinforming the other party. I will explain the details of this halacha shortly.

Notwithstanding the responsibility to be straightforward, there are specific situations where the Torah advises one to be imprecise. For example, it is more important to avoid (1) creating machlokes, (2) embarrassing someone, or (3) hurting a person’s feelings or reputation than it is to disclose the entire truth (Bava Metzia 23b, with Rif and Tosafos). In situations where a full exposé may lead to one of these negative results, one should omit the detrimental information, although it is preferable to avoid fabricating a story (see Chofetz Chaim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8).

If there is no choice, it is even preferable to fabricate a story rather than embarrass someone or hurt his feelings or reputation. If machlokes may result if one answers candidly, one must modify the truth, rather than create ill feeling (Yevamos 65b).

Similarly, if I am asked about someone’s personal habits, I may modify my answer if the truth might reveal private information the person might not want divulged (Maharal, Bava Metzia 23b).

Geneivas daas, literally, "stealing a mind," means creating a false impression – that is, deluding another person’s perception of reality. The Gemara rules "Asur lignov daas habriyos, It is prohibited to steal someone’s mind" (Chullin 94a). One example of this is someone who acts as a big tzaddik in front of people but is less halachically meticulous in private (Tosafos, Bechoros 31a, s.v. ika). This unwarranted display of righteousness is a form of deception. Another example is a gentile who asked his Jewish landlord to place a mezuzah on his door; Rav Moshe Feinstein prohibited placing an invalid mezuzah on the door because of geneivas daas (Shu"t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:184).

A different type of geneivas daas is misleading someone to feel indebted when it is unwarranted. An example of this is begging someone to join you for a meal when you know he will not accept (Chullin 94a, as explained by Orach Meisharim 24:5) -- the invited party feels obligated to reciprocate.

Geneivas daas can happen in shidduch situations as well, such as by implying that one intends to provide financial support when he/she has no intention or ability to do so, or by presenting a bochur as a big masmid or talmid chacham when he is not (see Shu"t Chasam Sofer, Even HaEzer 82).

Misrepresenting a product or service in order to make a sale is a form of cheating, such as painting an item to hide a defect. A modern instance of onaah is insider trading, purchasing or selling a stock or commodity based on information that is unavailable to the public. This is forbidden unless one notifies the other party of this information.

In shidduchim the same rule is true: Subject to some exceptions, which I will explain shortly, one must notify the other party of information that might be of concern. I will refer to this information as "blemishes," although they are not blemishes in the usual sense.

The most serious ramification of withholding required information about shidduchim, or worse, of being deceptive, is that this can even result (in certain extreme cases) in a halachically invalid marriage. (This indeed applies to any contracted arrangement – an unrevealed serious blemish brings about a mekach ta’us, because the two parties never agreed to the arrangement as it indeed exists.)

Here are a few interesting examples:

If someone specifies that his new wife should have no vows (nedarim) and finds that she is bound by neder to abstain from meat, wine, or nice clothes, the kiddushin is annulled (Kesubos 72b)! A husband wants his wife to enjoy life, and refraining from these activities may disturb the happiness of their marriage.

To quote the words of the Sefer Chassidim, "When arranging matches for your children or other family members, do not hide medical issues from the other party to which they would object enough to decline the shidduch, lest they afterward choose to annul the marriage. You should also tell them about deficiencies in halachic observances that are significant enough that the other party would have rejected the marriage (#507)."

Another example of unrevealed information that invalidates a marriage is a woman’s failure to notify her future husband that she has no sense of smell, since this flaw hampers her ability to prepare tasty meals. Similarly, a profession that causes a man’s body to have a foul odor is sufficient reason to invalidate the marriage (Kesubos 76a).

Withholding information concerning an inability to have children is certainly a mekach ta’us. In this last situation, a physician who is aware that his patient cannot have children is required to reveal this information to the other side, even though this violates patient confidentiality (Shu"t Tzitz Eliezer 16:4).

In most instances, there is no requirement to notify the other party or a shadchan of any of these blemishes at the time a shidduch is suggested. The Sefer Chassidim, quoted above, does not mention at what point one must notify the other party of the shortcoming. Many contemporary poskim contend that one should reveal this information after the couple has met a few times; about the time the relationship is beginning to get serious. There is no requirement for the parties to tell a shadchan.

However, if one knows that the other party will reject the shidduch because of this blemish, I would recommend forgoing this shidduch from the outset. For example, if one knows that a particular family prides itself on a pure pedigree, don’t pursue a shidduch with them if you know they will ultimately reject it when they discover that your great-uncle was not observant.

What type of information may one withhold?

It is halachically deceitful for a seller to withhold important information that the buyer cannot find out on his own. The seller is not required, however, to disclose a problem that the buyer could discover. Furthermore, as long as the buyer could have noticed something that may arouse attention, there is no geneivas daas and no onaah in making the sale (Shu"t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:31).

For example, if someone is selling a house with a drop ceiling, he is not required to notify the buyer that there was damage above the ceiling, since a drop ceiling in a residence should arouse attention. Similarly, if the entire neighborhood is susceptible to flooding basements, the seller does not need to mention that his basement has a severe water problem. If the buyer asks directly, the seller must answer honestly (Shu"t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:31).

A similar concept is true concerning shidduchim. For example, if the scandalous activities of a family member are well known in one’s hometown, one need not tell the other party since this information could be discovered by asking around (Shu"t Panim Meiros 1:35). Halachically, when the other party asks neighbors for information about this potential shidduch, the neighbors should share the requested details. This is a topic I hope to discuss more fully in a future article.

A second category of information that need not be revealed includes factors that are insignificant to the buyer. One is not required to provide an in-depth list of every shortcoming the merchandise has. Similarly, shidduchim do not require revealing every possible medical or yichus issue. The Chofetz Chaim distinguishes between a medical issue one must reveal and a "weakness," which one need not. Thus, someone need not reveal minor ailments that would not disturb the average person.

Although I know rabbonim who disagree with this position, I feel that juvenile diabetes is a malady that must be mentioned, whereas hay fever and similar allergies may be ignored. If one is uncertain whether a specific medical issue is significant enough to mention, one should ask a shaylah. My usual litmus test is: If the issue is significant enough that one might want to hide it, it is usually something that one should tell.

At this point, we can discuss Mrs. Weiss’ shaylah asked above:

"I was once treated successfully for a serious disease. My grandmother had the same illness, yet lived in good health to a ripe old age. The doctors feel that my daughter should be checked regularly from a fairly young age for this same disease. She is now entering the shidduchim parsha. Must I reveal this family information to shadchanim and/or to the families of potential chassanim, and, if so, at what point must I disclose this information? I am truly concerned that this could seriously complicate her shidduch possibilities."

If you have the same or a similar question, I refer you to your own rov. Most poskim with whom I discussed the shaylah contended that one should reveal this information to the other side after the couple has gotten to know one another and is interested in pursuing the relationship. One rov disagreed. He contended that since the problem can be caught early and treated successfully, one need not divulge this information at all. All opinions agree that one has absolutely no obligation to mention this information to a shadchan.

Now let us discuss the second case I mentioned earlier:

A prominent talmid chacham was not Jewish at the time his son was born. Is he required to release this information in future shidduchim?

This question takes us into a different area of concern about shidduchim – yichus, a subject of much halachic discussion. Some poskim occasionally permit hiding this type of information, whereas others prohibit this under all circumstances.

This debate centers on the following story. The Gemara discusses whether or not someone who has a gentile father and a Jewish mother is considered a mamzer who may not marry a Jew. The Gemara concludes that he may marry a Jew, and most halachic authorities rule that he is fully Jewish.

Notwithstanding this ruling, the Gemara records two identical anecdotes where someone whose father was not Jewish was unable to find anyone in the Jewish community willing to marry him. Although it was halachically permitted for him to marry, people considered this yichus issue serious enough that they did not want him marrying their daughters.

He came to the local gadol, in one case Rav Yehudah, and in the other, Rava, who advised relocating to a community where no one knew him in order to find a wife (Yevamos 45a).

The question is: If he is required to reveal that his father is not Jewish, what does he gain by relocating? After all, once he reveals his blemish, people will once again be uninterested in his marrying into their families!

Several prominent poskim therefore conclude that he is not required to reveal his family blemish, since his lineage will not affect his ability to be a good husband (Shu"t Imrei Yosher 2:114:8; Kehillas Yaakov, Yevamos #38 or #44, depending on the edition). Others dispute this conclusion, contending that one must reveal information like this before a shidduch is approved and offering different explanations as to how he would find a match in the new community (Rav E. Y. Valdenberg, quoted by Nishmas Avraham, vol. 3, p. 26, 251-2).

Thus, whether this talmid chacham needed to reveal the defect depends on this dispute. According to many authorities, there is no requirement to disclose that he was not Jewish; others dispute this, and an individual should ask a halachic authority.

Almost all of us have shaylos regarding what we are required or not required to disclose about shidduchim. May we all have only nachas from our children and their families!

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff
Was the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Greater Buffalo, the Congregation Darchei Tzedek and also served as a dayan on the Beis Din of Baltimore. Now is a Rabbi in Neve Yaakov, Jerusalem. His Shiurim and Q&A can be found on his site:
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