When it comes to shadchanus, is there any place for the two sides to discuss with each other what they plan on giving and arrange to give equal amounts so that neither looks bad? Or should each side just do their own thing?
Your input is greatly appreciated.
While I can appreciate the intent behind such an arrangement, practically speaking, it appears to me that more harm than good is most likely to result from such an approach.
Even though paying shadchanus is halachically required, as paskined bfeirush in Shulchun Aruch, there is no exact amount specified other than it should reflect the minhag hamedinah. In our day and age, not only is the minhag hamedinah highly varied, but, additionally, the likelihood that each side is in a position to comfortably afford the same amount of shadchanus is minimal.
Furthermore, very often one side may have a hergesh to pay more than the other side. Perhaps one family had a very difficult time getting dates for their child, whereas the other side had a reasonably easy time. Perhaps the shadchan worked much harder getting the yes for one side than the other, or expended far more time coaching and assisting one side, whereas the other side did not have such needs during the dating process. Whatever the case may be, it would be quite common for the two sides to feel reasonably different levels of hakoras ha’tov toward the shadchan and what the shadchan accomplished on their behalf.
With that understanding, let us play out in a few likely, non-extreme scenarios, what may happen should the suggested arrangement in this week’s question be proffered. As a disclaimer, the amounts used below as examples are meant only as examples to illustrate a point, not to be taken as suggestions for how much shadchanus to pay.
Scenario 1. Both sides had a reasonably straightforward shidduch parsha experience and the work of the shadchan was reasonably similar for both sides. One family was intending to pay 3k, and are in a position to comfortably do so given their profession and/or financial situation. The other family was intending to pay 1.5k given their profession and/or financial situation.
Scenario 2. One side had a reasonably straightforward shidduch parsha experience while the other side had a very hard time getting dates and was living under significant stress and concern for 3 years waiting to marry off their child, with dates few and far between during this time. The former family was intending to pay 2k, as that is what they feel is a standard amount for their situation. The latter family is capable of, and was intending to pay 7.5k, given the process they experienced and the immense hakoras ha’tov they are feeling, along with the tremendous relief they are experiencing.
Scenario 3. Both sides had a difficult shidduch parsha experience and were living under significant stress and concern for many years waiting to marry off their child, with dates few and far between during this time. Given the immense hakoras ha’tov and relief they are feeling; each side would love to be as generous as possible with their shadchanus. However, one family can afford to give 2.5k while the other family can afford 6k.
Scenario 4. Both sides had a somewhat similar shidduch parsha experience. However, prior to the engagement, one side did not have any great need for the shadchan’s constant input or coaching, whereas the other side had significant concerns along the way, from the research stages throughout the dating stages. As a result, the shadchan spent countless hours on the phone and sending emails, either with the family or on their behalf, and with careful expertise brought the shidduch to fruition. The former family was intending to pay 2k, as that is what they feel is a standard amount for their situation. The latter family was intending to pay 5k, given their hakoras ha’tov for the time, effort and expertise of the shadchan.
In all of these cases, and these are but a few rather common scenarios out of what are in all probability an infinite amount of variables, it is simply not sensible for both sides to pay the same amount of shadchanus.
What then would happen if the two sides had a shadchanus payment discussion? Presumably, the conclusion would be one of two possible outcomes. Either the family that was intending to pay more ends up paying less so that the other side does not “look bad,” or the side intending to pay less ends up paying more (I imagine this is the far less likely outcome) to match the offer of their counterpart.
But what has been gained or avoided? It appears to me, nothing. Quite the opposite, it is only causing aggravation or pain to someone in the equation.
In outcome 1, the shadchan is now going to lose out on a significant amount of parnassah that they absolutely earned and deserve. For that to happen as a result of this arrangement is unacceptable.
And why exactly should the side that was planning on paying less feel like they look bad? Less, in this case, is not bad, it is just different, for good cause. The shadchan will hopefully trust that each side is paying what they are able, and paying based on their feelings of hakoras ha’tov and with appreciation for the amount of work the shadchan did on their behalf. As long as everyone is being dan l’caf zechus, there is no reason for anyone to feel like they look bad or better, either objectively or in comparison.
In outcome number 2, a family that was rightfully going to pay a lesser amount, may now feel compelled, either out of embarrassment or feelings of pressure, to pay more than they can reasonably afford to. Making a parnassah as a frum Jew with a family is something we all know is no easy task. For someone to be put in a position where they may be caused to overextend themselves financially and put their finances at risk, is both quite dangerous and unfair. As well, in this case, it could also likely lead to unnecessary residual resentment towards their mechutanim, all of which could have easily been avoided.
It is therefore my opinion, that it serves everyone best for each family to decide on their own, based on their minhag hamakom, their capabilities, the specifics of their circumstances, and the standards for the specific shadchan who was involved, what is most appropriate for them to be giving in shadchanus, and for that payment to made privately. There should be a trust among all parties that each family is doing what is right and best given their complete situation, and as such, neither side will look bad or better in anyone’s eyes, b’ezras Hashem.