I have been on the receiving end of many shidduch reference calls for girls. Sometimes, the callers ask broad, general questions, while other times they ask many questions about all kinds of details. In general, I have found that few people ask the questions that will get the answers that really matter, such as (for a girl): Does she have the character traits and middos necessary to be a good wife? A good mother? An akeres habayis with many responsibilities? Is she a good communicator and does she have the ability to form good relationships? Does she have yiras Shomayim and a desire to grow in her Yiddishkeit and middos?
Admittedly, this information is difficult to solicit directly. I would love to see a list of targeted questions, for both boys and girls, that would elicit the information that is truly important and relevant to a successful marriage.
This is an excellent question, and one that surely has many answers. It appears to me that the concern you have so rightly identified can stem from a number of sources.
Interviewing is a skill, and for some, the research process is not something that comes naturally. Either because this is their first time going through the process, or because they still have not learned what they should be asking, or they are simply uncomfortable asking pointed questions. As a result, the types of questions asked are not those that lead to garnering the right information. It is in cases like these, where the questions usually end up being very general, or far too specific, and can leave both parties walking away from the call wondering if anything was gained.
Others feel, b’shita, that the way to research a shidduch is by asking vague questions. This comes from the belief that if one asks a direct question, they will almost always receive whatever answer the person they are talking to thinks the questioner want to hear. As a result, the questions asked are often vague and unclear. The questioner, hopefully, walks away feeling that they were able to get the information they wanted based on inferences or through indirect questions, while the person being asked the questions usually walks away wondering what just happened and if they helped or hurt the person they were talking about.
There are yet others, who – as much as it pains me to say this – have gotten so caught up in the trappings and externalities of shidduchim, that they are no longer interested in hearing about those things that really matter. Either because they assume or hope that those things are there, or because they have gotten so caught up in the trivialities of shidduchim that they become less concerned with the middos, compatibility and personality of the single that they are researching than they are with what kind of china their family uses on Rosh Chodesh. It is both regrettable and unfortunate, but it is a reality that exists. When that is the case, the questioner will often fly through a list of 20 or more highly specific questions about all manner of details, few of which actually have anything to do with the single themselves and whether or not this proposed shidduch would make for a good match. Conversations like these often leave the person being asked such questions with a very bad taste in their mouth, and a general feeling of despondency about the plight of our current shidduch system.
The question then becomes two-fold. How can we, collectively, learn how to ask the proper questions, and ask them well, and how can we, collectively, learn how to focus on the things that really matter when researching a shidduch. The former charge being the one that is more easily accomplished, as it is a matter of education and skill-development. The latter charge, however, being one that would require changing deep-seated priorities that are misguided, is a change that we can only daven for and hope will come to pass as people more acutely recognize the issue and the need for change.
While there is an inherent difficulty in creating a standardized list of targeted questions – as each dater and each shidduch suggestion is different, and the information needed to ascertain if a proposed shidduch seems reasonable will vary based on the unique traits of each individual – I would like to share the following list of questions which was put together by a prominent shadchan. I strongly feel that these are questions which are appropriate, to the point, and most importantly, are the kinds of questions that address those things that really matter in a shidduch. Questions such as these will help those who are doing their research in ascertaining if the proposed shidduch sounds reasonable for the needs of their son or daughter, for the right reasons, and if it sounds like a match that could lead to a successful marriage between these two specific single people together.
It should be noted, however, that the below questions are meant to act as a general guide, and as such, they touch on many topics that carry significance with respect to shidduchim. However, this list is neither exhaustive, nor should one attempt to ask all of the following questions in the course of each call that is made when looking into a shidduch. One must use their own personal judgement when doing their researching; stay focused on the areas that one feels are most relevant to their needs; and understand that the questions being asked must be apropos of the specific reference one is calling, and the nature of that person’s relationship with the person they are speaking about.
- How long have you known him/her and how well do you know him/her?
- How would you describe his/her personality? Can you give some examples of that?
- What would say are his/her most recognizable middos tovos/character traits?
- Can you give some examples of those middos tovos/character traits in action?
- What would you say are his/her areas of needed improvement? Can you give any examples?
- How are his/her communication skills?
- How would you categorize his/her level of maturity as a young adult?
- Does he/she struggle with anger or lack of control?
- Does he/she smoke, drink, or struggle with any other form substance abuse/misuse?
- Have you ever seen him/her deal with an unexpected challenge? How did he/she react?
- Is he/she emotionally stable? Does he/she have the need for any medication?
- What qualities do you think he/she can bring to a marriage?
- What type of spouse and parent do you think he/she would be like?
- What type of person is he/she looking for?
- How does he/she like to have fun, spend vacations, use spare time?
- Can you describe his/her connection to yiddishkeit and level of dedication to shmiras hamitzvos?
- Do you think he/she is a growing person, or is he/she happy where he/she is?
- Does he value davening with a minyan? Does he have a regular learning seder?
- Would she value her husband davening with a minyan and learning regularly?
- Does he/she have a rav and does his/her family have a rav? Are close with their rav?
- What are his/her parents like? What are his/her siblings like?
- Is there strong shalom bayis in the parents’ home?
- What kind of relationship does he/she have with his/her parents? With his/her siblings?
- What kind of relationship do his/her siblings have with their parents? With each other?
- Does he/she have a group a friends?
- What are his/her friends like? How does he/she interact with his/her friends?
- What are his/her plans, short and long term? Kollel/College/Profession/Klei Kodesh
- What kind of lifestyle would he/she like to have?
- Is he/she a high maintenance type or would he/she be equally happy living a simpler life?
- Why do you think he/she would be a good match for me?
- Do you have any reservations in recommending him/her as a marriage partner?
One final point regarding researching a shidduch that I have heard Rabbi Shraga Neuberger state on multiple occasions, is that the best person to be asking the questions, is the person who has the best relationship with whoever is being asked to answer the questions. It is therefore often the best thing to find someone you know, who personally knows the references listed, and ask them to make the calls. It enables the person being asked the questions to answer them while feeling much more trusting, relaxed and comfortable, and with a greater likelihood that they will not hold back in their answers – because they are speaking with someone they know, and not a stranger with whom they have no connection whatsoever.
B’ezras Hashem, we will all be able to appreciate and focus on what really matters in a shidduch, and develop the necessary skills to properly and successfully research a shidduch in order to best determine the level of potential for each proposed shidduch that comes our way.