I have a good friend – we’ll come him Moish – who has been blessed with financial wealth. He does very well parnassah-wise. However, I know that he does not assist his children financially. I often receive shidduch calls about him and his children, and, as can be expected, people ask me “if he has money.” I answer honestly that, yes, he is very comfortable.
Recently, someone who called me a while back about this matter came over to me with taynos. “How come you didn’t tell me that Moish doesn’t give his money to his kids? I explained that I was asked if he has money, not if he gives. “Oh, come on,” said this person. “Don’t play games. When I asked you if he has money, you should have known that I meant whether he gives his money to help his kids.”
Who’s right? And when people ask me about Moish, am I supposed to simply answer about whether he “has money,” or am I supposed to be telling them what I know about his [lack of] giving habits?
The short answer is that I believe that you were in the right. Your non-disclosure was perfectly appropriate, and it establishes a fitting way to field this question, should it continue to arise.
That said, and for those interested in an elaboration of what led to the above conclusion, I feel it may be beneficial to examine some general guidelines related to handling the more delicate types of shidduch questions that many of us are often faced with answering.
Before going any further, however, it appears to me that there are both halachic and non-halachic components to this matter, each requiring attention, and it must be noted that the halachic aspects to be presented are based on shailos that I have asked of my own rabbonim. Consequently, inasmuch as each situation comes with its own nuances, and as opinions on this topic vary among poskim, I would encourage each individual to ask a shaila of their own rov in order to receive the proper guidance when similar situations arise, rather than relying on the following as any sort of halacha l’maiseh p’sak din.
Preamble now concluded, there are three scenarios that I would like to address.
The first is when one is presented with an explicit question about a single man or woman, and when the topic of the question would be directly relevant to the inquirer’s ability to make a decision about the shidduch. For example, “Does this person take medication for a chronic health concern?”, “Is this person shomer Torah u’mitzvos?”, “Is this person known to have regular fits of anger and fly off the handle?”, and so on.
As I have been told, if the answer to the question is “yes”, flat-out lying and saying “no” is absolutely assur. Nonetheless, that does not mean one is necessarily required to provide an explicit or detailed answer, laying out the misdeeds or issues of the person under inquiry.
If one would be considered what I would like to call a “first tier” reference, such as a rov, teacher, or close family member – that is to say, someone who would be expected to have definitive information on the topic, and one who an inquirer is likely relying on primarily for more sensitive information – then that information should be shared.
Conversely, if one would be considered a “second tier” reference, one whose primary purpose is to serve as a character reference, while it may be acceptable to share the information, it is also quite alright to do a bit of prevarication, responding along the lines of, “I can’t say for sure”, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that” or, “I think that this person’s rov would be the one that need’s to answer that question.”
The second scenario is when one is not directly presented with a specific question, even though the general topic is being discussed. In such a case, to the best of my knowledge, there is no requirement to divulge sensitive information that was not unequivocally requested.
As far as whether or not one should volunteer the information, in either of these scenarios, that is a judgement call that each person must do their best to make. Such a decision would depend on any number of factors pertaining to the particular situation, perhaps the most important of which is how vital one gauges the information to be in order for the questioner to reach a sensible and educated resolution about the shidduch being redd. All stones need not be uncovered to make a shidduch decision.
The third and final scenario is when one is aware of an extremely serious issue, and it is patently clear that everyone else involved is deliberately engaging in chicanery by sweeping the issue under the rug, potentially leaving the person who has been redd the shidduch in the position of unsuspectingly heading into a disastrous marriage, or in harm’s way – be it emotionally or physically. For example, if the person being inquired about had attempted suicide, or had abused their prior spouse or children, chalila, based on shailos I have asked, if this information is being willfully withheld by all other references, such information must then be divulged, and it may constitute an issur of lo sa’amod al dam raiechah to be a party to its continued containment and concealment.
Using the above as a framework, I believe we can altogether justify your decision not to fully unveil the particulars of your friend’s fiscal conducts.
1. As a friend, even a good one, it does not appear that you are one who would be classified as a “first-tier” type of reference that would be expected to act as the primary source of sensitive information about this man.
2. There was no posing of a direct question.
3. The financial support of one’s parents, although commonplace, is by no means a human right, or even halachically mandated, and its absence is generally a long way from constituting dereliction. Furthermore, there may be any number of valid reasons for one’s decision not to financially support their children. As such, it would strike me as quite the incredulous claim to posit that the suppression of such knowledge would be deemed a squashing of a serious issue, and it would certainly not inherently equate to sending someone off into a calamitous shidduch.
Accordingly, and as previously noted, I believe that your decision not to mention exactly how your friend allocates his resources was right on the money.
May the Hogeh Daois see that we are all circumspect with the material we deliver about others, and that those in shidduchim are provided with the essential information needed, no more and no less, to reach suitable assessments.