I am a bochur who often gets calls about friends of mine in shidduchim. I am happy to serve as a reference for them. However, I ask the people calling me for information to identify themselves and tell me what their relationship with the girl in question is. I do this because otherwise I feel uncomfortable sharing information about my friends with people I don’t know who won’t even identify themselves. Of late, quite a few of the people calling me for information have rebuked me for asking for their name or have flat out refused to reveal their identities. I politely told them that they’ll have to find some other person to speak to if they aren’t willing to share their identity with me.
Intriguingly enough, and what I suppose makes the tension of this tug-of-war particularly taut, is that each party is right in their own respect, when taking into account what they are hoping to accomplish.
Approaching from a purely derech eretz standpoint, whenever one reaches out to a stranger, and for whatever the reason, it is generally appropriate to state one’s name as part of what would be a normal introduction. Especially so when calling a stranger with intent to ask that person to reveal sensitive information about a friend, and when determinations that may profoundly impact said friend are at stake.
Moreover, in a very real sense, as the interviewee may be all that stands between their friend and that friend’s potential spouse, it is quite fair, when one is put in such a position, to want to know exactly who is conducting the disquisition. And so, within the context of common courtesy and fealty to friends, the reference is quite right in expecting the caller to identify themselves.
Nevertheless, there is also a degree of fairness in the questioner’s desire to remain inconspicuous, centered mostly around our present cultural and social mores when it comes to shidduchim.
One of the realities of shidduchim in our times – and one that was discussed in this very column not too long ago – is that references often report back about calls they receive; specifically, references who are friends of the young man or woman, as compared to rabbonim, teachers, or even family friends. Accordingly, given that each and every detail of the conversation may well be relayed to others, along with judgements perhaps made about the nature of the interviewer themselves and how they went about asking their questions, there can be a palpable need for the caller to retain some level of clandestineness.
Furthermore, when assuming the roll of researcher, there can be a propensity for messenger blaming to follow. That is to say, the investigator may be kind and considerate throughout the conversation; ask questions that are germane, thoughtful, sensitive, and levelheaded; and transmit the information precisely and accurately back the single man or woman they are calling for, and yet, based on what has been received, the single person on whose behalf the inquiry was made may still say decline the shidduch.
In such a scenario, it would be plainly evident that the caller had conducted themselves in a manner that was beyond reproach, and is in no way at fault for the rejection. Nonetheless, as far as the one who was rejected is concerned, there may be a belief that the sole reason for having been refused was the poor performance of that caller, along with distortions or falsifications in how the caller subsequently conveyed the material that was shared with them. As such, within the context of self-preservation and looking to avoid being unfairly calumniated, the shroud of secrecy becomes a bit more justifiable.
The question then becomes, what is to be done when a seemingly immovable object (the examinee that demands to know with whom they speak), comes up against an apparently unstoppable force (the examiner who refuses to give their name)?
In such a situation, I believe the fruition and sustainability of the shidduch itself must be given primacy. Consequently, each party must measure the magnitude of their preferences against those of the person they are speaking with, in order to determine whether or not they need to make an exception and employ some flexibility to their standard mode of operation. What this would mean, in a practical sense, is that each person has the right to start off by politely presenting their personal predispositions. And then, should there be any resistance, one must gauge what they envision to be the most plausible outcome of maintaining a fixed stance.
If the reference who is receiving the call perceives that their pressing for full transparency will, by association, sour the caller’s impression of the entire shidduch; negatively affect the caller’s temperament during the course of the call; or lead to the caller simply hanging up the phone, it would probably be best to take a deep breath and acquiesce to having the cloak-and-daggeresque conversation. And, parenthetically, when divulging information to a nameless caller, one may surreptitiously choose to be especially circumspect in their statements, and communicate in more general terms than usual, being that they really don’t know who it is they are talking to.
Conversely, if the caller recognizes that insisting on anonymity will be taken so contemptuously that the reference being questioned will be wholly incapacitated of their faculties to calmly and correctly respond to the enquiries; report back unfavorably about the discussion to the dater whom they are representing and dissuade them from delving into the shidduch; or decline entirely to share any information at all, it would probably be most advisable to take the plunge and reveal one’s identity.
In summation, neither the wish to know with whom one is conversing, nor the penchant for confidentiality, is objectively the right or wrong way of doing things, and ideally, as soon as one senses that their personal leanings are leading to the disturbance of a shidduch idea that is just materializing, they would swiftly back down. However, since that is not always the way things play out, when we realize that our counterpart’s adherence to personal inclinations are unwavering, it becomes our responsibility to forgo our own predilections for the sake of achieving overall and more vital objectives.
May the Ma’avir Avonos see that we all have the capacity to be ma’avir al middoseinu, b’eis hatzorech.