May I Keep My Skeletons in the Closet?

This week’s parsha closes by mentioning that the daughters of Tzelafchad succeeded in
finding husbands. I am certain that they had no secrets to disturb their shidduchin from
happening, but what would happen if they did? Would they have been required to “spill
the beans,” or could they have kept these dark secrets to themselves? In this article we
will discuss the ramifications of this question, specifically:
1. What one must tell and what one is not required to tell.

2. When (at what stage in the developing relationship) is one required to inform about the
issue?

3. Whom one must tell.

I was asked this question recently:

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
(matchmakers) 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.”

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

The prohibitions of Geneivas daas, misleading someone, and Onaah, fraud, apply equally
to shidduchin. However, there are many complicating factors involved in shidduchin, and
therefore we need to explain:

ONAAH — FRAUD

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,
which means that someone purchases or sells a stock or commodity because he/she has
information, either positive or negative, about the stock, that is unavailable to the public.
This is dishonest because the other transacting party is unaware of this information which
affects the value of the item they are buying or selling.

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 concern them. Hoping

that no one takes this personally, I will refer to this type of negative information as
an “imperfection.” For example, Mrs. Weiss is inquiring whether the family medical
history is an imperfection that must be revealed.

MEKACH TA’US – INVALIDATING THE MARRIAGE

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 imperfection 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 that he and his wife enjoy life together, and refraining
from these activities may disturb the happiness of their marriage.

OTHER SERIOUS IMPERFECTIONS

To quote the words of the Sefer Chassidim (#507), “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.”

CAN’T SMELL

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 the situation above, the physician was aware
that the young woman had no uterus, and therefore it was physically impossible for her
to conceive a child. He was also aware that they were hiding this information from the
prospective groom. The same would be true should the male be unable to have children,
since the assumption is that people of childbearing age marry intending to bear offspring
from the marriage.

WHAT MAY ONE HIDE?

What type of information may one withhold?
There are two categories of negative information, imperfections, that one does not need
to reveal. They are information that the other party could find out on one’s own, and
information that is not significant.

KNOWN INFORMATION

A seller is not required to disclose an imperfection in his product that the buyer could
discover on his own. 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.

Again, in regard to stock trading: The seller is not required to mention that in the last
recorded quarter the company reported a sharp decline in profits since this information is
readily available to the buyer.

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 intend to
discuss more fully in a future article.

INSIGNIFICANT INFORMATION

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 (Be’er Mayim Chaim #8 at
end of Hilchos Rechilus) distinguishes between a medical issue one must reveal and
a “weakness,” which one does not. Thus, someone need not reveal minor ailments that
would not disturb the average person.

Of course, it is sometimes difficult to define what constitutes a “minor ailment” and what
constitutes a serious one, and specific rabbinic guidance is usually warranted when one is
in doubt. However, I will present one or two examples of each.

Although I know rabbonim who disagree with this position, I feel that juvenile diabetes
is a malady that must be mentioned, whereas non-life threatening hay fever and similar
allergies may be ignored. On the other hand, an allergy that is so serious that it affects

one’s lifestyle and activities in a major way must be mentioned. 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.

WHEN TO TELL?

At what point must one reveal a significant “imperfection”?

In most instances, there is no requirement to notify the other party or a shadchan of any
of these imperfections 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.
Contemporary poskim usually 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,
but after the two parties have become acquainted and see their overall qualities as an
individual. This is the approach I personally advise in all such situations. There is no
requirement for the parties to tell a shadchan, and in some situations it is prohibited to do
so.

My daughter has a close friend who unfortunately has celiac. She had been told by her
rav that she should reveal this information on the third date. (Let me note that this exact
detail will vary tremendously on the dating approach used in the couple’s circles.) She
was so nervous and concerned how the guy would react, that she was unable to bring
herself to mention it then. Finally, on the fourth date, she was able to get the words out,
to which he reacted nonchalantly, “Oh, so does my brother.” This story has a very happy
ending, since her mother-in-law anyway prepares food that is appropriate.

REJECTION
However, if one knows that the other party will reject the shidduch because of this
imperfection, 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.

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.”

Most poskim with whom I discussed this 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, contending 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 or to anyone who has no personal need for this
information.

Obviously, I cannot possibly discuss the various permutations of these shaylos in an
article, but simply can present the issues. Wishing all much happiness in their marriages
and their children’s marriages!

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