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May I Keep the Skeletons in the Closet?

Or

What Personal Information Must I Divulge?

The Gemara (Zevachim 88b) teaches that the me’il of the kohein gadol atoned for saying loshon hora…

Two sample shaylos I have been asked:

Question #1:

Mrs. Weiss (for obvious reasons, not her real name) calls me to discuss the following sensitive matter:

“I was treated successfully for a serious disease that my grandmother also had. The doctors feel that my daughter is at risk for this same disease. She is now entering the shidduchim parsha. Am I required to reveal this family information to shadchanim and/or potential shidduch partners, and, if so, at what point am I required to reveal this information? I am truly concerned that this could seriously complicate her shidduchim possibilities.”

Question #2:

A prominent talmid chacham is not originally from a frum background. His son, who is well-respected in his yeshiva, was recently involved in a shidduch. At a certain point, the talmid chacham’s family felt responsible to reveal certain significant information: The talmid chacham was not originally Jewish, and he and his Jewish wife did not discover Torah until after this son was born. They disclosed this information to the family of the girl involved, and her family decided to discontinue the shidduch.

He is now inquiring: “Must we disclose this information to future potential shidduchim?”

Although these situations are somewhat atypical, we all have medical, personal, and/or genealogical issues that we want to keep private. What information must we reveal about ourselves while arranging shidduchim for our children (or for ourselves)? And at what point must we disclose it?

What halachic issues are involved?

Before we analyze these cases, we need to elucidate some halachic topics. We can divide the discussion into three subtopics:

I. Emes — Honesty

II. Geneivas daas – Misleading someone

III. Onaah – Fraud

I.  EMES — HONESTY

A person must maintain total integrity in all his dealings – after all, the Torah commands us to emulate Hashem in all our deeds, and His seal is truth (Shabbos 55a). Someone who is meticulously honest will merit receiving the presence of the Shechinah (see Sotah 42a).

One may not be untruthful without any reason, and certainly not when it deceives or causes someone personal or financial harm. For example, one may not deny damaging someone’s property. Similarly, one may not blame fictitious excess traffic for a tardy arrival at work, when it is simply because one left home too late. For the same reason, one may not deceive someone about a shidduch, by misinforming the other party. I will soon explain the details of this halacha.

HONESTY IS NOT ALWAYS THE BEST POLICY

Notwithstanding the responsibility to be straightforward, there are specific situations where the Torah advises one to be imprecise. For example, it is more important to avoid (1) creating machlokes, (2) embarrassing someone, or (3) hurting his feelings or reputation than it is to disclose the entire truth (Bava Metzia 23b with Rif and Tosafos). In situations where a full exposé may cause one of these negative results, one should omit the detrimental information, although it is preferable to avoid fabricating a story (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). If there is no choice, it is preferred even to fabricate a story, rather than embarrass someone or hurt his feelings or reputation. If a correct answer may cause machlokes, one must modify the truth, rather than create ill feeling (Yevamos 65b).

Similarly, if I am asked about someone’s personal habits, I may modify my answer, if the truth might reveal private information that the person may not want to divulge (Maharal, Bava Metzia 23b).

II. GENEIVAS DAAS – MISLEADING SOMEONE

Geneivas daas, literally, “stealing a mind,” means creating a false impression – that is, deluding another person’s perception of reality. The Gemara (Chullin 94a) rules asur lignov da’as habri’os, “it is prohibited to steal someone’s mind.” One example of this is someone who acts as a big tzaddik in front of people, but is less halachically meticulous in private (Tosafos, Bechoros 31a s.v. ika). This unwarranted display of righteousness is a form of deception. Another example is a gentile who asked his Jewish landlord to place a mezuzah on his door; Rav Moshe Feinstein prohibited placing an invalid mezuzah on the door, because of geneivas daas (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:184).

A different type of geneivas daas is misleading someone to feel indebted when this is unwarranted. An example of this is to beg someone to join you for a meal, when you know he will not accept (Chullin 94a, as explained by Orach Meisharim 24:5), and you do not really want to invite him. The invited party feels obligated to reciprocate this false invitation.

Geneivas daas can happen in shidduchim situations, such as by implying that one intends to provide financial support for a yeshiva scholar, when one has no intention or ability to do so, or by implying that one is a big masmid or talmid chacham, when one is not (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Even Ha’ezer #82).

III. ONA’AH — 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 ona’ah is insider trading, purchasing or selling a stock or commodity on the basis of information that is unavailable to the public. This is forbidden, unless one notifies the other party of this information.

In shidduchim, the same rule is true: subject to some exceptions that I will explain shortly, one must notify the other party of information that might be of concern, which I will refer to as “blemishes,” although they are not blemishes in the usual sense.

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. (The same applies to any contracted arrangement – an unrevealed, serious blemish effects 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 a neder to abstain from meat, wine, or nice clothes, the kiddushin is annulled (Kesubos 72b)! A husband wants his wife to enjoy life, and refraining from these activities may disturb the happiness of their marriage.

OTHER SERIOUS BLEMISHES

To quote the words of the Sefer Chassidim (#507): “When arranging matches for your children or other family members, do not hide from the other party medical issues, that they would object to enough to decline the shidduch, lest they afterwards choose to annul the marriage. Similarly, you should tell them about deficiencies in halachic observance 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 who failed to notify her future husband that she has no sense of smell, since this flaw hampers her ability to prepare tasty meals. Similarly, a man whose profession causes his body to have a foul odor is sufficient reason to invalidate the marriage (Kesubos 76a).

Withholding information concerning 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).

WHEN TO TELL?

In most instances, there is no requirement to notify the other party or a shadchan of any of these blemishes at the time that a shidduch is suggested. The Sefer Chassidim that I quoted above does not mention at what point one must notify the other party of the shortcoming. Contemporary poskim I spoke with feel that one should reveal this information after the couple has met a few times, about the time that the relationship is beginning to get serious. There is no requirement for the parties to tell a shadchan.

However, if one knows that the other party will reject the shidduch because of this blemish, I would recommend forgoing this shidduch to begin with. 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 that they will ultimately reject it when they discover that your great-uncle was not observant. A very serious blemish, such as the inability to have children, should be discussed in advance, since most people will invalidate a shidduch for this reason.

WHAT MAY ONE HIDE?

What type of information may one withhold?

KNOWN INFORMATION

It is halachically deceitful for a seller to withhold important information that the buyer cannot find out. However, the seller is not required to disclose a problem that the buyer could discover. Furthermore, as long as the buyer could have noticed something that may arouse attention, there is no geneivas daas and no ona’ah 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 arouses attention. Similarly, if the entire neighborhood is susceptible to flooded basements, the seller does not need to mention that his basement has a flooding problem. If the buyer asks directly, the seller must answer honestly (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:31).

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.

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 that the merchandise has. Similarly, shidduchim do not require revealing every possible medical or yichus issue. The Chofetz Chayim distinguishes between a medical issue that one must reveal and a “weakness,” that one need not. Thus, someone need not reveal minor ailments that would not disturb the average person.

Although I know rabbonim who disagree with this position, I feel that juvenile diabetes is a malady that must be mentioned, whereas hay fever and similar allergies may be ignored. If one is uncertain whether a specific medical issue is significant enough to mention, ask a shaylah. My usual litmus test is: if the issue is significant enough that one might want to hide it, it is something that one should tell.

At this point, we can discuss Mrs. Weiss’s shaylah asked above:

“I was treated successfully for a serious disease that my grandmother also had. The doctors feel that my daughter is at risk for this same disease. She is now entering the shidduchim parsha. Am I required to reveal this family information to shadchanim and/or potential shidduch partners, and, if so, at what point am I required to reveal this information? I am truly concerned that this could seriously complicate her shidduchim possibilities.”

Most poskim with whom I discussed the 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 rav I spoke to disagreed. He contended 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 requirement to mention this information to a shadchan.

Now let us discuss the second case I mentioned earlier:

A prominent talmid chacham was not Jewish at the time that his son was born. Is he required to release this information to future potential shidduchim?

This question takes us into a different area of concern about shidduchim – yichus, a subject of much halachic discussion. Some poskim sometimes permit hiding this type of information, whereas others prohibit this under all circumstances.

This debate centers on the following story. The Gemara discusses whether someone who has a gentile father and a Jewish mother is considered a mamzer who may not marry a Jew or not. The Gemara concludes that he may marry a Jew, and most halachic authorities rule that he is fully Jewish.

Notwithstanding this ruling, the Gemara (Yevamos 45a) records two identical anecdotes where someone whose father was not Jewish was unable to find anyone in the Jewish community willing to marry him. Although it was halachically permitted for him to marry, people considered this yichus issue serious enough that they did not want him marrying their daughters.

He came to the local gadol — in one case, Rav Yehudah, and in the other, Rava — who advised him to find a wife by relocating to a community where no one knows his past.

The question is: If he is required to reveal that his father is not Jewish, what does he gain by relocating – once he reveals his blemish, people will, once again, be uninterested in his marrying into their family!

Several prominent poskim, therefore, conclude that he is not required to reveal his family blemish, since his lineage will not affect his ability to be a good husband (Shu”t Imrei Yosher 2:114:8; Kehillas Yaakov, Yevamos #38 or #44, depending on the edition). Others dispute this conclusion, contending that one must reveal information like this before a shidduch is formalized, and offering different explanations how he would find a match in the new community (Rav E. Y. Valdenberg, quoted by Nishmas Avraham,volume 3, page 26, 251- 252).

Whether the talmid chacham of our second question is required to reveal his family defect depends on this dispute. According to many authorities, there is no requirement to disclose that he was not born Jewish, whereas others disagree.

As I mentioned earlier, almost all of us have shaylos regarding what we are required or not required to disclose about shidduchim. May we all have only nachas from our children and their families!