This article is adapted from my upcoming sefer on the laws of Loshon Hora in contemporary times. All halachos mentioned herein are complex and part of a larger framework. The purpose of the article is to raise awareness of these essential halachos. Hence, one should not draw any practical conclusions without first consulting a rav.
Review of Previous Articles
In our previous articles, we discussed the importance of familiarizing oneself with the laws of Loshon Hora as it relates to shidduchim. One must weigh carefully what to say and what not to say, as one who errs in either direction could negatively impact the entire future of the individuals under discussion. We have been discussing the guidelines for which type of information may be offered even if not asked by one of the parties involved. The general rule is that one may only relate information in such instances when the shidduch is clearly incompatible. That is, when it is clear that the other party would never consider the shidduch if they were aware of the information. In many instances, it is not only permissible, but even obligatory to relay such information. We also mentioned that there is even an obligation on the individual himself with the severe deficiency to reveal this to the other party.
In this article, we will focus on the way that one should present such information, when warranted. We will also discuss some interesting cases regarding when one may/must offer information.
When disclosing negative information, there is an important point to keep in mind. Many times, it is optimal to relate the information casually, in passing. People are greatly influenced by the opinions and presentations of others. If the information is presented as a deficiency, the listener will view it as such. However, if it is mentioned informally, merely in passing, the listener will be left to make his own decision regarding how to treat the deficiency.
At times (when there is only a possibility that the party will feel that the deficiency renders the shidduch as incompatible), rabbonim may even advise an individual not to reveal the information in any explicit way. Rather, they will instuct to merely hint to it. In some situations, this is sufficient, for the following reason: If the one asking the questions is sensitive to the issue, he will probe further. If he is not sensitive to it, he will not pick up on the hint.
Information that Should Only Be Revealed After a Number of Dates
There are certain deficiencies which are significant, but do not make the shidduch completely incompatible. What is the halacha about relating the information in this scenario? Let us begin by discussing the obligation of the person himself with the deficiency.
Many rabbonim will advise a person with such a deficiency not to reveal the information until after a number of dates. This applies to information which could cause the person to have a difficult time finding someone to go out with him if it were revealed at the outset. When there is a glaring deficiency in someone who is just another name on the list, human nature lends one to avoid dealing with the issue by going down to the next name. However, the other party would have a greater recognition of an individual’s positive qualities after a few dates. At that time, they would be capable of making a more objective assessment of whether the deficiency would hamper their marriage.
If one knows that the party with the deficiency is not planning on revealing the information at all (not even after a number of dates), there are times when it is permitted/required for this third party to relate the information to the other person. This is an extremely delicate issue, and much wisdom and experience are needed to determine if and when to reveal such information. One should never make this decision on their own, without consulting an experienced halachic authority who is familiar with all of the details of the situation.
Relating Information to a Relative or Close Friend
Some contemporary rabbonim rule that one may offer certain unsolicited information to a relative who is researching a potential shidduch, even when such information should not be offered to others. This applies to a deficiency that does not render the party incompatible, but may lead to a less that an optimal marriage
In general, one should not offer unsolicited information in such a case. Nobody is perfect, and in many marriages, one of the partners has more deficiencies than the other. Therefore, it is preferable not to get involved.
In general, one should not offer unsolicited information in such a case. Nobody is perfect, and it is understood that a spouse may be lacking in certain areas. Furthermore, it is not uncommon that one of the partners has more deficiencies than the other, yet the marriage is still successful. The spouse without the deficiency may even be the ideal spouse for the one with the deficiency. Therefore, it is preferable not to get involved.
However, when it comes to a relative, there is a reason to become involved. One has a stronger obligation to help his relatives than he does to help others. Just as one has the right to look into private information regarding the optimal marriage partner for himself, he also (to a certain degree) has the right to get involved in assisting his relative to make the ideal choice.
Some rabbonim rule that this concept applies to anyone who a person has a greater obligation to help, such as a close friend, or a rabbi to his congregants.
However, the leniency to disclose more information to a close relative has no source in the earlier poskim. Indeed, there are some contemporary authorities who reject it altogether. Even those who are lenient agree that it only applies under very specific circumstances. Therefore, one should only make use of this leniency under the guidance of a halachic authority.
The Obligation of a Physician
There are times that a physician discovers medical information that he is halachically required tell the other party, but he cannot do so due to the Hippocratic Oath. In such a case, the ideal would be for him to inform the patient that he himself is required to reveal the information. If the patient does not listen to his advice (or if the physician knows from the outset that this individual will not be willing to inform the other side), the physician should seek the guidance of a halachic authority. Note that a similar set of guidelines apply to a therapist who is aware of psychological deficiencies which he is not allowed to reveal by law.
Whenever relating information which has the potential to damage the subject of the information if it spreads, one must be sure to warn the listener that the information is highly confidential, and that it must not be revealed to others.