(based on Chofetz Chaim and Be’er Mayim Chayim)
You get that shiduch research phone call. This time they are asking about your co-worker Shimon* who you know has a temper. Should you share about his anger management issue? Another call might be about your neighbor Leah* who you think had a nervous breakdown in 12th grade. Again, what can you say? Does sharing about these details violate some halachot of lashon hara? Or do they fall under the commandment of giving useful advice and לא תעמד על דם רעך lo taamod al dam reacha, Do not stand by idly when your neighbor is endangered (Vayikra 19:16)?
What information should not be shared?
First and foremost, anything that will not directly help someone determine if the potential shiduch is worth pursuing should not be shared. Ask yourself: “Am I supplying information that they will use to decide whether to pursue this shiduch, or am I supplying negative information that has no purpose?”
If you know that the family is looking for a young man who will be a very hands-on spouse and father, and the potential young man has a business that includes frequent travel – then it is not a good match upfront, and they would never consider such a shiduch. There is no need to share about his dishonest dealings in business; that would be lashon hora with no purpose.
Regarding medical conditions, the Rabbis distinguish between two types: illness and weakness. The former should be shared, and the latter should not. See more about this aspect in article.
How to get around saying lashon hara
As stated above, if you know that the shiduch is not suitable for whatever reason, you should not share any details that would fall under the category of lashon hara. Instead, you might be vague and say “I don’t think the shiduch will work”; you do not have to expound.
If the question is asked directly . “I heard that this past summer that you spent together, he did [x], is that true?”, you should not lie. Answer the question as it has been asked; you can also offer context or talk about how he has genuinely worked on himself since then.
In certain circumstances, it is best to evade a question by feigning ignorance. Sometimes, a person is asked a question where most people deem the answer to be insignificant for a prospective shiduch. For instance, the prospect’s mother wants to know if the girl is very thin or demands to know if the girl is under 27, where she is actually just three months over, and you know that a full answer may be a deal-breaker. You can say “I don’t know.” Yet, a claim to ignorance can only be effective when it is credible; if the person calling thinks you would know the answer and you say that you don’t know, the impression that you are hiding something can be worse than just telling the truth.
What should be shared
Details that would concern most people must be revealed, including bad middos, violent behaviors, anger issues, mental illness, inability to have children, and certain medical conditions. Additionally, if someone is not living a life as they show the public (ex: apikorsus and pritzus), this too must be disclosed. If you are unsure about what must be shared, ask your rav.
That said, it is important that the source of your information must be first-hand, not hearsay. Ideally, you’d verify any secondhand information on your own. Where this is not possible (and this is often the case), and the conditions that permit relaying the information are otherwise met (see below), you should convey it but with a clearly expressed warning that it is based on hearsay, and that you do not know personally whether it is true. This is permitted in order to save the other party from potential damage, but only provided the other party will check the matter out, and not just assume it to be true.
How to share the negative details
First, determine that the information is totally accurate. If it is the result of an interpretation, is this the only possible interpretation of the person’s actions? Is it second-hand information? Is it a suspicion or ‘connecting of the dots’?
Second, the sole intention must be only to help them determine if it is a suitable shiduch. Not as revenge, or venting about an annoying neighbor. (Caveat: Even if your intentions are not pure, you must still tell this important information as this is a case where it is in order to help others from being harmed; however, you should try as much as possible to focus on doing it for positive purposes.)
It is very important to know who you are talking to. If you do not know that the caller will be discreet about the information, you should not reveal it. Let them find out some other way.
Say only what must be said to explain the situation. Be careful not to exaggerate. Choose your words carefully, an extra ‘very’ can change the way your statement is understood.
In addition, you should only say the negatives if there is no other way to accomplish what you need to. There is no reason to ‘volunteer’ information that has not been directly asked about.
Try to ascertain if this information is an important consideration for that potential shiduch. What is very bothersome to one family, may not matter at all to another family. If someone asks “Is she tznius?”, it is important to find out what they consider tznius before answering the question. Only once you clearly understand the question should you answer fully and correctly. It is best to describe objective examples rather than your subjective opinion. “I have seen her wearing x and y” rather than “I think her standards are not the highest.”
Similarly, if you are asked “Does he know how to learn?”, you should answer affirmatively. The rule here is: does he have enough learning background that someone would say that he “knows how to learn”? As long as he meets this minimal standard, you should answer affirmatively, until you know what the caller’s definition and frame of reference is.
If something is ‘public knowledge’, then you can share it, as long as your intention is to help the caller ascertain if this is indeed a possible shiduch. If someone does not wear a hat and jacket in the street, that is considered public knowledge. If someone frequently talks about their family background, then that is considered public knowledge. If certain aspects of the family background are not public knowledge, then use your judgment if it needs to be shared if it not directly asked.
In summary, there are some details that must be disclosed. When doing so, it is important to:
- Know that the person you are talking to will not disclose the information indiscriminately.
- Ascertain that the information is accurate.
- Not exaggerate.
- Be honest with yourself that your intent in transmitting negative information is for the constructive purpose of aiding a shiduch inquiry.
- Ensure that the information is transmitted in the least harmful way possible.
As the Chofetz Chaim writes in the conclusion of his sefer: the main idea is to think before you speak!!