Negative Information that a Reference May, May Not, or Must Reveal

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Rabbi Yisrael Gans, Rosh Yeshiva of Kol Torah, explains what a reference is permitted to say, is prohibited to say, or is obligated to say.

When calling references, Yismach urges you to limit your questions and structure them according to the parameters delineated in this Shiur of Rabbi Yisrael Gans, Rosh Yeshiva of Kol Torah.

To summarize:

  • Purpose: A reference must first verify that this information is for the purpose of shidduchim.
  • Impartiality: It is forbidden to ask information from someone who is in dispute with the prospect or the prospect’s family.
  • Facts Only: One cannot express his or her opinion, rather just state the facts as they are.

Five key points:

  1. Personal knowledge: References can only answer if they have firsthand, direct, personal knowledge. If it is something references know secondhand, they may not relay the information. .
  2. Don’t exaggerate: Well-meaning exaggeration to get a shidduch moving is forbidden, even if the exaggeration is positive, and all the more so if it is negative.
  3. Be objective: People view others by ways of their own preferences. Someone who is loud and can’t tolerate a quiet type may automatically project, and relay falsehoods about that person. The reference must be objective. If the reference feels that she cannot be objective, or she is saying negative things out of hatred etc., then she/he is forbidden to answer.
  4. Avoid Lashon Hara: If it can be said without lashon hara, then that is how it should be said. But if questioned, references can respond with the minimum details but in accordance to the above conditions, avoiding lashon hara. Adding details will just damage the person.
  5. Know the caller: References may not reveal information to someone who will spread the word. If the caller is one who cannot keep a secret, and may damage the shidduch, it is forbidden to say anything negative about the person in question.

On the one hand spreading rumors is terrible, but standing idly by while someone makes a fatal mistake is unconscionable. This creates a very difficult balancing act and in very specific situations, one is not only permitted, but obligated to relay negative information:

  • One must relay negative details which will hurt hakamat bayit yehudi and can lead to divorce. Personality disorders, lack of Tzniut, lack of Yiryat Shamayim, and serious health conditions. These are all issues that must be revealed, as they fall under lo tamoed al dam reecha.
  • If one knows about a serious medical condition, one should relay the information. If there is a safek, ask a rav. If it is after the engagement, and most likely will not change anything, then there is no toelet and one should not say.
  • If it’s a serious issue, but the person doesn’t know the information first-hand, the person should answer, “I don’t know exactly. Perhaps you can inquire further about this issue.” However, one should say outright that “I only heard it as a rumor and not first-hand so don’t rely on me.” Therefore it will carry less weight. The nature of a person is to accept bad information rather than good information. If it’s hard to answer, or one doesn’t know for sure, then instead of being evasive, one can say “I don’t know.” In regards to other neutral issues, if they ask, one can respond. But if they don’t ask, then there is no need to provide the information (i.e. Does she speak English) – if it is important the caller will ask. The reference should not offer information that was not specifically requested. If the respondent has a safek, then they shouldn’t say.
  • One is forbidden to label people. – i.e. sociable, serious, warmhearted, anti-social, negligent, miserly, hot-headed, beautiful, modern, not modern, lacking personality, because people will jump to judge accordingly. One should just state facts in clear terms. The act of labeling is greatly harmful to prospects in Shidduchim.