Thursday, November 05, 2015

Too Much Information

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
Efrem Goldberg, the rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) has written an article about Shiduchim that shows great wisdom. He discusses the common practice of doing as much research about a potential date as possible and basically asks, “How much information is too much information?” His answer is not quite black and white. But it does have a lot of common sense to it.

That Shadchanim are increasingly being used even in the Modern Orthodox world makes this question more significant than it ever has been. The days of “boy meets girl; boy dates girl; and boy marries girl” are no longer the exclusive way that Modern Orthodox young people date. While it still does exist on a pretty large scale, Shidduch dates are increasing significantly. Which means that so too is the research that is done to find out details about the person someone is going to be set up with.

I should add that for purposes of this discussion a Shadchan is defined as any third party that sets up a 2 people they know but don’t know each other. It can be a professional paid or unpaid Shadchan, a Rosh Yeshiva or Rebbe, a parent, a sibling, family friend of personal friend. Defined this way, it should be obvious that setting up 2 people is a fairly common practice in all circles. In Modern Orthodox circles it is usually by a sibling or friend. But occasionally even Modern Orthodox people will use a professional.

Unlike when 2 people meet casually, when being set up, each party wants to know as much about the other as possible before going out on a date. That’s where there is a convergence of process. In all segments of Orthodoxy (from Chasidim to MO) where a 3rd party is involved, information about each side will be part of the discussion.

This is a good thing. Why not find out as much as possible about someone you may end up spending the rest of your life with? The question arises, however, how much information is too much information? This is where common sense comes in. But even that is not enough. There is some information that may prevent a potentially very good relationship from developing. Does that mean we hide such information?

The answer is – it depends. We should hide nothing significant about the other, such as personal health issues. Both physical and mental. Or even health issues about members of their family. Family dysfunction, divorced parents are legitimate thing to know about someone you are considering for marriage. What about the Hashkafos of your date… or those of their families?  Are they important? What about educational backgrounds of your date… or their family? What about their financial situation? What about looks? Height? Weight? Intelligence? Sense of humor? What about character traits? …or level of Torah knowledge, or secular knowledge? Which schools they attended? What about the kind of table cloth the family uses on Shabbos?

Obviously there are something that are nonsense. Like that last item. But there are many things that matter.T here is nothing wrong with knowing these things in advance. The question is what one does about it. Are there issues that should it prevent a couple from dating? Of course. But not as many as one might think.

There are no guarantees in life. One can marry someone with a perfect resume and end up in divorce. A spouse with no family history of disease can get seriously ill as can their children. One might counter and say that the chances of something going wrong in a marriage increases if you date someone with a family history of illness. Perhaps. But with an attitude like this, one may never marry. As Rabbi Goldberg pointed out: 
I have come across many individuals who would have had “undesirable” resumes, including families that have dysfunction, illness, or disability, who emerge to become the most amazing, kind, sensitive, thoughtful, loyal and special spouse and parent.  In counseling many couples, I have also discovered many individuals with “perfect” resumes—from the perfect family and with the perfect pedigree, appearance, education, and interests—who turn out to be cruel, selfish, and simply horrible spouses and parents. 
I can personally testify to this. I know of a family where the mother suffers from depression and was even hospitalized for a while. And yet all of their children married, have many children of their own and lead wonderful lives. The mental illness was not hidden from their spouses when they dated. But they dated anyway - entering into a relationship with their eyes wide open. And they couldn’t be happier now.

And yet I am willing to bet that many young people (or their parents) would never date (let alone marry) someone with a parent who suffers from a mental illness like depression.

So how should all this play out in the world of Shadchanus? I think the answer is obvious. There is nothing wrong with resumes that have a lot of reasonable information on them. But there is a difference between the information about individual you are dating – and information about their parents or siblings. Of course family influences are important. But in no way should that prevent a date.

Do not rely on a resume alone. Find out about the individual by actually dating them. That’s what dating is for.  You may just find out that where the parents had issues – their children do not. And that can lead to loving family life. A life that may have been missed had you rejected that date because of their family.