By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
A young woman had some extra heart tissue, which caused an irregular heartbeat. She had ablation surgery, and she is fine now. Do her parents have to disclose the surgery?
Another young woman is deaf in one ear. Must her parents disclose?
A third young lady has alternating esotropia–she can only see out of one eye at a time. She had strabismus surgery but it did not allow for fusing of her eyesight. Must this be disclosed?
A young man was the product of an intermarriage–his father was a gentile. He is also an accomplished talmid chacham. Must his situation be revealed?
If disclosure is halachically required, what is the time element? Should it be done before the first date? Also, do they tell the shadchan, the parents, or just the guy or girl?
Truth In Sales
In regard to the sale of an item, the halachah is quite clear. All negative information must be disclosed when selling an item if most people would consider it a possible deal-breaker. Does the same hold true for shidduchim?
The Steipler Gaon, zt’l, father of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, in his Sefer Kehilas Yaakov on Yevamos (Siman 44), writes that shidduchim are different than sales of items. The sages were more lenient in order to allow people to get married. He cites a Gemara in Yevamos where Rabbi Yehuda advises someone to go to a different town where they do not know his lineage, and marry there. The Steipler adds that one should not rely on this halachah l’ma’aseh.
There are some complications with this proof because both townspeople erroneously believed that having a gentile father created a mamzeirus, illegitimacy, when, in fact, it does not.
Regardless, the Chasam Sofer cites this Gemara (Responsa EH Vol. II #125) as a proof that one can temporarily suppress information in order to fulfill the mitzvah of pru u’rvu. The indication of the Kehilas Yaakov is that the information can be obscured indefinitely.
Rav Malkiel Tanenbaum, zt’l (1847—-1910), author of the Divrei Malkiel (Volume III #90), holds a position diametrically opposed to that of the Steipler. The Divrei Malkiel holds that even if the majority of people would not care about the information, one must be concerned that the potential shidduch is from the minority of people who would be concerned.
The FAQs Of Life
The Steipler has another qualification. He states that according to Tosfos (Chullin 94a “Inhu”), if it is an issue that is generally inquired about, then there is no obligation to reveal. However, if it is something that people do not generally inquire about, then one would be obligated to reveal. Matters relating to yichus (genealogy) are generally looked into. It would seem that health issues are also inquired of rather regularly.
Clearly, there are matters that should definitely be revealed.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l writes (Igros Moshe E.H. IV 73:2) that a 25-year-old young man who has Marfan Syndrome is obligated to reveal it to his future spouse. (Marfan Syndrome is a genetic disorder of connective tissue, where those who have the syndrome tend to be tall and thin, with long arms, legs, fingers, and toes. They typically have flexible joints and scoliosis. The most serious complications involve the heart and aorta with an increased risk of mitral valve prolapse and aortic aneurysm. Other commonly affected areas include the lungs, eyes, bones, and the covering of the spinal cord.)
Rav Shmuel Vosner (Sheivet HaLevi Volume VI #205) indicates the same position in a responsum concerning a single girl suffering from a dermatological disorder where she had lost all her hair and wears a sheitel. Rav Waldenberg, the Tzitz Eliezer (Vol. XIII #81:2), writes that a doctor has an obligation to reveal information that will do damage to another party, notwithstanding issues of legal and professional obligations of confidentiality.
Rav Elyashiv (Kovetz Teshuvos Vol. I #159) rules in one case that even if the information of improper premarital activity would never be known otherwise, there is still an obligation to reveal it. In regard to other matters, however, the debate between the Divrei Malkiel and the Steipler has not been fully resolved. Anyone with this question must consult with his own posek or qualified rav.
It is this author’s experience, however, that it is always a good idea to be as forthcoming as possible, and rather have bitachon that one’s bashert will eventually come along.
Rereading The Gemara
How would the poskim who rule that one must inform understand the Gemara in Yevamos cited by the Steipler Gaon? Perhaps the advice given was to suppress the information to the family members of the prospective bride, but actually to inform the bride herself. One contemporary posek provides such a reading of the Gemara.
Good Advice Or Obligation?
Dayan Yitzchak Weiss, zt’l, the rav of the Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim, in his Minchas Yitzchak (7:93) cites the Sefer Chassidim (#507) regarding an issue having to do with safrus. The Sefer Chassidim writes that a person needing to get married should not cover up a serious malady among his household that, if it were to be revealed, would cause the other party to not marry him or her. Dayan Weiss cites this Sefer Chasidim as authoritative, and it would seem that this is an obligation–not merely good advice.
The Sefer Chassidim, as a general rule, often discusses matters beyond halachah. It may therefore be possible to view the Sefer Chassidim quoted above by Dayan Weiss as merely good advice, but the manner in which Rav Moshe, Rav Waldenberg, and Rav Vosner discuss the obligation seems to indicate that the issue lies beyond mere good advice, and is a full-blown obligation.
Source Of Obligation
From where, then, would this obligation stem? There may actually be four or more mitzvos involved here:
- Ve’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha–Love thy neighbor as thyself;
- Lo sa’amod al dam rei’acha–Do not stand idly by thy brother’s blood;
- Hashavas aveidah–Returning a lost item to its owner. This can be found in the Pischei Teshuvah in Orech Chaim (Chapter 156);
- Lo sonu ish es amiso (Vayikra 25:17)–one shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your Gâ€‘d, for I am Hashem your Gâ€‘d.” See the Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b and also Sefer HaMitzvos 251 and Sefer HaChinuch 338. The application here to shidduchim is mentioned in the responsum of Rabbi Feinstein.
This is a biblical imperative. Rav Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer Vol. XVI #4:1) points out that there is a strong obligation to warn a woman about a man who is dating her and planning not to reveal information. The Tzitz Eliezer indicates that the obligation exists even if it is not a life-threatening illness. The obligation exists on anyone who is aware of it–not just the person who is asked.
However–and this is a big caveat–we must realize that people tend to overreact when they hear information that is completely a non-issue. Example: a young man had a contusion in his right ileus when he was in ninth grade. This information relayed in such a way can cause a potential shidduch to be scared off. However, this actually translates to a bruise on his thigh. The point is that some people can overreact to anything. That being the true, a good case can be made to suppress harmless and inconsequential information.
Rav Yitzchok Steinberg, in the sefer Bracha L’Avraham (p. 345), points out that when one reveals this information, one must adhere to all of the five conditions set forth in Sefer Chofetz Chaim (Volume II Klal 9:2). They are: (1) Not to decide that it is necessarily negative per se; (2) not to exaggerate the matter at all; (3) to only have positive intentions (l’to’eles) and not through hate; (4) if the positive can be accomplished without having to convey the information to avoid conveying it; and (5) that the person not suffer an actual loss as a consequence but only the removal of a gain.
When information must be revealed, the poskim have ruled that it need not be disclosed before the first date or even after the first date. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe OC Vol. IV #118), rules that a certain type of negative information need not be revealed on the first date, and only must be revealed when he has shown indications that he wishes to marry her.
Other poskim have stated that one can withhold the information until the third or the fourth date, depending upon how far things have progressed. As discussed above, however, each person should consult with his or her own posek or rav. Articles and books should not be relied upon for such sensitive matters.
Don’t Tell The Shadchan
Rav Dovid Cohen, shlita, once told this author that where the situation warrants that sensitive or negative information be disclosed, it should never be disclosed to the shadchan. Once the shadchan knows, the information gets out quickly and a shidduch is much more difficult, near impossible, to be made.
Our First Four Questions
The question about the young woman who was deaf in one ear was posed to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l. He responded that it need not be disclosed, and he added that he himself was deaf in one ear and only became aware of it several years after he got married. The alternating esotropia would have the same status. As far as the heart ablation, poskim in Eretz Yisrael (Rav Vosner, zt’l, and Rav Nissin Karelitz) ruled that the information does not need to be disclosed if the young lady is not taking medication. If medication is being taken, however, it needs to be revealed. Regarding the young man whose father was a gentile, this should be revealed, but after the third or fourth date.
What would happen if serious medical information was not revealed? Does it possibly invalidate the original marriage on account of the concept of mekach ta’us? The Shulchan Aruch (EH 39:5) rules that the situation is one of doubt. This ruling is based upon a debate among the Rishonim as to how to understand the relevant Talmudic passage.
This is an issue that must be dealt with carefully, however, and virtually all poskim rule that one should always obtain a get and only under difficult situations can a marriage be invalidated. Even then it can only be done by leading poskim.
The Chazon Ish (OC 56:9) rules that invalidating the original marriage is based upon the reaction of the spouse after the underlying problem is revealed. If it is a huge medical problem, the Beis HaLevi (Vol. III #4:2) puts forth a possible argument that no get is required at all. It must also be pointed out that the Chelkas Mechokek (E.H. 39:9) writes that if the other spouse was quiet when he or she first found out and only protested later, the marriage is completely valid.
What should the spouse do after he or she finds out that the other side had hidden the medical information? This author would like to suggest that the spouse should accept what has happened, live with the illness, and not seek out a divorce. This seems to be the unspoken thinking of none other than the Chofetz Chaim himself. How so? In the Be’er Mayim Chaim (Klal 9, footnote 5) the Chofetz Chaim distinguishes between before the marriage and after the marriage regarding the obligation to reveal. What happened to the Torah obligation of not standing idly by the person’s blood? Why is it different now–just because the person happens to be married? The answer must be that if the person chooses to live with the issue, a highly likely possibility, then there no longer is an issue of “standing idly by a person’s blood.”
When Children Are Involved
If the couple has children, then there is even more reason not to arrange for a divorce. Notwithstanding the growing divorce rate, there is no question that divorces adversely impact children, and every effort should be made to remain together in a state of harmony. There is no question that the spouse has wronged the other one, and should make it up to them. But divorce should be the last resort.Â v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.