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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5772

Ask the Rabbi: Paying for a Shadchan When the Matter Was Not Discussed

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question:   Our daughter, who become Charedi and moved to Israel, got engaged. She just told us that we have to pay $1,000 for the shadchanit (matchmaker), and we cannot afford it. We were not informed of such an expense; from what we know, a modest present is standard. What can we do?


Answer:   First and foremost, mazal tov!

Traditionally, a shadchan was paid – like an agent. The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 185:10; see also Pitchei Teshuva, Even Haezer 50:16) only has a question of whether one pays at the time of engagement or of marriage. The Rama’s rule, one of the main rules in monetary law, is that we follow the local minhag, which is not always geographically dependent. In regards to certain things, different segments of the population are clearly defined, certainly including the Charedi community in regard to a shadchan’s fee. Their practice is to pay a shadchan, whether a professional one or even a mutual friend. There may be different practices as far as how much to pay and certain conditions, but $1,000 a side is quite standard.

The fact that in the Dati Leumi / Modern Orthodox community, a shadchan does not usually get paid other than a present at the couple’s discretion, is fine. (There are several good sociological reasons for the difference between the communities in this regard, and there is also probably an advantage for our community to have professional shadchanim alongside the free services of friends and family. However, we were asked for a halachic response, not a lecture in sociology.) According to the Rama, the minhag is the determining factor, not just for the conditions of a payment, but for the existence of payment at all.

It is a good question (dealt with, in a different context, in an Eretz Hemdah court ruling) when two people from different communities with different practices interacted without prior discussion. Without getting into detail, we explained that the matter depends if the reason to pay for a service without explicit agreement based on custom is because of assumed agreement or the benefit one received. However, that issue is probably not relevant here. If your daughter operated within the Charedi shidduch scene, she was bound by its rules unless she specified otherwise, whether or not she was aware of this particular practice.

Formally, it is unlikely that you specifically have to pay, as your daughter is the one who ‘hired’ the shadchanit, not you. While parents usually pay for such expenses, your daughter did not act as your agent unless you gave her a carte blanche for all dating-related expenses. For that matter, you are not monetarily obligated to finance the wedding (although Chazal did expect it – see Ketubot 4a). However, if you do not pay, then your daughter must.

In the Charedi world, there is a belief that it is a bad omen for the marriage to not properly fulfill an obligation to a shadchan. We are not experts on bad omens and will neither confirm nor dismiss this concern. In any case, monetary obligations must be paid, based on halacha and ethics. The difference in one’s belief about the omen is whether it is a good idea to ask for a delay in payment. It is halachically legitimate for one who has difficulty paying immediately to ask for a delay (caterers and photographers rarely agree), but many avoid doing so with a shadchan.

We do not need to tell you that life brings unexpected expenses and that it is better that they be related to joyous events than others. Even without surprises, many people have real trouble paying for weddings, and many hard decisions have to be made regarding priorities and means of obtaining previously unfound funds. Tefilla is one way, and “Hashem has many messengers.” Those who truly need it are allowed to receive help, even from outside the family, and certainly from within it. However, we must reiterate that whether or not the shadchanit needs the money as badly as you do, someone has to pay her.

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