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Shidduchim / Shiduchim Cortesy of Partners-in-Torah

by Rabbi Elazar Meisels

Who is a Shadchan and why do we need it?...

Dear Rabbi,
I am fascinated by the whole idea of a matchmaker in Jewish tradition and wish you could provide some information to me on the origins of this practice. Is it ancient in nature or a more recent phenomenon? Who would commonly hold this position and is it right to expect payment for rendering these services?
Jenny L.

Thank you for your question. The concept of matchmaking is well known, but largely misunderstood, thanks to highly misleading portrayals of traditional Shadchanim [matchmakers] in films like "Fiddler On The Roof" and others. While occasionally the town yenta confused herself with the shadchan, by and large, it was a highly esteemed occupation throughout the centuries. Oftentimes, rabbis who traditionally did not receive payment for their services, would serve as matchmakers in an effort to earn an honorable livelihood. Suggesting and overseeing a match requires much skills and tact and is best accomplished by respectable and sensitive individual.

The Midrash [VaYikra Rabba, 8:1] records a conversation between Rabbi Yosi and a prominent Roman matron, who inquired how Hashem spends his days since having concluded creating the world. Rabbi Yosi responded, "He has been occupied with pairing couples." The matron expressed dismay at the fact that Hashem would engage in such a mundane occupation and insisted that she too, could do an equally satisfactory job of matching couples. She promptly took 1,000 male servants, randomly assigned them to 1,000 female servants, and informed them that they were now married to one another. By the next morning, she was besieged with complaints from servants who were bruised and battered after a disastrous first evening spent with their new spouse. The matron promptly sent for Rabbi Yosi and conceded, "Rabbi – your Torah is true indeed!"

The Talmud [Niddah 31b,] explains the societal custom that the man would travel to find a woman as an outgrowth of the fact that he "lost" a part of himself when Eve was taken from Adam. "One who loses an item, must be the one to pursue it," says the Talmud. Drawing on this analogy, the commentaries have suggested that the one who introduces a couple to one another, has not only assisted them in fulfilling their obligation to marry and build a family, but he has also fulfilled the mitzvah of Hashovas Aveidah [returning a lost item.]

In Tractate Shabbos [150a], the Talmud assures us that although mundane matters may not be discussed on Shabbos to preserve the sanctity of the day, conversations relating to Shidduchim [matchmaking] are perfectly permissible to conduct as they are considered sacred matters. This idea has been immortalized in a well known Shabbos zemer [song] entitled "Mah Yedidus."

The use of a Shadchan and the involvement of the parents also contributed to the stability of traditional marriages. In considering the match, they tended to focus on the important aspects, not just the trivial ones that youngsters are prone to concentrating on. Additionally, the Shadchan could be called upon to assist by conducting and smoothing over the financial negotiations between the two families. This eliminated much of the personal animosity that is common in the entire dating process.

Payment for suggesting a match is generally expected, and there is a considerable amount of discussion in the halachic responsa regarding this point. Questions such as how to compensate two people who suggested the match, or a situation in which one person suggested the match, but another person did most of the negotiating, are dealt with in great detail.

Interestingly, Rabbenu Nissim of Gerona [Ra"n Tractate Shabbos 12a], posits that the word "Shidduch" is rooted in the word "Menuchah," which means peace and tranquility. He bases this on the Targum Yonasan's [Shoftim 3:11] rendering of the word "VaTishkot" – and (the land)was peaceful, as "V'Shidduchis". Teshuvos HaGeonim [Siman 425] suggests that it stems from the word "Shadachi," which refers to long stems that shoot forth and intertwine with one another. The word "Shidduch" then, means to knot or tie together.

May we hear of many happy matches and successful marriages!

Last update: April 25, 2007
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