Is “Jewish Matchmaking” Kosher?

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by R. Gil Student

I. Shadchan for the Masses

There is a recent Netflix series about a real shadchan, matchmaker, who sets people up to date for marriage. This raises an interesting question about matchmaking ethics and halakhah. I have not seen the show and do not intend to see it. From what I have been told, while the shadchan is Orthodox, the people dating are not. Is it permissible for an Orthodox matchmaker to suggest marriage-oriented dates (“set up”) people who are not religiously observant? Is it proper to help a Jew make the most important decision in life, to set the tone for the rest of his days, in a way that does not involve religious practice? Should you make others happy at the expense of your own religious values? (If I am misinformed about the show, then I apologize. We can easily set the show aside, and any other issues it might raise, and focus specifically on the above questions.)

Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach (17th cen., Germany; Responsa Chavos Ya’ir, no. 185) discusses this question in regard to the biblical prohibition of lifnei iveir and the rabbinic prohibition of mesayei’a yedei overei aveirah, both of which include assisting someone in sinning. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 6b) says that you may not pass a glass of wine to a nazir, who is forbidden to drink wine, because doing so violates lifnei iveir. However, that prohibition only applies if you and the nazir are on two sides of a river. Meaning, if he cannot reach the wine and can only violate the prohibition through your help, then passing him the wine constitutes a violation of lifnei iveir. If he can violate the prohibition without you, e.g. you are both on the same side of the river, then when you pass him the wine you do not violate lifnei iveir because your role is not essential. Tosafos (Shabbos 3a, s.v. bava) say that even on the same side of the river, there is still a rabbinic prohibition of mesayei’a not to assist in a sin.

Rav Bacharach discusses lifnei iveir in a case in which you provide forbidden wine. Since the purchaser can always buy wine somewhere else, lifnei iveir should not apply because it is as if you are both on the same side of the river. However, if the wine is not available at a comparably low price or with equally limited difficulty to obtain, then you are once again on different sides of the river. If you are offering a huge discount that is not available elsewhere, then you violate lifnei iveir when you sell it. In a parenthetical comment, Rav Bacharach adds that it is therefore biblically forbidden to set up an apostate Jew (a convert to another religion who remains halakhically Jewish) with a potential spouse. Since it is difficult to find a spouse, you are providing a potential for him that he might not find elsewhere. And since an apostate will live a life that is not halakhically observant, you are facilitating for him a sinful life. Even to prevent an intermarriage, which is likely for an apostate, Rav Bacharach does not allow matchmaking. This would seem to argue that it is forbidden to be a shadchan for non-religious Jews.

II. The Professional Shadchan

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv; 19th cen., Russia; Responsa Meishiv Davar 2:32) addresses the same question regarding non-observant Jews. Are you allowed to set up two non-observant Jews if you know that if/when they marry, they will not observe the family purity laws? Netziv sets aside lifnei iveir because they can find a match elsewhere. With this, he implicitly rejects Rav Bacharach’s argument. Presumably he believes that if there is an appropriate spouse out there, anyone can find it you are not essential. However, we are still left with the rabbinic prohibition of mesayei’a. We are obligated to distance people from sin, not bring them closer to it.

Netziv quotes Rav Ya’akov Ettlinger (19th cen., Germany; Responsa Binyan Tziyon, no. 15) who argues that Tosafos and Rosh hold that mesayei’a applies only at the time of a sin. If there is a sin going on, you cannot be part of it. However, before the fact, there is no prohibition. Since your role in setting people up takes place before any prohibition occurs, you do not violate mesayei’a. However, Rashi, Ran and Rambam seem to apply mesayei’a more broadly. But even they would allow it for the sake of peace or even for the sake of income. Therefore, concludes Netziv, if you are paid for the matchmaking then you are allowed to set up non-observant Jews.

III. The Officiating Rabbi

A related question is whether a rabbi may officiate at the wedding of a non-religious couple. In the 1997 book, Lifnei Iveir U-Mesayei’a Yedei Aveirah, Rav Mordechai David Ackerman of Jerusalem argues that it is forbidden to officiate at such a wedding, apparently expanding on the view of his teacher, Rav Yisrael Zev Gustman. Rav Ackerman argues that the chupah, the wedding itself, is part of the time of marital relations. The Gemara (Kesubos 57a) says that “sof chupah” (the end of the chupah), is “techilas bi’ah” (the beginning of marital relations) — marital relations becomes permitted after the end of the chupah and at that point they can no longer change the amount designated as the kesubah. If the chupah is part of the process of marital relations then the rabbi is participating at the time of the sin, which violates mesayei’a.

Rav Ackerman’s argument is farfetched. The chupah is not, in fact, the time of the sin. It is true that a wedding leads to a wedding night — its consummation — but that is only later. If he is correct, how can any woman who is a nidah get married? However, while we try to avoid a chupas nidah, it is still permitted when necessary (Rema, Even Ha-Ezer 61:2). In an article in the Knesses Yisrael journal from Slabodka (Elul 5699, pp. 18-20), Rav Ya’akov Meskin (20th cen., US) argues that a rabbi who officiates at the wedding on a non-religious couple does not violate lifnei iveir because the wedding is too far removed from the marital relations. He says he heard Rav Elchanan Wasserman quote the Chafetz Chaim as saying that setting up a non-religious couple violates the prohibition of following after (providing assistance to) an adulterer (okeiv achar ha-no’ef; see Shevu’os 47b) because nidah is a forbidden relation like a married woman. Rav Meskin points out that the Chafetz Chaim does not invoke lifnei iveir. Perhaps he means that the Chafetz Chaim applies this to a man and a single woman who is a niddah but not a man and his wife. Rav Meskin’s point remains that the wedding and its later consummation are too removed for the prohibition of lifnei iveir to be in effect (although see below from Rav Ya’akov Breisch). If so, it would be permissible to officiate at the wedding of a non-religious couple but not to set up a non-religious couple.

IV. The Permitted Bride

Additionally, and more to the point, this entire concern regarding officiating at a wedding can be remedied by requiring even a non-religious bride to go to the mikveh before her wedding. This is standard practice among Orthodox rabbis and renders the wedding night permissible (and a mitzvah). Therefore, there is no lifnei iveir nor mesayei’a because the wedding night is not forbidden. This practice completely undermines Rav Ackerman’s argument, weak as it is.

Rav Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (20th cen., Germany-Switzerland; Seridei Eish, 2:93 in the 2006 edition) was asked whether a rabbi may officiate at the wedding of a non-observant couple who were already married in a civil ceremony. He dismisses the concern about the civil ceremony and focuses on the fact that they are not religiously observant. Rav Weinberg quotes Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld who strictly prohibited officiating at a wedding unless the bride first goes to the mikveh. However, if she does so, he allows officiating even if you know she will not continue going to the mikveh after the wedding. Rav Weinberg says that he also insists that the bride go to the mikveh before the wedding. He adds that since this couple is already legally married and living together, the rabbi is not causing any sins. Therefore, neither lifnei iveir nor mesayei’a apply here.

V. That Was Then, This Is Now

About 25 years ago, I first came across Rav Ackerman’s book in the Lakewood Minyan of Flatbush, where Rav Mordechai Marcus zt”l served as the rabbi. Someone must have put it on the bookshelf. Since I was learning this topic in Gemara, I asked him his thoughts on the subject. He told me that the whole question is from a different time when people would wait for marriage before having relations. In such a world, the rabbi who conducted the wedding effectively allowed the couple to have relations. If the relations were prohibited, then the rabbi enabled the violation. Sadly, in today’s world, most people do not have the religious and moral grounding to wait until marriage. The violations occur with or without a wedding, with or without the rabbi. Therefore, lifnei iveir and mesayei’a do not apply.

Rav Ya’akov Breisch (20th cen., Switzerland; Chelkas Ya’akov, Even Ha-Ezer, no. 75 in the 1992 edition) argues that lifnei iveir applies even a few days before the violation takes place. The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 2a) says that it is prohibited to do business with an idolator within three days of his holiday. The Gemara (ibid., 6a) explains that one possible reason for this is that of lifnei iveir, the idolator might use what you sell him in his idolatry. Rav Breisch proves from here that lifnei iveir can apply long before the actual forbidden action.

However, he, too, dismisses the concern with officiating at the wedding of non-religious Jews because they will find a way to be together with or without the rabbi. Therefore, the rabbi is not facilitating the prohibition. Rav Breisch adds that if no Orthodox rabbi will officiate, the couple will find a non-Orthodox rabbi to perform the wedding or make due with a civil ceremony. This might lead to a trend of forgoing a religious ceremony and having only a civil ceremony, which will lead to a further decline in marital life in the greater Jewish community. When Orthodox rabbis officiate at the weddings of non-religious Jews, the rabbis save the couples from living together in a state of licentiousness.

VI. Conclusion

Somewhat similarly, Rav Shlomo Aviner (cont., Israel; Responsa She’eilas Shlomo 3:346) permits acting as a shadchan for non-religious Jews for a number of reasons, among them:
1) There is no lifnei iveir because they can marry or get together without the shadchan
2) Any sin that occurs will be at a later time
3) The shadchan intends for this to be a mitzvah (see Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 169:2)
4) The shadchan is saving them from any relations they would otherwise have outside of marriage.

In the end, there seems to be some debate about serving as a shadchan for non-religious Jews. Notably, the Chafetz Chaim was very much opposed. In contrast, the Netziv and others permit it. In a time when intermarriage is rampant, perhaps there is even more room to help non-religious Jews marry each other. However, even according to those who are lenient, we still must always encourage proper behavior and discourage forbidden pre-marital touching. Even if our words will be ignored, we have to stand on the side of what we know is proper behavior and interaction between an unmarried couple.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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