Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: There is a popular and respected family living in our building. However, since I got to know them closely, I have observed that they have difficulties dealing with people. This comes to light in unpleasant encounters with neighbors (not necessarily only with me but with all the neighbors), like unpaid maintenance fees, disagreements over joint possessions, etc.

Recently, an acquaintance called me to inquire about this neighbor’s daughter, regarding a shidduch. I obviously spoke highly of the girl and her family, but because I know how much this individual values good character traits, I added that it would be wise to inquire about their middos. She immediately picked up on the hint, and asked me to tell her what I knew about them in this area, emphasizing that the shidduch was already on the way. I tried to stick to the facts and not exaggerate, but I’m still concerned that I said the wrong thing.

I also want to know for the future what to tell people who inquire about this family. What is permissible and what is forbidden to say when they inquire in a general way, or when they ask specifically about middos. How does halachah differentiate between a stranger who inquires and a close acquaintance?

A: It seems from your question that the subject is a fine girl who does not display any external signs of bad character. It is very likely that she indeed does not show a lack in middos, as described in your comment concerning her parents. Generally, when one parent is deficient in this area, the spouse tends to be a soft, forgiving person who is a peace seeker, and suffers in silence from the spouse’s aggression. Otherwise, the marriage would not survive. The girl may very well be like her forgiving parent, and therefore when someone inquires about her and not regarding the parents, you should not bring up the issue of their middos.

If they ask about the parents in general and don’t ask about their character traits, then there is no need to mention their middos, because one wouldn’t know if the individual himself is of worse character. It is also common for people to be on their best behavior with their mechutanim. If, however, they do inquire specifically about the parents’ middos, then it could be that you may make careful minimal mention of the issue as in “They know how to stand up for their rights.”

On the other hand, if the individual who is inquiring is familiar to you, and you know that he is of good character and is looking for a family of the same stature, then, as outlined above, you may make careful mention even if they don’t ask specifically about their middos.