“Rather, to my land and to my birthplace shall you go, and you shall
find a wife for my son, for Yitzchak” (Bereishis 24:4)
The majority of this week’s parashah details the wondrous narrative of how Eliezer, the shadchan sent by Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchak, succeeds in his mission.
It is noteworthy that the Torah makes no mention of Eliezer being paid for his task, a point that might be raised in favor of the Sephardic custom, according to which the shadchan traditionally receives no remuneration for his services. In this article, however, we will focus on the Ashkenazi custom, which sees the services of a shadchan not (only) as an act of kindness and altruism, but as an act deserving of full payment.
What is the halachic nature of the obligation to pay a shadchan? What are the parameters of the obligation in terms of timing, in terms of who has to pay, and in terms of the division between different actors involved in bringing about a shidduch? We will seek to approach these questions after gaining a basic understanding as to the basic essence of the obligation to pay a shadchan.
Two Types of Shadchan
The Rema (Choshen Mishpat 185:10) rules that a shadchan is a sarsur, meaning an agent or mediator: he mediates between two parties, bringing them together in completing a shidduch. Yet, this does not explain the halachic mechanism by which the shadchan receives payment. A commercial mediator buys goods for one price, and sells the goods for a higher price, taking the difference as profit. How does a shadchan earn his dues?
It can be said, in a halachic sense, that there are two types of shadchanim. One is the shadchan who raises the idea of a shidduch, and proceeds to bring his idea to fruition by bringing the parties together, without ever being asked to do so by one or both of the parties. Another is the shadchan who performs his labors after being requested to do so by one or both parties.
Although many shadchanim begin their roles as the former type, acting of their own volition in suggesting a shidduch, most will end as the second type, after the shadchan is asked by one or both parties to act in the context of the shidduch.
What is the difference between the two types of shadchanim? The second type, the shadchan that is asked to act in bringing the parties together, is a worker known in halachic parlance as a kablan. Unlike a day‐laborer (po’el), the kablan can perform his labor whenever he wishes to (although he might be bound to a deadline), and he is paid for the product of his labor rather than the labor itself. Having been asked to perform his labor, the shadchan is paid as a kablan for the result he brings about: the shidduch between the two parties.
The first type, however, is neither a po’el nor a kablan; he has not been asked to work, yet there remains an obligation to pay him. According to the Vilna Gaon (glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, 87:113), the basis for this obligation is the concept of “one who descends to another’s field without his permission.” Although he does so without being asked, somebody who plants his neighbors field must be paid full wages, provided the field requires (or is befitting for) planting.
In a similar sense, the shadchan is considered as somebody who “descends to another’s field”—although he was not asked to do so, he brings the parties concrete benefit by bringing the couple together. Children of marriageable age are considered a “field” waiting to be planted (marriage); by “planting” the field, the shadchan performs an act that obligates remuneration for his service.
When and How Must a Shadchan be Paid?
Paying attention to the two types of shadchanim, we can arrive at two distinct times at which a shadchan must be paid.
Based on the model of a shadchan as somebody who “descends to another’s field,” the correct time at which the shadchan must be paid is the time when the benefit is realized. This is the time when the shidduch reaches its final consummation: the marriage. At the time of the marriage, the parties finally receive their “benefit,” and they become obligated to pay for the provided service.
Based, however, on the model of a shadchan requested to perform a service, payment would become obligated not at the time of the wedding, but when the shadchan completes the performance of his service: at the time of the vort, when the shidduch is completed. As a laborer, the shadchan must be paid when he finishes his labors, even if the shidduch is voided before the wedding arrives.
However, the Rema rules that all shadchanim are paid according to the custom. The common custom, in the past and today, is to pay the shadchan at the time of the shidduch’s completion: the time of the vort (this distinction is made by Halichos Yisrael, no. 2, 7; Teshuvos Vehanhagos, vol. 3, no. 457).
An additional point is the nature and severity of the obligation to pay. (( A positive mitzvah of beyomo titen secharo, and a negative mitzvah of bal talin. )) If the shadchan is considered a kablan, the Torah laws of paying workers apply, implying a positive and negative obligation to complete the payment on time if the shidduch is completed during the day, the shadchan must be paid by the following morning, and if at night, the shadchan must be paid by the following night.
If, however, the shadchan is not a kablan, and the payment is for benefit rather than labor, the Torah obligation does not apply. Although payment must be made, the special severity of payment on time is limited to workers alone (see Alon Hamishpat 4, Piskei Halachos).
Who Pays the Shadchan?
Who has to pay the shadchan? The answer to this question is often taken for granted: of course, payment is made by the parents. Yet, the matter is not as simple as generally assumed.
In fact, Avnei Nezer (Choshen Mishpat no. 36) writes that “it is obvious that payment of shadchanus must be made by the bride and groom, for they derive the benefit—only that the parents pay for them.” According to Avnei Nezer, if parents are no longer alive, or if they are unable or unwilling to pay the shadchanus fees, the couple itself might be obligated to pay the shadchan.
However, there is room to dispute the approach taken by Avnei Nezer. Although the principle beneficiaries might be the children, it is the parents who most feel the obligation to “marry off their children,” and it is they who traditionally take active involvement in the shidduch. The “field” that the shadchan is planting can therefore be seen as the children themselves, and the benefiters—the “owners” of the field—the parents.
This, indeed, is the position taken by Halichos Yisrael, who cites a proof for his position from the voluminous halachic material that deals with questions of shadchanus. Glancing through halachic teshuvos that relate to the matter, we invariably find reference to the financial obligation of parents, rather than than of children.
One way or another, the custom, which is the final word in halachic rulings, is certainly that parents pay the shadchanus fees—to the degree that even when parents are unable or unwilling to pay, children would not be obligated in their stead (Erech Shai 185). It is possible that in light of the accepted custom, even Avnei Nezer would concede that children cannot be made to pay for the service of their shadchan.
In addition, in the majority of cases parents will issue directives, at least to some extent, to the shadchan. The shadchan would thus become the laborer of the parents, and they, rather than the couple itself, would be obligated to pay his fees.
By contrast with commercial mediators, a shidduch often involves more than one shadchan. The presence of several individuals often complicates the issue of payment: how much does each participant in the shidduch receive?
The Noda Biyhuda (tinyana, Choshen Mishpat no. 36, as cited in Pischei Teshuva, Choshen Mishpat 185:3) emphasizes the distinction between a commercial mediator and a shadchan, and writes that on account of the many details involved, parents have the right to involve shadchanim apart from the original shadchan, who would then take a share in the payment.
Other poskim, however, express concern over the tendency of involving family members in a shidduch,which enable the parties to “keep the money in the family,” rather than pay everything to the shadchan who initiated the shidduch. Divrei Geonim thus writes that when the parties bring in families members at some point down the line, the entire sum must be paid to the original shadchan.
Aruch Hashulchan (Even Ha’ezer 50), moreover, writes that bringing in additional shadchanim without due cause would transgress the principle of ani hamehapech bechararah: the original shadchan is being deprived of a position that is rightfully his. However, if for some reason the shidduch stalls, and the parties believe that it can be brought back on the rails by involving somebody else, they certainly have the right to call in other shadchanim.
How are the shadchanus fees divided? Pischei Teshuvah (Choshen Mishpat 185:3) cites from poskim who divide the role of a shadchan into three parts: making the initial contact between the parties, deepening the contact and putting the shidduch firmly on track, and overcoming any final hurdles in bringing the shidduch to completion. If these roles would be carried out by three distinct individuals, each would take one third of the payment. However, if only two individuals are involved—one who begins the process, yet is unable to continue it, and another who completes it—the latter (the gomer) would take two thirds of the payment, while the former (the maschil) would take only one third.
Poskim are divided as to whether it is enough to think of a shidduch to reach the status of a maschil (the first stage), or whether a maschil has to actually get the parties together. It is difficult to set out firm general rules concerning the payment of several shadchanim, and each case has to be weighed up according to its individual circumstances.
It should be noted that when a dispute breaks out among various involved shadchanim, this should not cause the involved parties to pay any larger sum than they would pay a single shadchan: the parties must reserve the customary sum, and the various shadchanim have to reach agreement between themselves, or go to arbitration.
There are many more questions that are liable to arise:
- The sum of shadchanus gelt is determined by the accepted custom of the land. What would be the halachah when one party lives in one location, and the other somewhere else? How much must be paid?
- What is the halahcah concerning a shadchan who stated that he would not take any payment, or a shadchan who was told that he would not receive payment?
- Must a party who promised to pay the shadchan an inflated sum carry out his promise?
- What is the status of a shadchan who completed a shidduch by means of handing over false information?
- What should be done when a shadchan demands too much money?
- Are there any shadchanus issues when a person makes his own shidduch?
We will not deal presently with these issues, but rather conclude with an interesting statement made by the great Rav Aharon of Belz. Speaking of shadchanus, Rav Aharon said that whoever makes a shidduch leshem shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, is certain to merit righteous children. Does this mean that a person should preferably avoid taking payment for a shidduch, so that his intentions be considered purely leshem shamayim?
Rav Moshe Shternbuch answers in the negative. Making a shidduch leshem shamayim means having lofty intentions in mind: the fulfilling of the Divine will of pairing husband and wife together, and the contribution to the continuation of the Jewish people. This is certainly a great virtue. However, the receiving of payment, which is an ancient custom among Ashkenazi communities, does not flaw the intention, and may be done lechatchilah.
- The Ashkenazi custom is that a shadchan must be paid for his service.
- The amount he is paid, and the time when he must be paid, is determined by the custom of the relevant location. When parents issue instructions to the shadchan concerning how to proceed, payment on time takes on the severity of the Torah mitzvos of paying laborers on time.
- If a shadchan begins the process of making a shidduch, and there is no reason to believe he cannot continue in his role, it is forbidden to bring in additional shadchanim for the sake of giving them a share in the shadchanus fees.
- When several shadchanim are involved in a single shidduch, a general division between the maschil and gomer (one third and two thirds), or maschil, gomer, and emtzai (one third each), is made. However, this division is flexible, and individual cases will depend on the input made by each of the shadchanim involved.