“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.

Shadchanus Divisions

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.

Additional Issues

There are many more questions that are liable to arise:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Must a party who promised to pay the shadchan an inflated sum carry out his promise?
  4. What is the status of a shadchan who completed a shidduch by means of handing over false information?
  5. What should be done when a shadchan demands too much money?
  6. 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.

Summary:

  1. The Ashkenazi custom is that a shadchan must be paid for his service.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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