Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Shevat 5766 - February 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Health Issues

by Rebbetzin Nomi Travis

Question: "I find it interesting that many young men and women spend incredible amounts of time uncovering minor, inconsequential evidence of illnesses in the past while overlooking the much more important and germane aspects of who their perspective partner really is. I would like you to comment on how much one should dwell on questions about health."


What is a medical concern?

In my experience, usually the first reaction upon hearing about a medical matter is to rule out the suggestion. However, I intend to point out that if the offer sounds like a prince, you can't let fear alone ruin your resolutions. You need to be well informed to weigh the decision carefully.

When I ask about illness, even though I am inquiring about major factors, some even mention small inconveniences like slight allergies, minor fungus on their toes, etc. No family has perfect genes . . . But I have also encountered sincere people who revealed serious issues, following rabbinic advice.

Even when a matchmaker does her "homework," she might not be acquainted with all that is "hidden under the carpet." Nevertheless, even if she does know, if she is G-d-fearing and conscientious, she has already consulted daas Torah to know when to reveal it.

Everything needs to be put into perspective. In addition, what bothers some, others willingly ignore. For example, some can't stand smoking, not just for the smell or welfare reasons, but also because it is an addiction. I have encountered natural food eaters who were so into their healthy way of life that they would probably have difficulty dealing with the vast majority that does eat meat and processed foods regularly.

An experienced doctor told me that even youngsters have a certain "kvech" — it's not possible to feel 100% all the time. The question is whether it's a minor inconsequential diagnosis, or a trouble that weakens the body significantly enough to disturb normal functioning.

Furthermore, an unjustified obsession that the other side is hiding a disease can distract from the whole process of making inquiries on what we certainly must be concerned about. I have even heard of a girl in shidduchim getting a fake call pretending to be from the medical insurance company asking if she had any medical appointments . . .

How will it affect marriage?

When you hear about an illness, the first step is to find out what it entails. A fancy scientific name might be less scary then it seems to be . . . You might want to read basic information about it. I have found it very helpful to ask my family doctor for guidelines. He has also suggested what to inquire about when trying to research a specific case.

By all means, don't limit your understanding to comments from a well-intentioned ignorant neighbor or pushy matchmaker. The Levis, taken aback, told me that while making inquiries, a physical condition was disclosed. Interrupting their harangue of apprehension, the matchmaker snapped back, irresponsibly saying that she didn't understand "what the fuss was all about." Would she say the same if the proposition was for her dear child?

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l wrote in a halachic response that negative issues, by definition, are factors that will affect marriage. So it's important to clarify what limitation the ailment imposes on that particular individual.

The Merriam Webster Thesaurus defines disease as "a condition . . . that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms." The main present concern is if it disrupts the daily schedule. In other words, how is the life style affected and limited.

For example, although Shaindy has a minor motor coordination problem, she is able to perform daily tasks satisfactorily. The only setback is that she is not a perfectionist when it comes to precise hand coordination chores like baking cookies, etc. because it might take her a little longer than others to do fine motor movements. But she does bake cookies (and they are delicious!) and she is a terrific balabusta.

Primarily, you will want to find out whether the sickness interferes with a routine of learning, work or running a household. Also, if the person is on medication and if it keeps the condition under control.

Actually, what seems to be good enough or better currently, does not give the whole known picture. Part of general inquiries should be checking if there was any past significant medical history.

In addition, ask about future prognostics. Many infirmities affect child bearing and pregnancy. Statistics and medical research can help to evaluate what could be expected. Some complications are less surprising, while others are pessimistic conjectures of all that could possibly go wrong.

Even if the candidate is healthy, heredity and genetics should also be taken into account. I am writing a future article about it.

Gathering information

The questions above are critical and need to be answered before making any coherent assessment. Beyond general knowledge, you have to find out how severe his/her case is.

To "ask around" can be harmful, for not all friends and neighbors might know about it. At the same time, sometimes known situations are spread and along the way, each person leaves out something important, adds his or her own colorful detail, and what might finally emerge is a distorted picture. So be careful that you get the facts from a trustworthy source who didn't hear it from second or third parties. Asking how the information was picked up will add to the reliability of the account.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is to verify everything you hear. For instance, Mrs. Feld cried to me that a teacher given as a reference made wrong assumptions about her daughter's health. The boy's parents believed the information and didn't even bother to check further. I realized that it was not basheret, when a few months later an elated Mrs. Feld shared the news that her daughter got engaged.

In fact, many choose not to be secretive about simple occurrences. It is preferable not to hide that Uri had surgery because he broke his arm falling from the bike or that Mindy had a simple cosmetic surgery to remove a birthmark, rather than having apprehensive acquaintances wondering what happened, perhaps even assuming that it was something much worse than it really was. Suspicions can be fertile ground for human wild imagination.

Usually, serious obvious diseases became known to neighbors, very close friends, and educators. But if possible, it's preferable to avoid the inquiring from getting back to the person asked about. It is painful enough to have an ailment, even more so to have others pry into it.

Even with all competent investigation, it is not always feasible to have a clear evaluation. For example more often than not, diseases have risks factors. The future is unknown and new developments could occur. Besides the organic, inborn aspects, external pressures like stress could also worsen sickness in an unpredictable way.

In certain situations, the other side might even agree to let you speak to the physician involved. Because of medical ethics, the professional will only be allowed to disclose the case to you if the patient gives him permission. Although it is very uncomfortable (to put it mildly) having others explore private records, if the patient is interested in the shidduch they might consider it.

Psychiatric Conditions

There are stigmas and fears associated with psychiatric disorders. By nature, mental aspects are more subjective and less is known about the function of the brain than about other organs. Therefore, more confidentiality and discretion are required. Families are so concerned about shidduchim that, regrettably, many deny their child access to professional assistance. "Many families are so obsessed by feelings of shame and concern for `what people will say' that they neglect to give this individual the treatment he requires and allow him to be literally buried in his misery. Their concern for shidduchim of their other children causes them to overlook the needs of this wonderful member of the family, and they willingly renounce their rights to government support which is sorely needed for his rehabilitation (article about mental illness Yated March, 2004)." Another consequence, mentioned by a reader is that, "The problems usually erupt after the person is 'safely' married, and the spouse must pay the penalty. The marriage may be jeopardized." There is a considerable percentage that, with medical help and medication, can lead a normal life, with no discernable difference or abnormality in their behavior. A frum doctor told me that even in our community there is a high percentage of people taking anti- depressants.

Making a decision

Remember to keep in mind not only the person suggested, with his/her problems. But further — who is the suggestion for? Perhaps the healthy party also has a pekalah!

Check if there are enough positive compatible pros. If you think there is room for a consideration, don't rush into a negative decision. Present what worries you, your legitimate reservations, to a godol who will advise you on how to proceed. I have found poskim to be knowledgeable about health issues as well. The ruling might be that the risks are too great and this particular match is unsuitable. All shidduchim investigation and decision-making processes are efforts to deal with the subject sensibly. But Hashem is the only One who has all the answers! We don't know what lies in store for us later on. Many of us carry some bad genes, and if you find someone who doesn't, what guarantee do you have that they won't, Rachmono litzlan, die young of cancer or trauma? My pediatrician used to tell over and over an ironic situation about a couple she knew. The husband drove a school bus and was such an ill man that the students' parents worried he would have a heart attack while working. My doctor even instructed her kids what to do, what number to call, in case of an emergency. Although his wife was much younger and energetic, she had a sudden unpredictable demise, while the husband's health was enhanced dramatically by new medical developments that cured his problem. He is still alive and well. The pediatrician concluded that we never know for sure what will definitely happen both to the sick and to the healthy . . .

Rabbi Brevda shlita says that nowadays we look for shortcuts, quick solutions — but there are no novelties, there is nothing more effective than "plain old" prayer as the best possible effort for good tidings!

Rebbetzin Travis has many years of experience and success in helping people through shidduchim. Please note that all names have been changed unless specified, with the exception of well-known public figures like gedolim and educators. Any comments, questions and stories can be sent to: or at (02) 656-3111


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