| Words Unspoken |

Dear Student

“You’re absolutely obligated to call the mother back and tell her your impression,” he informed me

 

Dear Student,

I just ruined a shidduch for you.

A couple of days ago an old neighbor of mine called to ask me about you. You’d been redt to her son, she knew I teach in the seminary you attended, and she was hoping I could give her information.

Caught off guard, I basically pretended I didn’t know you. “I only taught her once a week, a few years back, and my class is not very interactive,” I excused myself. “Seminary classes are huge, and I don’t get to know most of the girls. I remember her name, and maybe her face, but that’s about it. I can’t tell you anything more.”

The boy’s mother said she understood, and that was the end of the conversation.

Upon hanging up, I felt torn. I hadn’t really told this mother the truth. It’s true that I hardly remember most of my students — I’m a once-a-week teacher, after all, not a mechaneches — but you, I remembered well, because you were disruptive and difficult in class. I rarely have discipline issues, so you stood out in my memory.

But I care about you. I want you to get married. I know you have a good heart, even if your behavior wasn’t stellar. How could I say something, even give a hint that I wasn’t impressed with your behavior, when that would likely spell the end of this shidduch?

Not knowing what to do, I figured I’d say nothing. After all, I wasn’t hiding any objective information. Maybe it was just a dynamic between you and me? Why say something that could cause trouble?

I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing, though, so I decided to call a posek who specializes in shemiras halashon.

“You’re absolutely obligated to call the mother back and tell her your impression,” he informed me. “You shouldn’t give specific details, but if she knows you and trusts you, then you have to tell the truth as you see it. You might be ruining the shidduch, but by doing so you’re protecting the boy. A girl who is disrespectful in class, at the age of 18 or 19, is likely to have trouble in other relationships as well.”

I tried to challenge the verdict. “But it’s just my impression, and I hardly taught her!”

“This is exactly the type of information that’s important in a shidduch,” he replied. “If you know this about her, and someone you know is asking about her, you can’t keep it to yourself.

“But tell the mother,” he added, “that she should make further inquiries, because this is just your impression and the full picture might be different. Maybe she changed a lot in the years since seminary — who knows?”

With a heavy heart, I called back the mother and told her about my conversation with the rav. She was very grateful, and when I urged her to make further inquiries, she agreed to make one more phone call.

I haven’t followed up, but I have little doubt that this shidduch is not going to get off the ground. And I feel really bad about that, because you’re not getting any younger, and I’d love to see you, and all of my students, happily married.

All I can say is, I’m glad that we have hilchos shemiras halashon and rabbanim. Otherwise, whose life would I have put first: yours or the boy whose mother was turning to me for information? Thankfully, we have a Torah that makes it very clear. Painfully clear.

You probably never thought that I, of all people, would be asked to give information about you. And it’s funny, I’ve never been asked for information about any other girl in your seminary class. But by being disruptive in class, you destroyed a potential shidduch.

Because, as I learned from the rav, behavior matters.

I know there’s a shidduch out there for you somewhere, and I’m davening that you should find him soon — once you’ve done the inner work that will help you have the happy marriage you and I both want for you.

Sincerely,

Your Former Teacher Who Cares

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 699)

 

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  1. Avatar
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    Rabbi Label Sharfman

    I was saddened to read this “Words Unspoken” written by a seminary teacher who shared negative information about one of her students when called about her for a shidduch. I commend the author for doing everything right. She first avoided answering the question and then, when in doubt, consulted her rav.
    The only problem is that no teacher of seminary students qualifies as a reference for shidduchim unless the teacher has stayed in touch with her student after she left seminary. Seminary (and yeshivah) students, especially in Eretz Yisrael, experience a time of introspection and growth. These young adults are exposed to wonderful role models who open their students’ minds to the wonderful opportunity of a life of joy, purpose, and fulfillment. They have the once-in-a-lifetime experience to explore their many questions, receive convincing answers, and have the time to struggle with inculcating the pure derech haTorah into their lives.
    As teachers, Hashem has given us the privilege to plant seeds into the next generation. Some seeds take root immediately, but some take time to germinate. A student at the tender age of 18 is really just beginning adulthood. What she was like at that age in many instances is very different than what she will be at 20 and beyond. How can we testify as to the character of our students who we have not seen in months and years?
    Mechanchim and mechanchos must realize and appreciate that six months after a student has left school, the educator is no longer qualified to testify as to the character of the student. I don’t presume that my shoulders are wide enough to offer a definitive psak. I am merely echoing the discussions that I have had with recognized poskim.
    The burden of responsibility is not only on the educators. It is also on the parents investigating a possible shidduch for their child. Someone who knew a young adult as they were going through their formative years does not qualify as a reliable source of information and should not be consulted unless the relationship continued after seminary.
    May we be zocheh to continue to educate these young adults and may they all blossom into upstanding members of Klal Yisrael with proper middos and yiras Shamayim.


    1. Avatar
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      Name Withheld

      As a teacher who gets shidduch calls, I’ve been following with interest the back and forth about the seminary teacher who gave negative information about a student.

      Full disclosure: I’m the mother who called the teacher.

      We had some questions based on the girl’s factual history. Knowing that this teacher would want to help us within the bounds of halachah, I called. I know her well enough, and she knows our family well enough, to know that she would not discourage a shidduch with a “troublemaker.” A lively girl with a sense of humor can easily be a maileh in a shidduch. But a girl who is still trying to undermine a teacher while in seminary is displaying character traits that can wreak havoc in a marriage.

      I beg to differ with those who feel that seminary teachers should not be asked for shidduch information more than six months after seminary. If not them, then who? An immersive year in seminary, while not the sum total of a girl, does give a fairly good snapshot of a girl’s middos.

      As both a high school and seminary teacher, I find a very big difference between the two groups. The girls are in seminary because they want to be there. They are also very aware that they are on the cusp of shidduchim. Consistently displaying a serious flaw in middos at that point is telling. No, it is not conclusive — girls continue to mature and develop, hopefully throughout their lives — but basic middos tend to remain.

      Some suggested only asking information from a teacher who’s kept up with her student. But such a teacher will most likely be her student’s advocate and will not reveal information, even if it could be crucial, if she feels that it might derail the shidduch. Friends of the meduberes, as well as most other references, say whatever they think will get the shidduch rolling. They relate whatever qualities they would like others to say about them.

      From all the horror-stricken letter writers, it would seem that there really is no point in asking for information altogether. Simply assume that everyone is wonderful. Halevai that it would be that simple. I wish there were another way to configure our shidduch process. It is so fraught with confusion, pain and anxiety. I am sure that I speak for many mothers when I say that if there were another system that doesn’t require asking about people, yet preserves the tzniyus of our children, I’d be the first to jump on the bandwagon. I don’t want to know anyone’s flaws, but I have a responsibility to do my hishtadlus to try to protect my children.

      I, for one, was very appreciative and extremely impressed by the way the teacher handled the situation. It was a picture-perfect illustration of the halachos of toelles that we all could learn from. There is a time to refrain from speaking and a time to speak. It is not our feelings that determine which it is. It is halachah, as paskened by rabbanim.

      May all find their zivug hogun, bekarov!


  2. Avatar
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    Dear Former Teacher Who Cares,
    I was saddened to read your letter to your former student about how you likely ruined a shidduch for her by relaying negative information about her to a caller. I read the responses criticizing your actions and would like to add another angle.
    I truly believe that shidduchim are min haShamayim and that your student’s basherte shvigger will hear what is right for her when the time comes. It’s not her that I’m sad for — but you, her teacher. I am saddened that after teaching your student for a whole year, the only thing you can find to say about her is negative. I feel bad for you that you couldn’t see past your student’s immaturity to the person that she really is.
    Being a student is not easy. It’s pretty difficult for someone with a lot of personality to sit still for eight hours straight. I would know. I was one of those students who acted out and disturbed terribly in class.
    One of my teachers taught us once a week for parshah. Let me tell you, she definitely got a large dose of my antics. When her mechuteneste — now my shvigger — asked her for information about me, do you know what she said? “What a friendly and outgoing girl! Your son will never be bored a day in his life.” I am still astounded at her ayin tovah — and eternally grateful for it.
    As a teacher, your job isn’t just to get up in front of the classroom and deliver outstanding lessons. You also have a responsibility to your students to see each girl in front of you as a person and a tzelem Elokim. If you truly look for the good in your students, then their negative behaviors will not be what stands out in your mind when you think back.


  3. Avatar
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    Caren V. May

    This letter left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. As the teacher recounts, “I only taught her once a week… a few years back… classes are huge and not very interactive,” yet the teacher recalls this young lady since she was disruptive and difficult. Her dilemma was what to tell her friend when it comes to a shidduch reference. Interestingly, later in the article the teacher says, “I’ve never been asked for information about any other girl in your seminary class,” leaving the reader to wonder if she’s ever been the go-to mechaneches for references.
    As a teacher of teenagers myself, I’ve had disruptive, non- cooperative students at times. But if I were called for shidduch info, I’d bow out and refer the caller to a teacher who is more intimately involved with that student. It’s been quite a few years since the teacher had interacted with this young lady. I’d recommend she call, connect, and see how she’s doing.
    Calling a posek is a plus for guidance, yet in this case it seems that a specific dynamic and friction were at play. So my question is: Are you the teacher who really cares?!? I have my doubts.


    1. Avatar
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      Name Withheld

      I was taken aback your suggestion that the teacher bow out and refer the caller to another teacher. Really? The teacher made it clear that she’d asked daas Torah and been advised to speak up. I think it’s pretty clear that the teacher’s concerns about the student were a bit more significant than occasionally whispering to a friend in class.
      If you have serious concerns about a shidduch, or about a person’s marriageability, it is incumbent upon you to ask a sh’eilah to find out if you are required to say something. I know firsthand the damage that can be wrought when people who should speak up stay silent.
      My oldest daughter got engaged to a top boy shortly after finishing seminary — a serious learner with a vibrant personality from a top yeshivah. We were on a high all throughout her engagement.
      The crash came during sheva brachos. My husband overheard our new son-in-law complaining to a cousin about the support we were giving him. It stung. We were supporting the new couple generously, and besides — badmouthing the shver during sheva brachos? We didn’t say anything, trying to shrug it off and attribute it to nerves and fatigue. But then my teenaged daughter told me she’d heard him snap at my daughter as they walked into the last sheva brachos, fashionably late as befits a chassan and kallah, blaming her for their lateness and calling her lazy. We were stunned.
      Things just got worse, and quickly. Our son-in-law put up the thinnest of facades when he was around us, but his disdain for our daughter was apparent. When we tried to talk to her, she just shut down, pretending that everything was fine. When her kallah teacher called, at our request, she did the same. Our beautiful, charismatic, popular daughter was fading — and fading from our lives. The couple stopped coming for Shabbos, and my daughter rarely answered our calls.
      We made a few more calls, and what we learned shocked us. The chassan’s father — a respected community figure — was known for his temper; his wife had long been cowed into submission. More than one person used the term “personality disorder.” We were beside ourselves. But the real kicker came a couple of weeks later, when my husband met our son-in-law’s rebbi at a wedding. He approached him, hoping for some insight, advice, something. The rebbi looked my husband in the eye, a pained look on his face, and sighed. “You don’t have to tell me anything,” he said. “I was his rebbi for three years. I already know.”
      My husband — the gentlest, kindest person I know — turned and ran out of the hall. He was afraid that if he stayed any longer, he’d have beaten the rebbi. He came home and cried. “He was at our vort!” he sobbed. “He shook my hand and told me mazel tov! And now he tells me he already knows?!”
      It’s been six years now since I last spoke to my daughter. She has four children whom I’ve never met. A kind neighbor keeps me updated on her life, although details are scanty — my daughter has slowly ended all of her friendships, never socializes with the women on her block, doesn’t go to simchahs. Our pain is indescribable— and compounded by the knowledge that there were many people who could have spoken up, but didn’t.
      I know that it feels cruel to “ruin a shidduch” by speaking up and relaying negative information (when halachically indicated). But trust me, it’s much more cruel to ruin a life.


  4. Avatar
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    Mindel Kassorla

    I was especially moved by this Words Unspoken, because as a fellow seminary teacher, I have found myself in similar predicaments. I commend the author on consulting a rav, because when we try making these decisions on our own, we are often unable to see the larger picture, from a wiser point of view. It’s so painfully difficult to accept that sometimes the answer we get is not one that can be revealed to the subject of the sh’eilah, but just because it’s uncomfortable, that doesn’t make it wrong.
    Hopefully, the “subject” can understand that in reality, no teacher can ruin your shidduch; ultimately, it will come from Hashem at the right time.
    I would however like to suggest an additional point. I have experience as an eim bayit, an academic counselor, and a therapy-referral consultant. Most of the time, the picture I see of a student varies drastically from her classroom behavior (for better and for worse).
    In my work as a shadchan, I know that the expectation that this mother will expend additional effort to call other references is too high. Parents who get one negative report will usually look no further.
    If this teacher really cares as much as she says, it would be very wise and considerate for her to do some of the legwork first. Call other teachers, verify if this was usual behavior or not, and perhaps find a teacher who knows her in a different context who can provide a wider perspective.