The Case – The Matchmaker

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Simon, a middle-aged man who underwent two painful divorces, decided that it was time to become an observant Jew, and he began to regularly study in yeshiva. Shortly thereafter, he expressed interest in remarrying, and was told that if he seriously chooses to pursue the matter, he is to speak with none other than his friend Reb Mendel. A match was made, and after Simon dated Miriam twice he received a phone call from Reb Mendel that the fee for his services is $5,000. Miriam as well was informed by Reb Mendel that if the match proved to be successful, the fee for his services is $2,500. The two, who were clearly interested in each other, were appalled by Reb Mendel’s exorbitant fee, and rejected his outrageous demands. Happily, the couple married and some two months after the wedding they were summonsed to Bet Din by Reb Mendel who claimed to be owed $7,500. In Bet Din, Simon and Miriam explained that they were of Sephardic origin and never imagined that there existed a fee for matchmaking. Furthermore, Simon claimed that as a good friend of Reb Mendel, it was obvious that the match was made in good will and not for monetary compensation. Reb Mendel responded that he is an experienced matchmaker and regularly collected payment for his services. His reasoning for charging Simon $5,000, as opposed to only $2,500 for Miriam, is that Simon is a high-risk client, as he is two times divorced. Reb Mendel explained that working with a high-risk client always presents difficulties, and he is entitled to compensation accordingly.  

How should the Bet Din rule – in favor of Reb Mendel or the couple and why? 

 

Torah Law 

According to the ruling of leading halachic Ashkenazi authorities, a matchmaker is entitled to monetary compensation for the service he provides. His fee is customarily collected only after the couple marries, and both the bride and groom are responsible for the expense.  Even in instances in which the matchmaker does not stipulate payment from the onset, he is nevertheless entitled to collect payment according to standard market rate. The rationale behind this ruling is that although the matchmaker did not stipulate for payment from the onset, it is unreasonable to assume that he provided his services free of charge. 

Notwithstanding, if a matchmaker or service provider does not stipulate for payment, he is only entitled to collect according to the actual time and energy he invested. Hence, although the price in the market of an elderly bride and groom may be substantially higher, if the matchmaker’s efforts were minimal, he is only entitled to a basic fee for his services.  

Every so often, matchmakers and other service providers extend their assistance to close friends and relatives not intending to collect payment. In such instances they may not lawfully thereafter petition for payment. Although a Bet Din has no way of determining the true intent of the servicer, they will nevertheless inform him of the severity of his actions.  

As opposed to common Ashkenazi practice, it is widely accepted in Sephardic communities that matchmaking is performed at no charge. Although it is deemed proper to acknowledge the favor extended by presenting a gift as a token of appreciation, no monetary compensation is required. 

Hence, unless the matchmaker stipulates payment from the onset, it is assumed that his services were provided at no charge. This ruling is applicable specifically to Sephardic matchmakers extending their assistance to Sephardic couples. If, however, an Ashkenazi matchmaker services a Sephardic couple, even if the matchmaker did not stipulate for payment, the couple may be responsible to pay. If the couple initiated their involvement with the matchmaker by reaching out for his services, then it stands to reason that the terms and customs of the matchmaker prevail, and the couple is required to make payment. If, however, it was the matchmaker who introduced himself and suggested the match, then the terms and customs of the couple would prevail. Even in instances in which the couple was unaware of the matchmaker’s customary charge, nevertheless, they are liable, since it was their responsibility to verify the norms of the market before entry. 

 

VERDICT:  The Strike of a Match-Maker  

The Bet Din awarded Reb Mendel a minimal fee of three thousand dollars for his services, a $1,500  liability for each the bride and groom. Before exacting payment, our Bet Din cross-examined Reb Mendel to confirm that he indeed made the match with the intent of collecting payment and not as a favor to his friend Simon. As discussed in Torah law, a service provider will sometimes extend assistance at no charge to friends and family, restricting him from later collecting for his services. Although according to Sephardic custom matchmaking is performed at no charge, nevertheless, since Simon reached out to Reb Mendel, he is required to pay him for his services as customary in Ashkenazi circles. Simon’s claim that he was unaware of the Ashkenazic custom of payment for matchmaking was rejected on account that it was his responsibility to verify the norms of an industry before involvement. Reb Mendel’s claim to collect $7,500 from the high-risk clients was rejected as well, since he did not stipulate for payment from the onset.  In absence of an agreed upon price, Reb Mendel is only entitled to payment according to the time and energy he invested into the couple. Since Simon and Miriam were independent of Reb Mendel’s services already from the second date, they proved not to be high-risk time-consuming clients.

 

YOU BE THE JUDGE 

A Broken Heart 

Debbie and Alex were dating for months until the big day finally came, and the two were engaged to be married.  After a joyous engagement party, the preparations for the wedding began. Debbie’s parents put a $5,000 down payment on a hall, and prepaid the florist $2,000. Other expenses included $2,000 to reserve a photographer, and $1,000 for invitations. Thereafter, the parents met to finalize the day-to-day finances of the couple, and unfortunately, the conversation resulted in a heated argument.  Alex’s parents claimed that they were told by the matchmaker that the bride’s parents were willing to contribute to the financial support of the couple for at least the first few years of marriage. Debbie’s parents responded that no such agreement was made.  For the next few days the couple’s parents tried to negotiate the matter, but to no avail. Eventually, Alex’s parents called off the engagement, and Debbie was nothing less than devastated by the news.  Debbie’s parents summoned Alex’s parents to Bet Din claiming to collect a total of $22,000. The list of expenses included a rental fee of $2,000 for the hall of the engagement party, the money spent on the wedding preparations, which amounted to at least the sum of $10,000, and $10,000 in monetary compensation for their daughter’s disgrace caused by the broken engagement.  Alex’s parents refused to pay the $22,000 claim, on the grounds that they only agreed to the engagement based on Debbie’s parent’s willingness to provide financial assistance. They added that, in any event, they should not be held fully responsible for the unfortunate turn of events, as Debbie’s parents are also responsible for the break-up. Furthermore, their son Alex was as well emotionally pained from the break-up, and although they sympathize with Debbie’s shame, their son is suffering as well.  

How should How should the Bet Din rule, and why?

 

In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H