There is a famous story about R’ Baruch Ber Leibowitz. (At least I think it’s famous). It goes something like this. His daughter had dated a young man who was not pleased with her appearance. When the Shadchan (marriage broker) told this to R’ Baruch Ber he purportedly responded, ‘I understand why someone would examine an Esrog to ascertain its physical beauty. That is Halacha. But where does it say that a Shidduch has to be so beautiful?
This somewhat humorous anecdote raises the question of how important should ‘looks’ be to a potential Shidduch. On first thought, one might say that looks should not be a factor at all. It is the character that is important. ‘How God fearing are they’ should be the question.
Well, it is true that being a God fearing Jew may be the most important feature to look at when a religious Jew dates. But are looks to be totally ignored? Is the famous quote in Mishlei true: Sheker HaChen V’Helevl HYofi, Isha Yiras HaShem He Tis’Hallel – False is charm and vain is beauty – it is the woman that fears God that should be praised.
But one should not minimize physical attraction. And that’s is where beauty comes in.
Now it is true that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. What may be beautiful to one person, may not be so beautiful to another. There is a lot of subjectivity that goes into that. But in point of fact, one has to be pleased with the way one’s life partner looks. Because if they are not, the marriage will not end well. At least in my opinion.
In Charedi circles, where dating is left up to Shadchanim of one type or another (be they parents, relatives, friends, or professionals) it should not be considered wrong to ask for a picture of the proposed Shiddach before agreeing to date. Because nothing will put a damper on a date than a surprise of the negative sort. If your first impression is one of recoiling from the look of your date, need I say how that date will end? …if it begins at all?
Rabbi Yair Hoffman has written a thoughtful article on the subject in the 5 Towns Jewish Times. Therein he discusses the Halachic literature on whether a man can even look at a picture of a woman. Most non Chasidic Poskim do not consider Assur to do so. But there seems to be a preponderance of opinion among many of them that it is nevertheless improper to do so in cases of Shiduchim.
One of the reasons given is that pictures can be misleading where an overly flattering image may raise expectations much higher than reality calls for. So the reverse of what I said above can happen. Instead of being shocked at how unappealing a potential date might be upon first sight, disappointment at the reality may unfairly be off-putting. Whereas no picture and therefore no expectations might receive a more favorable reaction.
So which is the lesser of 2 evils? In my view one should know what a potential date looks like. And seeing a picture of them helps. But at the same time one should realize that the picture they were given may not actually be a realistic one and be prepared to see an entirely different look. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse. But at least ballpark. So that a picture that is grossly out of tune with what one is looking for will be a non starter for them. And yet may well be in the wheelhouse for somebody else. Eye of the beholder.
I don’t think it is a secret that many a young man will look at a high school yearbook picture before dating a young woman he has been set up with. There is nothing wrong with that. I admit I did that before I started dating my wife.
But when parents start doing that as in the anecdote cited by Rabbi Hoffman, it is an entirely different ballgame. Because no matter what they think they know about what their son or daughter is looking for, there is not a question in my mind that their own biases come into play. Which raises the question about just how much a parent should be involved in the decision making process for a potential date. Like asking totally irrelevant –and even irrational questions. Questions like what kind of tablecloths the family uses on Shabbos.
I know that parents want the best for their children. Their intentions are good, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is to butt out of his Shidduch decisions. Or better – not be overbearing about them and allow them the freedom to make their own decisions after some advice. When parents start asking for pictures, their sense of censorship about who is good enough for their child may be more of an impediment than anything else. And can cause many a good Shidduch to never even get a chance.
This is not to say that parents shouldn’t have any input at all. They should. Responsible parents are obligated to help guide their children. But they are not obligated to make their decisions for them. And shouldn’t. So if a child asks you what you know about a potential date, you should give them honest and complete answers. That’s it. No editorializing. The decision should be left to your child.
Just my quick 2 cents.