Yuval Cherlow

The ethics of information-sharing in Jewish relationships

True love demands that we give of ourselves and treat the other party just as we ourselves would want to be treated (Tu B'Av)
'A Jewish Wedding,' by Daniel Moritz Oppenheim, 1861. (public domain)
'A Jewish Wedding,' by Daniel Moritz Oppenheim, 1861. (public domain)

On Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love, we are reminded that few practical and emotional journeys in life are as complex as the journey of man and woman falling in love and getting married. It is one of discovery and deeply personal. It unveils layers of identity, intimacy, and how we express ourselves, as well as building trust and acceptance, alongside countless other conceptual and spiritual elements. At times, the process requires mutual acceptance, while other times, only party might be required to adapt.

But the very nature of relationships is that every action — or inaction — taken by one spouse will likely have some impact on the other.

It is therefore important that as individuals of any age embark on the process of finding a partner for life, they also approach relationship-building from a perspective that might be overlooked: the ethical angle.

Even before a relationship begins, one of the most important ethical questions that presents itself is that of information-sharing. This relates to the partners themselves, who may have concerns about being too up front with particularly sensitive issues, but also in the case of “third-party” matchmakers, who may withhold information that has the potentially to impact negatively the success of a proposed match.

The basic ethical approach to this issue is that full transparency is a critical aspect of any solid foundation. While an individual with a particular issue might legitimately refrain from sharing personal details at the very early stages of the process, any successful relationship soon enough becomes dependent upon honesty and forthrightness. Failing to act in such a manner is in no one’s interest, and recognizing this importance is essential for the development of a relationship. That said, every matchmaker, as well as every husband and wife, knows that falling in love is typically a process, and sharing details with the ones we love can be allowed to be a part of that process — and one which increases over time.

Yet with that understanding, ethical practice would prohibit hiding any information from a spouse that could impact on their lives together. Moreover, the best relationships are surely based upon full openness and trust. There are two main reasons why this is true.

  1. The first, as noted, is that relationships are predicated upon honesty.  If the truths that are being hidden are serious, then the strength of the relationship is not something to be counted upon, and it would be advisable to avoid proceeding with such a partnership.
  2. The second is the reality that the truth will likely be revealed at some point down the road and will likely be a source of immeasurable pain for the spouse who has been left in the dark. That gives a legitimate reason to question what else might be being hidden from him or her.

Best ethical practice mandates that as soon as any relationship reaches a point where the parties feel hopeful and confident that it will be long lasting, a conversation is to be had to discuss any such issues and challenges. This is to ensure that the bond can be based on honesty and openness without concern that harmful “secrets” could be revealed at a later stage.

As many relationships, particularly in more religious circles, are initiated by matchmakers, the ethical responsibility falls upon that third party to ensure transparency.  Here, the matchmaker has a line to toe, between making certain that the information shared is relevant to the success — or failure — of the proposed relationship, and not just gossip.  For that reason, information can only be shared if it can be determined that sharing it will be for the good of the relationship and no other purpose.  Relevant details should not be hidden, but obviously should not be exaggerated.

Of course, not all relationships will succeed, which demands partners in failed relationships to similarly act with discretion with any sensitive information that they may have learned.  As described above, if such information could protect others who might enter into a future relationship with the relevant party, then it could be shared with ultimate discretion, but it cannot and should not be discussed beyond such circles.

All these principles remind us that the essence of relationships, particularly those that result in marriage, are predicated upon the commandment of ve-ahavata le-re’acha kamocha — people should love the other like they love themselves. This means that true love demands that we give of ourselves and expect the other half of the relationship to be treated in the way that we would want to be treated.

If we choose to act in such an ethical manner, our marriages will flourish and will result in life-lasting partnerships that will benefit us, our children, and lead to blessed families and the relationship between ourselves and our spouse.

About the Author
Rabbi Yuval Cherlow is the Director of the Tzohar Center for Jewish Ethics and a Founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization in Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts