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The Jewish Ethicist: How Old Is S/HE

The Jewish Ethicist: How Old Is S/HE

Is it ethical to lie about someone's age for the purpose of dating?


Q. A single friend of mine who is 48 or 49 would like to marry a woman in her 30's, so he pretends to be 40. He has asked me to confirm that he is 40 if I am asked. Is what my friend doing alright? Should I play along? SW

A. This is a common question. Marriage and integrity are both paramount values in Judaism, and so our tradition has detailed criteria for combining the two in guidelines for "disclosure in dating."

There are two basic rules of integrity in selling merchandise:

1. A common deficiency which many people don't mind doesn't need to be disclosed, but it may not be deceitfully hidden.

2. A true defect must be honestly disclosed to the purchaser even if he doesn't ask.

The same basic principle applies in dating. A man in an academic milieu doesn't have to tell prospective dates that he has only a tenth-grade education, though he shouldn't go around wearing a college ring. But a person deserves to know if a prospective mate has a serious heart condition.

However, there are two reasons we make a slight modification to account for the special situation of dating:

  1. Experience shows that many single people are concerned about relatively insignificant things which they consider irrelevant after closer acquaintance. Example: some men avoid dating women older than themselves, but once they create a warm relationship, a small age difference is the last thing on their minds.

  2. Since a person doesn't finally make up his or her mind until the engagement, it's sometimes better to keep surprises under wraps for a few dates so that they don't become an obstacle to getting acquainted with each other.

So your friend is allowed to keep the ladies guessing about his age, and if one calls you up before a first or second date to ask his age, it may be better to dodge the question. Example: "I never really pay attention to ages." Maybe after she gets to know him she won't mind his age – after all, chances are she's not getting any younger herself.

But if your friend keeps his secret even after things get serious, you should re-evaluate the situation. If you suspect that the true age difference may really be worrisome to his sweetheart, you should consider calling her up and informing her that your friend is a wonderful and caring person, but that he is a little bit past forty. (Tell her 1953 was a vintage year.)

A person may never outright lie about the characteristics of a potential match, such as age. Your friend may not say that he is forty, and if he does you may not back him up.

I wish your friend the best of luck in finding his "beshert" (destined wife) in the near future!

SOURCE: These criteria are based on the book "HaNisuin Kehilkhatam," by Rabbi Binyamin Adler, chapter 3.

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The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of and the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

June 30, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) , July 8, 2001 12:00 AM

For the most part, I do agree. One mustn't lie to people, especially someone who may become one's spouse. However, I think that this applies right from the beginning. I myself feel that if a man lies to me about his age, he might lie about other things. One of the most important qualities for which I'm looking in a man is honesty. And as for fudging, that's just not fair. If age is something that I want to know, then I have a right to know it, and truthfully.

Just as an aside, why does a 48 or 49-year-old man want to limit himself to a woman in her 30's? And how would he like it if a woman lied and claimed to be in her 30's when she's really closer to his age group?

(2) jackie, July 1, 2001 12:00 AM

Lying is lying is lying

I believe a person should be upfront. If he knows that the girl (or guy)is looking for a certain age I believe that lying by omission or commission is wrong. It is not for us to judge whether the person is being superficial in their demands. That is what they want...finished. I knew someone who had only graduated from eight grade yeshiva and went to public school after that. He kept telling shadchanim he was a yeshiva graduate. After all he did graduate...eighth grade. It would give them a chance to get to know him he said. Of course between the fathers of the girls and the girls themselves, when they asked questions about learning it was obvious that he was woefully deficient. The dates were disasters.

Personally, if I found out that someone lied about age or "evaded" telling me about it, the relationship was over. Didn't matter if I liked him, I didn't want to be with someone who lied to me. Who knows what else he thought I didn't need to know. Lying is lying is lying. I wouldn't take a chance. I'm married and one of the things that drew me to my husband in the end (I thought he wasn't my type) was that I could tell that he NEVER lied to me. He still doesn't. That is most important. If the guy stays truthful, he will end up with the right girl. He doesn't need a girl he has to deceive. If he wants a younger woman, to have children, I can sympatize but that may simply not be possible for him anymore. Or if it is, she will have to want him as he is. Lying will not help.

(1) Anonymous, July 1, 2001 12:00 AM

Sorry, I disagree

I usually enjoy your columns, but being in the shidduch scene for several years (and still counting)I really have to disagree with this one. This idea of evading the truth because maybe some singles are more concered about age than they should be is a backward concept. If that is the reason for this practice, then gently convincing the single person that age may not be an issue is the approach to take. If they don't listen, that's her/his problem. If s/he is old enough to get married s/he's old enough to make decisions. Once you start allowing people to fudge about age it turns into lying about age and then lying about other attributes. I've experienced it all too often. And when it comes to myself, I will not allow a shaddchun to lie about my age even when one person tried hard to convince me I should.

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