How Old Is He

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? 

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.