SHADCHAN (Heb. Shadkan):

Marriage-broker. The verb "shadak" ("meshaddekin"), referring to the arrangements which two heads of families made between themselves for the marriage of their children, was used in Talmudical times (Shab. 150a). But the appellation "shadchan" for the marriage-broker, who undertakes, for a consideration, to bring the two families together and to assist in the formation of a union between them, does not appear in rabbinical literature until the thirteenth century. His legal status and the validity of his claims for compensation were briefly discussed in "Or Zarua'" by Isaac of Vienna in the first half of the thirteenth century, and more extensively in the "Mordekai" (in the last section of Baba Ḳamma) about half a century later. The profession of the shadchan seems to have been old and well established at that period, and the usage of Austrian Jews, who did not reward the shadchan until after the marriage had taken place, is contrasted with that of the upper (Rhenish) countries, where he was paid as soon as the interested parties reached an agreement (Meïr of Rothenburg, Responsa, No. 498; see Berliner, "Aus dem Leben der Deutschen Juden im Mittelalter," p. 43, Berlin, 1900). The legal aspects of the shadchan's business are treated by all later codifiers of the Halakah and in numerous responsa, but there is no indication that he was known among the earlier medieval Sephardic Jews.

The occupation of the shadchan was highly respected, and great rabbis like Jacob Mölln and Jacob Margolioth did not deem it beneath their dignity to engage in it (see Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," pp. 170-171, London, 1896). His work was deemed of more importance than that of the ordinary "sarsur," or broker, and he was considered entitled to more than two per cent, or, when the contracting parties lived more than ten miles apart, to more than three per cent, of the amount involved (usually the bride's dowry), while the sarsur was entitled only to from one-half of one to one per cent (see the transcript of ordinances adopted by the Council of Four Lands, in Buber's "Anshe Shem," p. 225, Cracow, 1895; comp. also "Orient, Lit." 1845, p. 310). See Marriage Ceremonies.

The business of the shadchan still flourishes among the Jews of the Slavonic countries and among the Jews who emigrated from those countries to the United States and elsewhere. Among the old-fashioned Jews in the Old World almost all marriages are brought about with the assistance of a shadchan, because it would be considered immodest in a young man to do his own courting, and pride would notallow either family to make a direct advance to the other. Those who resort to his services in America usually give the additional reason that they are all "strangers" there, and that they are therefore constrained to utilize the knowledge and experience of an expert marriage-broker. The shadchan's method of exaggerating to each side the advantages to be derived from the union which he proposes, and of praising the bride's beauty and kindness, or the wealth and prominence of her parents, and the bridegroom's learning, ability, and other good qualities, is, with slight modifications, the same everywhere. The most characteristically American addition to his means of persuasion is probably the guaranty against a lawsuit for breach of promise of marriage, which would be likely to follow under certain circumstances if the prospective bridegroom should reject the girl who is recommended and introduced to him by the shadchan.

The shadchan and his occupation are favorite subjects for humorous description by Jewish and non-Jewish-writers. Naḥshon, in Mapu's "Ayiṭ Zabua'," is said to be drawn from life. Zangwill describes the shadchan in "Children of the Ghetto." One of I. M. Dick's drollest Yiddish stories is entitled "Der Shadchan" (Wilna, 1874), while shorter descriptions of the same nature have appeared in numerous Jewish and non-Jewish periodicals in various languages.

  • Allg. Zeit. des Jud. lxvi., No. 39;
  • Brainin, Abraham Mapu, p. 97, Piotrkow, 1900;
  • Jew. Chron. Jan. 2, 1903;
  • Ost und West, 1903, p. 479 (illustration);
  • Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ (for the Halakah on the subject).
A. P. Wi.
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