SHADKHAN (Heb. שַׁדְּכָן), marriage broker or matchmaker. In return for a financial consideration, the shadkhan arranges and assists a union between two people, taking into consideration not only the compatibility of the couple but also the suitability of their families. Although the Bible does not describe in detail how marriages were arranged, Genesis 24:1–67 tells how Abraham's servant chose a wife, Rebekah, for Isaac. The story implies that the servant had the authority to use his discretion in making the choice. However, Isaac's son, Jacob, chose his own wife. During the talmudic period marriages were arranged by the heads of the two families, with no broker involved (Shab. 150a). Sometimes, however, marriages were arranged by the couples themselves (Kid. 13a). Arranged marriages were considered so essential that "Rav punished any man… who betrothed a woman without previous shiddukhin" since he regarded this as licentious behavior (Kid. 12b).
The term shadkhan in its present meaning first appears in rabbinic literature in the 13th century. *Mordecai (b. Hillel) discusses whether the broker should receive his fee even if the marriage does not take place (bk 172). In Austria the shadkhan was not paid until after the marriage had taken place, while in the Rhenish countries he was paid as soon as the parties reached an understanding (Responsa Meir of Rothenburg, ed. Prague no. 498; A. Berliner, Aus dem Leben der deutschen Juden im Mittelalter (1900, 43)).
The shadkhan was entitled to a higher fee than that awarded to the business sarsur or broker. The latter was only given one-half to one per cent of the business transactions he negotiated while the shadkhan received two per cent of the dowry involved. When the contracting parties lived more than ten miles apart, the marriage broker received three per cent of the dowry for his efforts (S. Buber, Anshei Shem, 1 (1895), 25).
The matchmaking profession was originally highly esteemed, and famous rabbis such as Jacob *Moellin and Jacob *Margolioth earned their livelihoods from this occupation. A 17th-century writer cautioned matchmakers, "When you are arranging a marriage between two parties, never exaggerate, and always tell the truth." He added that "in earlier times, none but scholars were shadkhanim" (idem, in: jqr, 3 (1891), 480). Rabbis and scholars were the natural go-betweens in the Middle Ages when fathers were anxious to obtain learned and pious sons-in-law.
In time, the traditional integrity of the marriage broker began to decline. A principal reason was the fact that men with unstable backgrounds and occupations were tempted into the profession's uncertain undertakings. The peculiar persuasive and social talents required for this profession stimulated the development of a unique type of personality. Generally, the shadkhan could be relied upon to be a perpetual chatterbox, lively, good-natured, and even impudent. Amid the raillery and guilelessness, however, an element of maliciousness could be detected. A classic type in Jewish folklore and fiction, the shadkhan is portrayed in all the bright plumage of his loquaciousness. His genius for euphemistically glossing over the physical and character defects of his clients is legend.
I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), 186f.; P. and H. Goodman, The Jewish Marriage Anthology (1965), 103–5.
"Shadkhan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shadkhan
"Shadkhan." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved April 15, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shadkhan