When choosing a partner for marriage – can one break off an engagement due to financial considerations?

: The Shulchan Aruch emphasizes the importance of ensuring to choose as a wife a woman who is “Haguna” (“proper”). This means that one must choose a wife who acts in a proper, dignified manner and not immodestly. One should also ensure that she comes from a family without any disqualifications. For example, one must see to it that there is no issue of “Mamzerut” in the family (a person born from an illicit relationship). And if one is a Kohen, he must be certain that the family is free from “Chalalut” (marriages forbidden for Kohanim, such as a divorcee).

The Shulchan Aruch warns that if a person marries a woman from a family with a Pesul (“deficiency” in their lineage, that renders the woman disqualified for marriage), then “Eliyahu records it, Hashem seals it and declares, ‘Woe unto him who disqualifies his offspring and puts a stain on his family.” In the future, the Shulchan Aruch adds, “Eliyahu binds him and Hashem flogs him.”

The Gemara similarly comments that if a person marries an unsuitable woman because of her beauty, or for her wealth, then he will beget children who act improperly, and he will not even be able to keep the money he had hoped to obtain through this improper marriage. This applies only if a person marries a woman who is not “Haguna” for these reasons. But if a person marries a proper woman for her appearance or for money, there is no transgression involved. Even if he would not have married her otherwise, this is considered a valid and appropriate marriage, since she is, after all, a proper, upstanding woman.

The Aruch Ha’shulchan (Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein of Nevarduk a”h) adds that to the contrary, a capable Torah student who aspires to be a Talmid Chacham, should try to marry a woman whose family can support him so he can devote his time to Torah learning. Indeed, the Aruch Ha’shulchan observes that it is customary for wealthy parents to choose a budding Torah scholar to marry their daughter and support him for several years to allow him to learn full-time free from the responsibility of supporting a family.

The Aruch Ha’shulchan states however, that if a girl’s parents promised the chatan (groom) a certain amount of support – and then, for whatever reason, they are unable to fulfill this commitment, it is improper for the chatan to break the engagement or demand the money that was promised. Even though the match was made on the assumption that the chatan would receive a certain amount of money, it is inappropriate for him to argue with the family, especially if, for example, their business or investments did not succeed and they cannot fulfill their commitment.

The Aruch Ha’shulchan also states that money obtained through this sort of quarreling and manipulation will not bring berachah or success, and this is not considered “kosher money.” The chatan should rather accept the situation, and in the merit of his avoiding conflict, the marriage will succeed and Hashem will provide him with a livelihood. The Aruch Ha’shulchan goes so far as to say that if a chatan persists in his demands, then he is considered likened to someone who marries an unsuitable woman for money.

Clearly, however, it is strictly forbidden for a girl’s parents to dishonestly make promises to a prospective match that they do not intend to keep. The Aruch Ha’shulchan decries the practice of those who, eager to find a good match for their daughter, offer large sums of money to a desirable young man, with the intention of then reneging on their promise after the engagement is announced. As great a Mitzvah as it is to marry off a daughter, it does not justify dishonesty. But from the chatan’s perspective, even if he was promised support, and the girl’s parents then inform him that they are unable to provide what they had promised, he should not break the engagement or create a conflict over money.