The Shidduch fraud
The Shidduch fraud

Why is it that in these somewhat advanced and contemporary times we  allow the idea of seeking matrimonial matches for our children — shidduchim — to be equated with pleas for recovery from an illness, improved health, and the ability to earn an income?

Everything in our lives emanates, in one form or another, from the One Above. At the same time, as created beings, we have been invested with something extraordinarily unique — the ability to make free and independent decisions — as a gift from G-d. According to our sages, it is the will of Hashem that we use our Divine wisdom to channel our energies in good, right, and productive directions.

The odd thing about shidduchim is that in this generation — let us say over the last two decades — the effort to marry off our children has become a dreaded facet of life that has been comfortably couched in the term “crisis.” And those who have emerged as leaders of our worldwide Torah communities seem relatively at peace with the idea that a shidduch crisis is plaguing our community.

Ask a frum person today and you will be told that the three central preoccupations in most families are health, the ability to make a living, and shidduchim. I will step out on a limb here and say that, these days, after maintaining one’s health, making matches for the children might be in the second position, with parnassah taking the No. 3 spot, but the placement of these priorities is fungible.

The point is that over the past few years, shidduchim have become the Achilles heel of the Orthodox or Yeshiva-oriented community. While this new reality is currently plaguing families worldwide, there are also those out there who are exploiting the situation. And that is an extremely sad state that needs to be brought to the attention of our readers.

I became personally acquainted with this type of exploitation about three years ago. The details are not important other than to say that one of my children was “in the parashah,” another way of saying that someone is seeking a proper and suitable shidduch. One day, a young man with a bushy black beard walked into my office and asked me if any of my kids were looking for shidduchim. He said his name was Yechiel Pearlstein and that he resided in Israel. He caught me slightly off guard but I was intrigued and asked him to explain.

Now, it is important, by way of background, that you understand that many people in the course of the year walk into our office building, and they seem to do fairly well, as the building features three floors of businesspeople, along with an assortment of attorneys, accountants, and other professionals, many who are somewhat generous in their philanthropic activities.

So this man walks in; he speaks broken English but is otherwise comfortable with a combination of Hebrew and some Yiddish. He says that he manages a group that prays for people whose children need shidduchim at the kever of an obscure Tanna mentioned just four times in all of the Talmud. The Tanna is known as R’ Kruspedai.

He said to me at the time that he had a proven track record; he would daven for my child over the next few months and, if past experience was an indicator, he was quite confident of his success. Unlike the scores of others who scoot in and out of my office annually and are satisfied with $50 to $360, let’s say, Yechiel said that he needed a $500 payment good for that day and that I could write him a check for an additional $2,000 and date it three months up the road for late April. By that time, he said, I can be assured that my child would be engaged or perhaps even married.

The Vaad HaTzedakah of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway asked me to identify Mr. Pearlstein, as he has been reported to be effectively preying on the vulnerability of people, with a special emphasis on those with children in shidduchim. I am acquainted with two families that have given Pearlstein over $12,000 over the last few weeks, ostensibly so that he can sponsor weddings for poor families in Israel. The people involved, who are now aware that this is a fraud, were given specific dates when the weddings they were allegedly sponsoring were going to take place.

Additionally, over the last two days, I have been in contact with two families in Brooklyn that met with Mr. Pearlstein just prior to yom tov and who have children in need of shidduchim. He asked for a fee of $3,200 from each. In one case, he called the family on Monday night after yom tov, and they have now told him that they are no longer interested in whatever he is claiming to be able to perform.

Further, on Tuesday, I spoke with a man in Lakewood, N.J., who had a similar experience to mine with a slight adjustment in the numbers. This person gave Pearlstein a check for $1,800 for immediate use and a check dated three months later for an additional $3,000. The $3,000, this person informs me, was deposited just a few days after their meeting. When the Lakewood resident phoned Pearlstein, he said that there was an error and that he would return the money. This episode transpired about 18 months ago, and the money has still not been returned.

In my case, I had a phone number for Yechiel Pearlstein both here and in Israel, and for a while he actually answered the phone. When I confronted him over the phone with the fact that the check was cashed two months before the date, he told me also that it was a mistake and that I could come to meet him in Boro Park where he would give me the $2,500. Shortly thereafter, both numbers were disconnected and I had not spoken with him for two years, until these events began to unfold last week.

One of the newer victims gave me a phone number that he had for Pearlstein and I called him. I identified myself and told him that he owed me $2,500 but that I could not reach him for almost two years. He was cool about the whole thing and said that he would give me the money right after yom tov. After consulting with local rabbinical authorities here in the Five Towns and with Rabbi Avraham Liss of the Vaad HaTzedakah, we concluded that it is more important to inform the public about this financial predator than to pursue anything else at this point.

Rabbi Liss first became aware of Pearlstein’s escapades when still another victim of his came forward and said that he had given Pearlstein $4,000. He added that there is a national database that lists comments about these collectors and the reports that they accumulate from other communities. The database shows that Mr. Pearlstein has been “red-flagged,” as Rabbi Liss describes it, in both Chicago and Lakewood.

R’ Kruspedai was a talmid of the famed scholar R’ Yochanan and is buried in Ein Zeitim, near Amuka. It is just his misfortune that he is buried near the city to which people flock to pray for shidduchim throughout the year. It apparently took a combination of deviancy and general crookedness to hijack the memory of a Torah scholar who merited to be a contributor to the Oral Torah, and instead perpetrate thievery with the use of his name.

At this point, it is impossible to know how many people have been victimized. Some people gave him the money he asked for and their children got married within that certain timeframe. Statistically, that is bound to happen. It is like someone asking you for $5,000 and in exchange he guarantees that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We can all be fairly certain that this is a good bet, so to speak.

As for Mr. Pearlstein’s future, well, let’s see what happens after this article hits and is circulated. It is just a shame that people have to resort to this type of activity and lose this kind of money because our communal shidduch system is mostly broken. A shadchan who resides in Crown Heights and who has already made over 40 successful shidduchim told me the other day that in her community there are more than 300 single girls over the age of 27.

People are unfortunately desperate. That is precisely when people like Mr. Pearlstein swoop in for the kill. If there are more victims out there, please let us know. Things should not have to come to this for people with children of marriageable age. You want to lead? You want to do something great? Let’s fix this.