Friday, December 11, 2009

Against Principles

"I don't like people with principles", a boy once told me.

I stopped and stared at him.

"Because they put their principles before everything else. They refuse to step out of their comfort zone, to stretch. People should come first, and that takes flexibility."

"But everyone has principles," I said, "at least, I hope they do. Like in my family, my father stressed honesty, I hope I'm carrying that on."

"That's different. That's Halachah. Think about it. There's Torah, Halachah, we should be acting according to that. Not be adding things on."

"Oh. I see." I said. But I didn't really see. It took a few months, with his words buzzing in the back of my mind, before I grasped the meaning.

Today I remembered him. Today I understood.

A Rabbi refuses to give me the name of one of his Talmidim, until he's met me.
"We can discuss it on the phone." I said. "I'll tell you everything you'd like to know."

"No, I have to meet you. That's my Shitah."

"You can speak to your friend Rabbi C., he knows me well. Or you can speak to your Talmid, Yitzchak Greenberg, I dated him for a while, he’ll remember me."

"No. This is the way I do things. I won't set up my Talmidim with girls before I've met them. On principle."

I also feel strongly about preferring to date single guys, and not middle aged married men and women. I even wrote about it. I didn't pull the "principle" card on him though. I'd just be told I'm stubborn and picky and not doing my Hishtadlus.

I gave up, said goodbye and hung up.

I've begun to notice when principles appear.

When something is wrong, it's simple. "I don't do that.", "I can't do that.", "I don't feel that's right", "Sorry, but that's breaking Halachah."

And when something is right, it's even simpler. Often there's not even a need for justification. Most good things people are happy to accept without explanation.

Principles are used for behavior that is outside what the Torah teaches us, outside what is obviously correct. Principles are used when we can’t find a better argument.


  1. That must have been very frustrating. But I know other people involved in shidduchim who also won't budge on that. They believe they get a better sense of the person by meeting in person than they can over the phone, and it allows them to connect the background info with a particular face.
    You're right that people will say something like, "that's the way I do things" when they really have no logical reason to support it. You can then quote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

  2. There's principles, and there's principles.

    It is not incorrect to connect Torah and halacha to principles, because many things in the Torah and halacha are not always upheld by Jews (sad, but true.) And some middos are held in higher esteem by some than others.

    Some are more honest and straight, some are more compassionate, some are leaders.

    But principles that were invented yesterday and may be abandoned tomorrow are not principles. That's wimsy, and usually have a loophole or two, and can be broken if a certain situation comes along.

    As Jews, we are supposed to bend and take humanity into consideration. That's supposed to be a principle as well.

    It's a horrific crime against vocabulary for what passes for "principles" nowadays.

  3. theres a difference between principles and values. Values are non-negotiable; principles are bendable. Torah is values. Principles are when you feel this is the way to do things, but in fact you have no evidence proving this is the only way to do it.