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This question as inspired by the comments to my answer here. (See also my answer here.)

Is is proper, in the context of this site, to use Christian or other non-Jewish sources (for example, secular Biblical scholars) in answering questions, particularly exegetical questions?

On the one hand, this is a site about Jewish learning and tradition, and questions about the understanding of some text are essentially questions about how Jewish tradition understands said text. Using Christian (or other non-Jewish) sources would then not be a valid answer.

On the other hand, many Jewish scholars throughout the ages (notably Isaac Abarbanel) have used Christian sources (and of course vice versa) to help understand and consider certain approaches to the text at hand. It may not give you the traditional Jewish approach to the text, but it may very well be the correct approach. In search for the truth, one must accept all sources.

So, what is the appropriate approach for this site?

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We have had examples of people suggesting their own answers to questions, particularly those related to Biblical exegesis. The answers stand on their own merit and people can take them for what they're worth. (Regarding the authority to suggest new answers, see this; as examples of answers suggested on one's own merit, see this this this and others.)

So, if the cited source for an exegetical matter is not Jewish, it can still be as useful as any of our own suggested answers (assuming it is consistent with a "Jewish read").

If the source is being cited for historical, scientific, or other objective matters that may come up in an answer, then it is certainly ok to mention it.

  • This is my opinion. Upvote if you agree. Downvote if you don't, and then post another answers please. – Double AA Mar 22 '13 at 4:08
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    Re "assuming it is consistent with a 'Jewish read'" can be a tricky point. Many explanations that would stand on their own merit locally (in interpreting a specific word in one instance) could entail conclusions inconsistent with "Jewish reads" if extended or recontextualized. Often such secondary considerations are far out of scope of an answer but could render a non-Jewish source of information on a subject worse than neutral in terms of consistency with Jewish interpretation. – WAF Mar 22 '13 at 14:14
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    @WAF Perhaps I should say: a read, such that if it were suggested by a Jew, we would not recognize it as out-of-scope. (What I want to avoid is someone reading Jesus into Isaiah, not someone reading a Pshat against a Midrash.) – Double AA Mar 22 '13 at 14:39
  • @DoubleAA The writer then should at least label his opinion as such. It seems to me that I've often gotten downvoted or crticized when I've offered my own flip on a verse. – Bruce James Mar 26 '14 at 21:37
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    @BruceJames Maybe no one liked your pshat :) But, yes, the more clarity the better. – Double AA Mar 26 '14 at 21:44
  • See this comment. R' Eliezer enjoyed and accepted a novel exposition by a Christian personality, and Rashi says that R' Eliezer thought the exposition was consistent with Judaism ("ישר [הדבר] בעיניך"). Still, R' Eliezer regretted this and stated that he had transgressed the directive "הרחק מעליה" (Mishlei 5:8), whose halachic meaning is that one must go to lengths to distance oneself from heresy. – Fred Jan 5 '16 at 21:01
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If a pastor is writing on a religious subject for a religious audience of adherents to his religious doctrine, then I do not feel that is an appropriate primary source for answering a Jewish question on the same subject.

  • or regardless of audience, if it assumes a non-jewish religious doctrine. – barlop Apr 23 '14 at 23:23
  • +1. One should avoid novel interpretations from heretical sources even if the interpretations seem consistent with Judaism (Avoda Zara 16b-17a): "ת"ר כשנתפס ר"א למינות העלהו לגרדום לידון... נכנסו תלמידיו אצלו לנחמו ולא קיבל עליו תנחומין אמר לו ר"ע... רבי שמא מינות בא לידך והנאך ועליו נתפסת אמר לו עקיבא הזכרתני פעם אחת הייתי מהלך בשוק העליון של ציפורי ומצאתי אחד ויעקב איש כפר סכניא שמו אמר לי... והנאני הדבר על ידי זה נתפסתי למינות ועברתי על מה שכתוב בתורה הרחק מעליה דרכך זו מינות". – Fred Jan 5 '16 at 20:41
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    From more neutral personalities (be they Jewish or non-Jewish) who are not overtly associated with heresy or heretical movements/religions, DoubleAA's answer would seem to apply. – Fred Jan 5 '16 at 20:50
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I'm copying an answer I wrote on a question asking if Samaritan sources are acceptable. I proposed a broader guideline there that applies here too:

I think that we should not accept answers that draw religious authority from sources not known to be Jewish (which includes those known not to be Jewish). Who is (or isn't) Jewish can be a thorny problem and I am not talking about Jewish pluralism here, but if a group does not even claim to be Jewish, that would seem to qualify as a "no". (Claiming to be Jewish might not be enough for "yes", but our community should discuss specific cases as they come up.)

However, answers that use information from such sources, without treating them as authoritative for Judaism, are ok. (Of course sources should be clearly disclosed, but that's true for everybody.) These might or might not be good answers; that's what votes are for.

Examples:

  • A halacha answer based on the gospels or Christian theologians: no

  • A history answer about second-temple-era Pesach practices based on the gospels as historical accounts: yes

  • A history answer about second-temple-era Pesach practices based on Josephus: yes

  • A halacha answer based on Samaritan sources: no (because they don't claim to be Jewish)

  • A halacha answer based on Karaite sources: I don't know, see also here

  • A halacha answer based on J4J sources: no (they claim to be Jewish but we explicitly reject their claim)

  • A Tanakh text-interpretation answer based on rabbinic tradition: yes, duh (this is just here for context)

  • A Tanakh text-interpretation answer based on analysis of ancient languages, lexicons, and other secular linguistic work: yes

  • A Tanakh text-interpretation answer based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, Dead Sea Scrolls, or other contemporary sources: yes

  • A Tanakh text-interpretation answer based on faulty translations such as some Christian ones: yes, but downvote (wrong answers are still answers)

  • Any answer based on known-fraudulent sources: no (we should not be a platform for spreading such material, even if heavily downvoted)

  • Actually, I now realize that DoubleAA's answer already covered this ground. I don't know whether to leave this here for the examples or delete it as redundant. – Monica Cellio Feb 27 at 17:31
  • Leave it; it's more specific. – Alex Feb 27 at 18:11
  • What about cases where a "yes" and a "no" intersect? For instance if a certain source is "no" for halacha but "yes" for history, can I post an answer where the halacha is based on the history? – Alex Feb 27 at 18:12
  • @Alex What kind of a question do you have in mind where that’s applicable? – DonielF Feb 28 at 0:33
  • @DonielF Let's say someone asks when the Temple was destroyed. Since it's a historical question I can quote a non-Jewish historical source that says that it was destroyed in Tishrei. If someone asks when we have to fast, I can't quote a non-Jewish source that says that we fast in Tishrei because that would be a halachic source. But what if I quote a historical source that says that the destruction was in Tishrei, and I extrapolate from there that we should therefore fast in Tishrei? – Alex Feb 28 at 3:44
  • @Alex That sounds similar to "A Tanakh text-interpretation answer based on faulty translations". It's also similar to what DoubleAA wrote in his answer. A person making up his/her own answer isn't out-of-scope (i.e. it doesn't automatically qualify for deletion). But it could be deserving of downvotes. – Daniel Mar 1 at 15:25

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