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I have had a great experience on Mi Yodeya in general, but I have noticed that certain aspects of the site/community can be discouraging to contributors with a lack of Jewish knowledge. For example:

-The mix of English and Hebrew/Yiddish terms, and particularly the use of Hebrew script in answers. (I'm not suggesting any particular means to avoid or change this, as I don't know if doing so would be practical at all, or even desirable. Just mentioning that it's an obstacle for some.)

-Criticism of halachically ignorant questions for being, well, halachically ignorant. A base level of halachic knowledge shouldn't be a prerequisite for asking questions here, IMO. People stumble upon this site from all over the Web. I think they should be forgiven for thinking it's simply the Jewish category of Stackexchange, not a yeshiva or a frum discussion forum. For example, if I ask, "Is x allowed?," and someone says either, "Why wouldn't it be?," or, "This is a ridiculous question. Of course idolatry is not allowed," what am I supposed to say? Imagine how many downvotes a question like "Are Jews allowed to worship Jesus?" would receive here, even though it's a perfectly valid question, and one to which many people genuinely do not know the answer.

I realize the moderators have little control over how the community reacts to questions such as these, but I do think these tendencies are something to be aware of, and to discourage when possible. Ignorant people should not be consigned to learning about Judaism through Yahoo Answers just because Stackexchange doesn't like their questions.

Or am I wrong? Should we maintain a higher/different standard here? Please comment.

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    A good question, no matter what your background is, should include what your motivation is. This includes why you might think the answer is X or Y, what other research you have done to find an answer, and what you have found. – Double AA Mar 24 '13 at 20:13
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    @DoubleAA Certainly true. However, Jewish law is so extensive, and so seemingly arbitrary in its particulars, that a motivation for wondering if something is allowed might well simply be that "A lot of things aren't allowed; I was just wondering if this was one of them." – anon Mar 25 '13 at 21:03
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    If that is your motivation, you should say so. I don't care what the motivation is, as long as it is included. The problem is really when people don't include certain motivations that they have which affect how the question should be answered. If you don't specify if you have previous research etc. then we don't know how to approach the answer. Specifying that you haven't/can't do any other research explains how to approach the answer. – Double AA Mar 25 '13 at 22:39
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    @SAH, even if the motivation of the question is as simple as "A lot of things aren't allowed; I was just wondering if this was one of them," it should be included explicitly in the question. Benefits: 1) It will help answerers know to calibrate their answers to distinguish "this" from "a lot of things." 2) It will make it clear to answerers that there isn't a body of already-done research or assumption that they have to answer around. ... – Isaac Moses Mar 29 '13 at 19:00
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    ... 3) Perhaps most importantly, in typing this out, the asker may well think about it more, realize that the actual motivation is at least somewhat more sophisticated, and instead, write something like "The reason I suspect that X is forbidden is that it's similar to Y and Z, which I know are forbidden." Then, answerers can explain how X is similar to or different from Y and Z, and the Q&A is both more responsive to the asker's actual curiosity and richer for the world to read. – Isaac Moses Mar 29 '13 at 19:03
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I am sorry you have had this experience, and I hope we will all take your thoughtful question as a reminder that we serve a large and varied community.

When I see terms I don't know in posts (especially yeshivish, which seems to run to entire sentences of incomprehensibility in my experience), I leave a comment asking for clarification and this almost always gets the problem fixed. I don't think the posters doing that mean to be obscure or exclusive; they just need a reminder sometimes. Please leave comments asking for clarification on anything you don't understand; it's how we all, collectively, make the site better.

While there is certainly sometimes criticism of "halachically ignorant" questions (as you put it), I think there's a nuance to some of these comments that isn't being conveyed well, and I'll ask both commenters and readers to try to bear this in mind. If somebody asks "is X permitted?" and somebody comments "why do you think it wouldn't be?", that's a prompt to flesh out the question a little more. "Is X permitted?" is certainly a valid question but it's a weak one; "is X permitted? Y would seem to suggest it is (or Z would seem to suggest it's not)" is a stronger question -- it shows some prior research/thought (a Stack-Exchange-wide expectation of questions) and it helps us connect with the reasoning you're bringing to the question.

By the way, a search for "Jesus" on the main site shows several up-voted questions, including one of yours. Please keep asking questions.

(And let me acknowledge the irony of this answer coming from me, the least-knowledgable mod and one of the least-knowledgable experienced users here. Please stick with us!)

  • Thank you for your kind and thorough response. Re: language in posts, I think a big problem is that a lot of the primary sources are in Hebrew, and people copy/paste from them, which is entirely reasonable. But sometimes people will write a single term, or someone's name, in Hebrew letters when it could easily be transliterated, and that is not a great convention IMO. But it's not too big of a deal, since we all have Google translate, baruch Hashem. – SAH Mar 25 '13 at 21:07
  • Also, thanks for your insight on the comments ("Why wouldn't it be allowed?"), etc. As I suggested to DoubleAA above, sometimes the only motivation for wanting to know whether something is allowed is that a great many "random" things are not allowed by Jewish law/chumras/certain minchags, and one simply wonders if x is among them. Demonstrating "research effort" in such cases often means reverse-engineering a motivation...not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. – SAH Mar 25 '13 at 21:15
  • Finally, I am happy to say that the issues I discussed have overwhelmingly not been my own experience here. I do occasionally see these things happen to other users--in many cases newbies who seem to be non-Jews--and it often seems to drive them away. Therefore I think we should be aware. Thanks for your attention! – SAH Mar 25 '13 at 21:20
  • @SAH, thanks for the feedback. I agree that we need to be watchful here, particularly with new users who don't yet know the best ways to ask questions. I'm glad you have not felt deterred by this yourself; please help keep us all on our toes. Also, remember that anybody can help welcome and guide new users, not just mods and Isaac. :-) – Monica Cellio Mar 25 '13 at 21:24
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There's a difference between "lack of knowledge" and "lack of research". If you look at question downvote button on ALL SE sites (not just this one) it lists "lack of research" as on of the primary reasons to downvote a question.

As such, a question that is so trivial as to be found by basic Google search for obvious terms is worthy of downvotes ("is eating pigs kosher?" or "is typing meta answers on Shabbat permitted" being a couple of random examples).

So, if a person asks a basic question, but says "I want to know X; I checked for the answer this way and couldn't find one, or didn't understand what I read", that's a perfectly fine question and I would expect it to be upvoted.

Whereas "I want to know X" may get downvotes or comments asking for clarification, some more hostile seeming than others, NOT because the question is coming from a person who doesn't have basic knowledge, but because it's a poor SE question.

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    I agree fully (and +1), but I wonder if there is some way to do so less belligerently. It at best turns away those who are innocently unaware, and at worst could be somewhat of a Chillul Hashem that the Judaism.SE website is full of (what they will see as) intolerant users. – Y     e     z Feb 16 '14 at 2:00
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    This answer has some good ideas. However, someone who's Googled and is unsure whether to trust what he's found (because there are much incorrect information out there about Judaism), while he should ideally indicate as much in his answer (so people don't say "Google it"), and can even be faulted for omitting that history, can't be faulted for it too harshly. In any event, I agree with @YEZ that requests for clarification should always be in a pleasant tone. – msh210 Feb 16 '14 at 3:35
  • @YEZ - sure. "Be nice" :) – DD1 Feb 16 '14 at 13:56
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    @msh210 If you can't trust google, why can you trust us? :) – Shmuel Brin Feb 13 '15 at 18:16
  • @msh210 I completely agree. Even the most basic questions can breed a lot of confusion these days because half of the results in Google are from "Messianic" sites with high page ranks--or else Yahoo answers, which is not much better. Not to mention that a lot of sites are going to provide answers from other branches of Judaism. So a "basic Google search" for "is typing meta answers on Shabbat permitted" could actually yield a lot of different results :) – SAH Feb 16 '15 at 8:29
  • @ShmuelBrin hopefully we cite checkable sources. – msh210 Feb 16 '15 at 15:07
  • +1 for mentioning "lack of research". – einpoklum Aug 3 '17 at 22:07
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There has to be some responsibility taken by someone higher up in the hierarchy of the site to make sure that answers that are completely based on feeling and loosely based on legitimate sources be removed or noted as being inaccurate. Particularly in fields of השקפה and when the person who is asking a question does not really understand too much about the Halacha, it is easy for them to be led astray, especially by someone who is playing an emotional card in support of their cause.

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    What you can do, if you find an answer like that, is to downvote it and (if you want) leave a comment. If the question explicitly asks for sources, then you can flag an answer without sources as "not an answer;" if it doesn't, you can flag it as "low quality." When you flag it, then if a moderator (or a bunch of people from the community doing reviews) agrees that the answer is a problem, it will be removed. – MTL Feb 16 '15 at 3:53
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    On Stack Exchange we don't assume that moderators are arbiters of correctness. That task falls to the community as a whole. The mod job is to administer the site, not to judge which answers are correct or incorrect -- there's no halacha exam to become a moderator. If you come across an answer that in your judgement is wrong, vote it down. If you can leave a constructive comment explaining what the problem is, please do. If it doesn't answer the question, please flag. If you have the rep to do so, vote to delete when needed. The community has tools to deal with bad answers; please use them. – Monica Cellio Feb 16 '15 at 4:42
  • @MonicaCellio I am just concerned about how I can come across when I get fired up about (for the lack of a better term) stupidity and being apologetic about things that are entirely wrong. – y.lub Feb 16 '15 at 4:48
  • @ylub Hey, we were all stupid once. – SAH Feb 16 '15 at 8:31
  • @y.lub, if you are concerned with how you'll come across, then I recommend taking extra care, especially when you're "fired up" to make sure your comment is polite and constructive. Rereading before hitting "send" can be helpful. It can also be helpful to consult peers in the chatroom when in doubt. – Isaac Moses Feb 17 '15 at 2:23

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