When are questions about the Hebrew language in scope, and when aren't they?

  • Do they have to be about Biblical or Rabbinic Hebrew in particular?

  • Do they have to be related to a holy text or a Jewish practice?

  • Do we want to handle general "please translate this Hebrew" questions?

  • Do we want to handle questions about modern Israeli usage?

(Inspired by this recent question, which the community has decided to close, informing this discussion with some action.)


4 Answers 4


To add to jake's answer:

I think the best way to treat this is to look at our FAQ:

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Jewish Life and Learning - Stack Exchange is for students and teachers of Jewish law and tradition.

There's a difference between a question about Jewish Life and Learning, and a question about something relating to Jewish Life and Learning. The fact that Jews use hebrew, does not make questions about hebrew the same as questions about Judaism.

(Similar to the way questions on StackOverflow are limited to programming. Programmers may use computers to do their work, but questions about computers belong on SuperUser)

With that being said, it becomes quite clear that it depends on what the question is truly asking. In other words, we don't necessarily limit to a type of Hebrew (Biblical or Rabbinic) nor to "holy text". We simply want questions that are genuinely about Jewish life and not purely about the Hebrew language.

The same would apply to translation questions, and "modern Israeli usage" questions. We are bound to stumble on some borderline questions, but I believe the "inspired question" is clearly about Hebrew and has nothing to do with Jewish Life and Learning.

Of course, one can always propose an SE site about the Hebrew language support the Hebrew Language and Usage proposal. It appears a site about Yiddish is also in the definition stage.

  • According to this, it seems to me the following questions would not be acceptable; correct me that wasn't your intent, yydl, or anyone who can explain why any of these might be okay: "Are 'tzipor' and 'tziporen' related?", "Why is it called Bas Kol", "...earliest attestation of the word “mohel”?", "How did Nif3al end up as the passive/reflexive of pa3al?". And [continued]
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 2:25
  • [continued] "What is the meaning of 'Tishbi' in 'Eliyahu haTishbi'?".
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 2:29
  • @msh210 The majority of questions you mention (with exception of Nif3al) are all genuinely about Jewish life and learning. I don't know if I was clear, but hebrew questions are certainly welcome, provided they are about Jewish Life and Learning.
    – yydl
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 2:55
  • @msh210 also realize that because a question is on Judaism.SE, does not mean it's completely on topic. It just means it wasn't off-topic to the point where it raised a question on the meta site. I suppose we will now be paying more attention.
    – yydl
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 2:56
  • I don't think @msh210's intention was to say that whatever rule we come up with should conform to the existing corpus of questions. (Or at least, that's now how I prefer to use this data.) It's a valuable collection of examples against which to test whatever rule we consider, to see what its practical implications may be.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 3:32
  • @yydl Please note that the very scope statement in the FAQ is also up for discussion. What we decide here could affect the final outcome there, or the other way around.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 3:34
  • 1
    My diagnosis of the Qs mentioned by @msh210: Tzipor - Learning, Bas Kol - Learning, Mohel - Learning, Nif'al - Not sure, Shkoyach - Learning, Ice - Learning, Merkos - Life, Ki- Learning, Magen David - Life/Not sure
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 3:39
  • Re "I don't think... should conform to the existing... valuable colection...": You've hit the nail on the head, @IsaacMoses.
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 4:01
  • yydl, @IsaacMoses, but the bas kol and mohel questions simply ask for etymology of a word, with no context given. Yet you, yydl, consider that to be about JL&L, and you, Isaac Moses, consider them to be about Jewish Learning specifically. How do they differ from "To what translates this tattoo?"?
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 4:07
  • 2
    @msh210 "Bas Kol" refers, among other things, to a religious phenomenon. Mohel is a religious job. There's a reasonably presumption with these questions that the interest in the word is for learning purposes. In both cases, the answers constituted learning.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 4:12
  • 3
    @msh210 Indeed, had the question been something along the lines of "I stumbled across the word שמש in Perek X, Passuk Y, and I can't seem to find what it means. Can someone help?" it would be okay and on topic. Helping someone find meaning to a word is not on-topic, unless it has to do with JL&L.
    – yydl
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:55
  • 1
    @msh210 I think it would be even more clear if we tackled this from the other angle. What connection does the Tatoo question have with JL&L? As far as I can tell: absolutely none.
    – yydl
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 19:57
  • 2
    @yydl ... except that learning Hebrew may be a Mitzva ...
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 21:42
  • Okay, so we seem to have rough rules here. A question about Hebrew is okay if it is stated to have come up in the course of Judaic studies or if it's about a word (or whatever) that has significance to JL&L.
    – msh210 Mod
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 22:05

As of right now, I think that a distinction must be drawn between questions like "What is the proper translation of this phrase in Tosafos?" and questions like "I saw this word on the local Israeli restaurant and I'm wondering what it means."

That being said, a possible protocol is for translation questions to include the source for the word or phrase from legitimate biblical or rabbinic literature. That way, someone can ask: "I was reading Mishna Berura and got stuck on these words." But it will prevent questions involving tattoos or hebrew lyrics from pop songs heard on the radio.

Also, with regard to Modern Hebrew, the above protocol will probably prevent most of the questions relating to Modern Hebrew, unless it is with regard to its usage in some of the contemporary halachic seforim like Sh'mirat Shabbat K'hilchata or the like.


There is now a proposal for Hebrew Language questions, and they should be migrated or asked there.

  • 4
    ... when they're not in-scope here, and if/when it actually opens.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 0:49
  • FTR questions can't be migrated until the site is live.
    – Double AA Mod
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 0:21

Many Jews live in Israel and speak the Hebrew language. Rav Hershel Shachter (of Yeshiva University) has said that Modern Hebrew is still lashon hakodesh. "Puk chazi" - this is what many Jews do, and therefore it is a Jewish thing to do. If people are not interested in such a question, they do not have to downvote it, but if they are, then they can upvote it. About half the Jews in the world nowadays live in Israel, where they speak Hebrew. New Olim, as well as Baalei Teshuva and Jews who are interested in connecting to Judaism through learning about our national tongue can benefit from these questions.

  • 1
    Everyone using this site also uses computers, but that wouldn't make questions about Windows, Firefox, or upgrading your memory on-topic. Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 19:04

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