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One of our off-topic closure reasons is a psak-oriented question. Questions in which a person clearly provides his or her personal situation, followed by a question, are clearly in this category.

However, I have recently been nit-picked on several times by, in my opinion, overzealous users opposed to questions that even dare to mention the asker.

If I say "What if I go to Jupiter and eat cheese there?" I am not asking for psak, and am most likely not planning on having this question apply practically. I am just speaking normally. I think most "what if I" questions fit this description.

Are questions that ask hypothetical halachic questions, using the first person as the perspective, off-topic as seeking practical halachic decisions?

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In prose, it can be more difficult (or even less legal j/k!) than it is in speech to gauge nuances in the author's intent. Depending on how a "what if I" question is phrased, it could be very difficult to distinguish it from a request for personal advice (pesak).

Mi Yodeya maintains an allergy to such requests for good reasons. Much of what we do here legitimately, with every possible disclaimer in place, could be - and likely will be - misused by people who choose to treat answers here as authoritative and directly applicable. I've argued in the past that this is a reasonable risk to take, similar to that taken by every public Torah teacher who isn't paskening. However, in incurring that risk, it's our responsibility to mitigate it however we can.

So, I think that the practice of not allowing questions that are phrased in a way that could be a request for pesak is a good one, one of the reasonable safeguards that we use to make it less likely that people will misuse our content.

That said, whether a question falls into that category is a judgement call, and there isn't necessarily a bright syntactic line that can be drawn between pesak-request-looking questions and not. In addition, the right thing to do in such cases is not necessarily always to close. If it seems likely that the question is actually a hypothetical that is just phrased in a way that makes it look like a pesak request, it'd probably be better to just do the requisite edits to make it more clearly a hypothetical.

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    "is not necessarily always to close" Sometimes I think letting it sit closed for a few hours or days (before editing and reopening) can be a helpful way of forcing the OP to understand what Mi Yodeya does and does not offer. – Double AA Aug 19 '14 at 3:11
  • @DoubleAA, I agree. My point is in the "sometimes." There are other times when OP probably knows that already and just phrased the question unfortunately. – Isaac Moses Aug 19 '14 at 3:15
  • re @DoubleAA 's comment: meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/a/3874 – msh210 Feb 25 '16 at 22:42
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I think these questions are on topic and are not to be taken as seeking psak.

(Posting as an answer for voting purposes)

  • I think the syntax of such questions is merely trying to ask about hypothetical b'dieved situations. We should accept such questions (and suggest revisions) even if they are badly asked (i.e. with "What if I...?") – SAH Aug 22 '14 at 18:53
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    @SAH How could you possibly know that? – Double AA Aug 24 '14 at 20:27
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The intent of the forum becomes more clear, if questioners are asked to avoid "I" statements.

So, "What if I want to eat dairy two hours after meat?"

would be changed to

"Are there sources in Jewish law that would allow the consumption of dairy two hours after meat, in any circumstances?"

Both of those questions could be answered using the same source material, but the wording of the latter question makes it clear that no psak halacha is being offered.

  • If you look at the questions on the site, replacing "What if I want to eat ..." can be done with "What if you want..." or "What if Bob wants..." or "What if someone wants..." all of which are treated as acceptable on this site. Which in and of itself I think is a degree of indication that "What if I" is just one way of posing a hypothetical. Obviously, in context this can change. But in context, I think "What if Bob..." could also be psak-seeking. – Y     e     z Aug 25 '14 at 14:22
  • @YEZ "But in context, I think "What if Bob..." could also be psak-seeking" I agree, which is why I'm proposing editing such questions to read as written above. – Jake Aug 25 '14 at 14:25
  • But notice that that is not the accepted policy of the site. The whole site is full of "What if you" questions, without any objection. Your change isn't any more impervious to contextual indications. "I have some dairy and some meat. Are there sources in Jewish law that would allow..." – Y     e     z Aug 25 '14 at 14:27
  • I don't think "what if I" questions need to be closed, but perhaps they can be edited in then future to remove personal statements. – Jake Aug 25 '14 at 14:38
  • I see that. I'm unclear as to why. If a person says "What if I travel through time and something something" - are we worried about the psak seeking element? The only point of your answer which seemed to be different than Isaac's answer was your suggested edit, which I don't see as necessary. – Y     e     z Aug 25 '14 at 14:40
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    I agree with Isaac's answer, but he didn't give a proposal for a concrete policy going forward. My idea is based on a Reddit policy I once saw. They strictly forbade questions of a personal medical nature (don't ask us, go to a doctor), but would allow non-personally attributed question. So, "why do I have a rash on my face" was deleted, but "what could cause a rash on someone's face" was allowed. Of course both Qs were most likely seeking medical advice, and many Qs here want psak halacha; but at least editing it makes it clear that the answers aren't intending to give actionable advice. – Jake Aug 25 '14 at 14:47

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