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Guess this touches a little on our old discussion of Hebrew Language Questions...

Recently, someone asked for Exercises to prevent eyes tiring, which has brought up an interesting question, which I would imagine will come up again-and-again.

On one hand: it directly pertains to Jewish Life - particularly to those who learn on a constant basis (which is something I would assume we all strive to do).

On the other hand: it also pertains to hundreds of other fields of study, and is in no way unique to judaism.

So, I suppose if we boil it down:

Can something be on-topic about Jewish Life if the question is one that is not unique to Judaism?

Should this question, which is intrinsically about general health matters be closed as off-topic?


As I think about the question more and more I keep switching sides. Bringing what I said back then against me:

There's a difference between a question about Jewish Life and Learning, and a question about something relating to Jewish Life and Learning.

Would seem to say that this is off-topic. I would really love to hear what everyone thinks about this...

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    Is the question at hand different from, say, this question? – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 12:25
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    Here are some more test questions: Tzedaka calls, Charity documentation, Shabbat afternoon, Bar Mitzva present, Mishloach Manot – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 13:38
  • @Issac "is not unique to Judaism" -- some of those are unique to Judaism. – yydl Jun 30 '11 at 0:26
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    @yydl to varying degrees, which is why I'm bringing them all up. I'd argue that temporary outdoor lighting, telemarketers, charity verification, and presents for teenagers are all not unique to Judaism, but all come up especially for people involved in certain Jewish practices. – Isaac Moses Jun 30 '11 at 18:42
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    @Isaac but bar-mitzvah presents, sukkah lighting, and Mishloach Manot are all unique to Judaism. While the answers may be the same had they been posted on some other SE site, it still does not subtract from the question's relevance to Judaism. (and with bar-mitzvah presents the answers would indeed be very different) – yydl Jun 30 '11 at 18:45
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    @yydl I think that's my point. The Mitzvot of Tzedaka and Torah study are also unique to Judaism as such. – Isaac Moses Jun 30 '11 at 18:47
  • @Isaac but as @yydl was inferring, the question was "what do about eyestrain from reading a lot", and would not be substantially changed if it were instead "what do about eyestrain from reading a lot of Torah". – AviD Jul 1 '11 at 13:52
  • @AviD, See my answer. – Isaac Moses Jul 1 '11 at 18:24
  • I think that we have an epidemy of close votes. 90% at least are irrelevant – kouty Aug 11 '16 at 15:12
8

I believe that the guiding principles (though not a bright-line rules) for on-topicness should be:

Is this question expressly or implicitly motivated by a desire to understand or practice Judaism?

and

Is it reasonable to expect that a group of people who base their lives on Judaism would be especially able to give informed answers, due to their basing their lives on Judaism?

The first principle determines whether the question is at all about Judaism, as opposed to being, say, adjacent to Judaism.

The second principle determines whether it's worthwhile for this particular corner of the internet to host a Q&A on this topic, so it seems a good principle to employ when there are judgement calls to be made about whether something's relationship to Judaism is strong enough to post here.

So,

Can something be on-topic about Jewish Life if the question is one that is not unique to Judaism?

Yes.

It seems to me that if an issue comes up as a direct result of a Jewish practice, it's probably in-scope. If people following that practice are more likely than average people to run into the issue in question, then people on this site are more likely than average people to have encountered it and to have valuable experience or information to contribute. In addition, solving issues that come up especially in the course of Jewish practice facilitates that practice, which is a good thing for practitioners of Judaism to do.

The issue is even more in-scope if there's any nuance that applies differently in the Jewish case than in the way most people experience it, since good answers in other contexts might not take that nuance into account, but people here would.

Examples:

  • Eye strain from reading comes up more for Torah scholars than for average people. It comes up more for computer programmers than for average people too, which is why it's been addressed in their community. However, the special nuance in the Torah study case is that it comes especially from hours of reading small, sometimes blurry print on paper.

  • Temporary outdoor lighting is something that sukka builders need more than average people. There are also potentially special nuances in that the lighting shouldn't interfere with the validity of the sukka.

  • Charity telemarketers call Jews more than they do average people, since many Jews get on lists by fulfilling the Mitzva of Tzedaka or by putting themselves in Jewish community phonebooks. Potential special nuances may come from halachot regarding how to treat people who ask you for tzedaka.

  • Verifying charities is something that Jews do more than average people because of the Mitzva of Tzedaka and the attendant sense of stewardship of the funds. Wanting to do this within the Israeli jurisdiction is a special nuance, though one could argue that this would apply equally to secular charity-givers in Israel.

  • chat discussion about the current revision (7/8) is continued here: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/31194113#31194113 – Double AA Jul 21 '16 at 16:25
  • "It seems to me that if an issue comes up as a direct result of a Jewish practice..." As noted this contains multiple mutually exclusive answers. After much editing, this fundamental flaw remains. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 19:14
  • "If people following that practice are more likely than average people to run into the issue in question, then people on this site are more likely than average people to have encountered it and to have valuable experience or information to contribute." People who practice Judaism are orders of magnitude more likely (at least proportionally) to have encountered Tay-Sachs, and and have experience and information to contribute. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 19:15
  • "The issue is even more in-scope if there's..." Questions are either on topic, or off topic, so there is no significance to anything from here to the end of the answer. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 19:18
  • I am not sure why my comment was deleted, so I will repeat it || "There are also potentially special nuances in that the lighting shouldn't interfere with the validity of the sukka." None of the answers actually had to do with the validity of the succa, as I noted in my answers, this is merely typical (attempted) ex post facto justification for off-topic answers. @DoubleAA were you involved in deleting my comments? Could you restore them? – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 19:22
  • "Potential special nuances may come from halachot regarding how to treat people who ask you for tzedaka." The first 7 answers, including the one that you marked correct contain no information that is at all distinct to Judaism or even to Jewish telemarketers. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 19:25
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    "Verifying charities is something that Jews do more than average people" Okay so problems that short people have is also on topic since Jews are on average shorter. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 19:30
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    @mevaqesh, there is one answer in this post: "Yes." The rest is argumentation supporting it. Along the way, the part at the top proposes what I feel is a helpful way of characterizing current prevailing practice with respect to determining whether a question is "Judaism-related" for our purposes or not. – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 21:15
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    @mevaqesh Regarding "Questions are either on topic, or off topic": Questions are either closed or left open. No matter how carefully you write a standard, there will be questions whose topicality is subject to a judgement call. That's where qualitative guidelines are potentially useful. – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 21:17
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    @mevaqesh I don't understand why you're discussing example groups of answers at all. As you've pointer out, questions' topicality is independent of what answers end up getting posted. I think what you're calling "ex post," I would call "reasonable." – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 21:26
  • @IsaacMoses The definition you are giving will determine whether the questions are on topic or off topic. Discussing what is more on topic is counterproductive as it leaves users confused.|| " I don't understand why you're discussing example groups of answers at all." I have clarified this repeatedly, but I will do so once more. Given the breadth of Judaism, anything could be somehow related to Judaism, and we wont find out until after the question is answered; unless, one specifies up front which halakhic or other Jewish concerns might be relevant. I am noting [cont.] – mevaqesh Jul 22 '16 at 1:12
  • @IsaacMoses [cont.] that the questions in question are overwhelmingly answered with barely a reference to halakhic concerns of any kind, if any at all, because you keep justifying these questions on the basis of possible halakhic concerns that one might encounter. I am demonstrating that this is a red herring, as in reality the questions are perfectly answerable without recourse to these considerations. These considerations are a mere red herring; a target drawn the arrow to justify off-topic questions. – mevaqesh Jul 22 '16 at 1:14
  • @IsaacMoses [cont.] Lastly, I note that the (If I say myself) devastating critique, such as the counterexamples leveled against you have been overwhelmingly ignored. – mevaqesh Jul 22 '16 at 1:15
  • @mevaqesh Regarding your objection to the usefulness of guidance along the lines of "more on-topic," note that our core FAQ page on "What types of questions should I avoid asking?" distinguishes between subjective questions that are "constructive" and therefore allowed and those that aren't, by directing readers to the "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective" blog post. This blog post explicitly declines to set out a bright-line rule and instead provides "guidelines" for what's more or less constructive. – Isaac Moses Jul 14 '17 at 19:58
7

I would suggest that such questions are on-topic when they specifically relate to fulfillment of a Jewish obligation. We would, after all, accept questions like "How do you fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar if you can't hear," or "Can you wear tape in your shoes Shabbos if you have a blister? If not, what can you do?" Questions like "how to prevent eye strain for Torah study" are simply other questions about how to get mitzvos done.

And, because they're based in Jewish life specifically, there will inevitably be some details that are different than the general application of these activities. For example, Torah study may be different from secular reading insofar as you may not be able to hold the book closer to your eyes; it is likely to be an old, printed book rather than a computer or Kindle; you can't deface the book; and you can't necessarily read it in the room with the best light. Torah study is a specific enough distinction to make the question reasonable for our site.

Also, if someone asked "How do you get bugs out of lettuce?," it would call for a different answer here than on the cooking site, because in Judaism we are much stricter about even tiny bugs than in general cooking. So I would call that a question that is appropriate for Mi Yodeya (even without "Jewishly" appended somehow to the question title).

I'd be a little more wary of questions that do not relate specifically to religious obligations, such as "How do you get kiddush wine out of a tablecloth?" Unless you knew of something significantly different about kosher wine stains that made them harder to remove than regular ones, and possibly even then, this question would be better off on Cleaning.SE or equivalent.

Also, I'd be wary of questions like "How to pack your lunch for work" (asked here because there may need to be more precautions taken to keep kosher food kosher than to pack regular food for a non-Jew). If that were to be here, I would suggest a more general phrasing like "How to transport food kosher-ly," so that we can get comprehensive Jewish answers rather than instruction lists for very circumscribed tasks.

But in general, I think a question is in scope here if it passes the tests, "Does it matter whether this is Jewish?" and "Would this get [roughly] the same answer on another SE site as here?"

3

I think that questions that have relevance to Jewish lifestyle are legitimate questions. I think those that disagree do not have to upvote. I also feel by limiting questions it makes the site less interesting.

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    Limiting questions may make things less interesting, but so does, for example, limiting the presence of whales at the pet store. Sure, it is more interesting with them there, but the facilities are not quite designed to sustain them and they are unexpected by and appear incongruous to patrons of the store. The same goes for limiting - or in the case of J.SE making suggestions about - answers to those questions. Often an answerer has an idea in mind that is expressed either properly in a suboptimal venue, or improperly in that it does not serve its putative purpose as an answer. . . – WAF Jul 20 '11 at 13:46
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    . . .i.e. answering the question. In the first case, a suggestion to move the well-formed statement to its more appropriate venue (such as being a comment on the question) is in my opinion not paternalistically limiting, but a reasonable suggestion between peers. In the second case, we would all agree that a downvote is in order, but it is not as constructive as a suggestion to reformulate the answer to retain as much fidelity to the good intent as the poster without diminishing its interpreted value to the reader. – WAF Jul 20 '11 at 13:52
2

This is not a complete answer on its own, just one aspect of an answer.

Questions that arise from Jewish practice, but aren't specifically about Judaism, can be on-topic. An example of this is the question about sukkah lighting; it's pretty hard to fulfill the mitzvah without solving that problem. At the other extreme, though, just because your context is saving Jewish lives, a question about cancer treatments isn't on-topic. In between is a great deal of fuzziness.

A factor we should take into account is the strength of the connection between the question topic and the Jewish context. There's a strong connection between the outdoor-lighting question and the sukkah. The connection between pikuach nefesh and cancer treatments is very weak. (Among things, there are lots of ways you can pursue pikuach nefesh that have nothing to do with cancer.)

Another factor we should take into account -- and I think it's tied to the strength factor -- is the likelihood that an answer can be found specifically within the Jewish community. Everybody needs to solve the sukkah problem, so if Mi Yodeya weren't here you'd ask your neighbors with sukkot, or other members of your minyan, how they solve it. On the other hand, if you couldn't ask the cancer question here you'd ask your doctor, not your fellow Jews.

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    "there are lots of ways you can pursue pikuach nefesh that have nothing to do with cancer" Similar logic can apply to advice about building a Sukkah on a brick patio. There are lots of ways you can build Sukkot that aren't on brick patios. Does that make the question less tied to Judaism? – Double AA Jul 20 '16 at 18:13
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    "you'd ask your neighbors with sukkot, or other members of your minyan" You might just as easily ask your handyman. Perhaps many Jews aren't friends with as many handymen, but the notion of seeking expert advice outside the Jewish community is equally applicable. – Double AA Jul 20 '16 at 18:14
  • @DoubleAA well, if you have a brick patio your choices might be to build there or move house, while if you can't figure out the cancer thing, you can instead try one of thousands of other ways to pursue pikuach nefesh. That's the point I'm trying to make -- the one case is much more closely tied to a Jewish goal than the other is. Also, I don't know if I could expect a handyman to understand the role of the s'chach and the need to not obstruct it within certain parameters. – Monica Cellio Jul 20 '16 at 19:09
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    Why do other opportunities to save lives affect the closeness of this case of solving cancer to Judaism? I don't know what kind of closeness you are talking about. – Double AA Jul 20 '16 at 19:14
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    You pretty much can't observe sukkah without light; you can observe pikuach nefesh lots of ways that don't involve cancer. So answering the question is near-essential for sukkah but not for pikuach nefesh. But I suppose you could counter that, by that logic, any question about "is X kosher?" can be countered with "off-topic; eat something else", and we don't want that. So I don't know -- were you planning to propose some criteria of your own? – Monica Cellio Jul 20 '16 at 20:13
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  • @IsaacMoses nice! Thank you for that revision. – Monica Cellio Jul 21 '16 at 1:47
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    "there are lots of ways you can pursue pikuach nefesh that have nothing to do with cancer", not if the patient in question is suffering from cancer. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 16:17
-1

I agree that this is off-topic.
As I said in a comment on that question, this reminds me of a batch of questions from early days of SO:

  • "What is your favorite food... as a programmer?"
  • "What music is best... for a programmer?"
  • "Which is the most effective coffee... for a programmer?".

Just because it is relevant to you, doesnt mean its relevant specifically as a result of your Judaismness.

  • There is a difference between programmer's habit to drink coffee, eat, listen music and jewish habbit to learn texts! I don't want to add my answer to the question because my opinion is not objective, rather I want to hear others. – jutky Jun 29 '11 at 10:31
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    @jutky, I disagree - there is nothing innately "jewish" about learning texts. There is correlation, of course, but about as much as drinking coffee and programming. There is nothing indicative of ones religion about eyestrain in general - yes, it is common in Judaism, but also in programmers, 3rd year law students, and archeologists. – AviD Jun 29 '11 at 11:21
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    @AviD: Drinking coffee is not a Mitzva for programmers. Learning texts is a Mitzva for Jews. – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 12:24
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    @Isaac, but eyestrain isn't. On the other hand, eating is also a Mitzva (on certain occasions), and yet "how to deal with indigestion" is obviously not going to be accepted here as ontopic, right? – AviD Jun 29 '11 at 12:32
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    If we're looking to Stack Overflow for precedent, consider many of the questions in SO's ergonomics tag, especially this one. Or see the same tag on SU or Programmers, both of which also have open eyestrain questions. – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 13:56
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    @Isaac, but most of them are closed :). After many of those questions, they realized that they should be offtopic, because its not inherently a programmer issue. And what do you think of the indigestion q? – AviD Jun 29 '11 at 15:08
  • @AviD Many of those closures are for other reasons, such as "too localized." I think I'd be inclined to allow something like "How do you keep from choking when eating a modern-machmir 'kezayit' of matza?" or "How do you mitigate the effects eating lots of matza has on your digestion?" These are questions that come directly out of fulfilling Jewish practices. – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 15:25
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    Yes, but thats specific to matza, which is a Jewish thing - same thing for horseradish-maror, I guess. But the question we're talking about is not at all specific to jewish learning, it's relevant for anybody that pores over books or screen for a long time. Do you think that should be ontopic? – AviD Jun 29 '11 at 15:35
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    Matza questions are applicable to consumption of any dry crackers and the attendant effects. We care about them particularly because we are required to eat matza. Similarly, we care about eyestrain-from-hours-of-reading-fine-print questions because we're required to learn Torah. – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 15:52
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    @AviD let us continue this discussion in chat – Isaac Moses Jun 29 '11 at 15:52
  • Yes and no. The Hebrew language for example is not relevant to non-Jews, and even though a grammatical question is not inherently religious, it is still inherently relevant to Jewish Life. – Adam Mosheh Feb 12 '12 at 15:25
  • Hi @Adam, I agree about the Hebrew, but this question was about the tired-eyes question... I think the issues got crossed. :) – AviD Feb 12 '12 at 16:28
  • @AviD - I was giving the Hebrew language as an example but you are kind of right in that they are cross-referenced and they also do go hand in hand. – Adam Mosheh Feb 12 '12 at 16:34
  • But that was my point - I dont think your statement ("not relevant to non-Jews, and even though [it] is not inherently religious, it is still inherently relevant to Jewish Life") applies for tired eyes... – AviD Feb 12 '12 at 16:38
  • @AdamMosheh "The Hebrew language for example is not relevant to non-Jews" why not? There are tons of non-Jews who speak Hebrew! – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 18:20
-2

At the advice of DoubleAA, I will begin a list of questionable questions to facilitate defining the FAQ/criteria for on-topic-ness as it gives users lots of useful test cases to consider how their proposal would affect current questions.

What was the language used in Torah study by Jews in Israel in 16th century

Why don't kashrut agencies mark on certain cheeses that one must wait 6 hours?

Where is הגר? The country, not the person

Encouraging a young boy to wear his yarmulke

Best practices for long-distance Nihum Aveilim and Kavod HaMeith

What did the Arizal's contemporaries write about him?

Cost study comparing Kosher and non Kosher foods

Can you recommend a rabbi or community leader willing to speak about the harm of loud simcha music?

How should a tallit gadol be washed?

Advice for keeping tzitzit away from the toilet

Can the Black Obelisk's depiction of King Jehu tell us something about the appearance of ancient Israelites?

Was Marcus Jastrow an apikores?

Chazon Ish and Medicine

Jarchi = Rashi?

Why was Rabbi Yitzchok Alfasi known as the Rif - rather than the Ria? (הרי"ף - רבי יצחק אלפסי)

What financial arrangement did Rambam have with his jeweler brother?

Who was R' Jacob Pidanki?

Where can I find Hebrew etymologies?

What went down in 1666 before Shabtai Tz'vi's apostasy?

Which rabbi was it who checked a person's identity by asking where he sat in shul?

Best practices for praying in public with talit and tefilin

Tree is it Eitz or Illan

Can you recommend an alternative outer talit bag?

What was daily life like for Jewish women living in al-Andalus in the 10th/11th centuries?

Understanding Mental Disorders from a Jewish perspective

Minimally sized kiddush cup for sale

What to call the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe

How many calories are in a KeZayith of flour?

How can one kill the habit of speaking profanity?

Men: how do you control your reactions to women in immodest dress if you can't avoid them?

What's an elegant way to avoid social contact with untzinius or attractive women?

Why are certain kosher meat / poultry parts hard to obtain in the U.S.?

Where to get etrogim in the US after Sukkot

How do you get oil residue off of a menora?

What is a good way to make one's website inaccessible on Shabbat?

What was the dietary source of calcium in Talmudic times?

How do you get your money from your home tzedaka box to your favorite charity?

How certain do I need to be that my Yom Kippur shoes are leather-free?

Why aren't any of the main American brands of chewing gum kosher?

Childrens' Tombstones

What does it cost to write one's own Sefer Torah - and how long would it take?

Obtaining the 7 Species in the U.S

How did Chazal attain its continued acceptance?

Did Shlomo Molcho actually declare himself a messiah?

Pronunciation of חשמונאי

Why was the Mishna written in Hebrew while the Gemara wasn't?

וּרמִיננְהוּ or וּרמִיננְהִי?

What's a good technique for a not-so-strong person to do [Ashkenazi] Hagbaha?

What size hex nut will properly fit a standard chanukah candle?

Sukkah floor ideas?

Advice for Lighting in a Sukkah

What is the best way to keep bugs out of the sukkah?

Standardized charity documentation in Israel?

How do you deal with huge numbers of calls from tzedaka organizations?

How do you illuminate your sukkah?

Exercises to prevent eyes tiring

How can I make a long summer shabbat a delight?

What bar/bat mitzva present did you actually want/like/use?

What would you really, actually like to receive (give?) for Mishloach Manot on Purim?

Before or during Jesus's time, what other notable Jews claimed to be or hinted at being the Messiah?

About what were rabbis ahead of the times?

How can I curb my sexual desire?

Experience-based advice for focusing and slowing down prayers?

How do observant Jews entertain themselves?

Did the Lubavitcher Rebbe ever state why he didn't visit Israel?

Was "correcting" left-handed children something traditionally done by Jews?

Whose semicha (ordination) was the last one signed/granted by Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik? By Rabbi Moshe Feinstein?

Which 20th-century Rosh Yeshiva studied under the mysterious Monsieur Chouchani?

Did the Rosh (Rabbeinu Asher) describe the culture clash moving from medieval Germany to Spain?

Disparity between male and female pronunciation of Cholam

When was the first Mikva built in the USA?

Which rabbi was it who checked a person's identity by asking where he sat in shul?

Why doesn't the OU put DE on food packages anymore?

Torah studies at Synagogue

Chazon Ish neurosurgery diagram

Yarden's River Name

Understanding Shabsai Tzvi

How to pray in public places?

What went down in 1666 before Shabtai Tz'vi's apostasy?

Who was the first ordained rabbi to live in the USA?

How to prepare/give a good drasha

What was wrong with the word Talmud?

Dealing with anger

Illegitimacy in 18th-19th century Europe

What is the English translation of the Yiddish word באווארן?

Plural of "Nafka Minah"

"Ashkenazim" and "Sephardim," for example

Correct usage of "Ashkenaz"/"Ashkenazi"/"Ashkenazic"/"Ashkenazim"?

What do you call a female Chosid?

Online glossary of Yiddish terms commonly used in shiur

When did the Kanievsky family switch from Chasidic to Litvish?

Who were the original users of Ktav Ashuri?

How to make Purim more female friendly?

Standing/sitting Shtender recommendation

The Mekor Baruch's intructions of making gold from copper

Why is the Jewish Population so small?

Pronounciation in MO schools

What biographical information is known about Rabbi Yitzchak Izaik Zorovitz?

Etymology of the surname "Katz"

Don't Israeli women fast?

Is there a difference between "להלן" and "לקמן"?

Moses Mendelssohn, permitted to quote him?

Why did nobody succeed the Lubavitcher Rebbe?

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    Thank you for compiling this list. I've only looked at about a quarter of them so far, but the ones I've looked at all look fine to me. You really think that questions about how to pray with kavanah, or about how to enjoy Shabbat without violating it on long summer days, or how to do hagbahah, are off-topic? There are undoubtedly questions on this list that should be closed, but I'm left wondering what you think should be asked on this site. – Monica Cellio Aug 2 '16 at 15:23
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    @MonicaCellio Once again, the answer lies in what I have already written. These are not meant to be a list of off topic questions, but rather a list of *questionable* questions to facilitate defining the FAQ/criteria for on-topic-ness as it gives users lots of useful test cases to consider how their proposal would affect current questions. Not that I mean to imply that they are on topic. For my views on that, see my answers in which I design distinct categories which I think deal with the issue nicely. Lets avoid repetition. – mevaqesh Aug 3 '16 at 2:44
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    On the Shabbat question, I assume that any question asked on this site is constrained by halacha. We have questions like "how do I kasher an X", too, and halacha of kashrut is implied. Do you really expect people to specify that everywhere? That it's a question about Shabbat and not about how to spend a random weekend afternoon is signal. – Monica Cellio Aug 3 '16 at 3:21
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    then we do understand each other. Yes, I am saying that the halachic issue is taken as granted. I'm saying that's the assumption for all questions here. "How do I build a sukkah?" must comply with the halachot of sukkah, "how do I kasher" with the halachot of kashrut, and "how do I do this thing on Shabbat" with the halachot of Shabbat. I consider it obvious from context; these questions aren't being asked on DIY or Cooking etc. I'm asking you if your intended requirement is that it always be made explicit. – Monica Cellio Aug 3 '16 at 3:30
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    @MonicaCellio I don't follow and I am not sure how to be more clear. Mentioning the halahka explicitly does not change that it is not the topic of the question, but rather the backdrop for it. I detail in my answers two approaches about which characteristics of Judaism ought to be necessary for something to be on topic. Is there anything unclear about it? – mevaqesh Aug 3 '16 at 3:34
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    It's pretty unclear to me, sorry. Maybe somebody else will come along who understands the disconnect and can help. – Monica Cellio Aug 3 '16 at 3:38
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    @MonicaCellio on an unrelated note, as noted the point of this post is merely to promote dialogue, it is not meant as an answer to the question and was just posted here at the advice of doubleAA. Accordingly, disagreeing with its contents is no reason to downvote it. That would just further stymie dialogue which would be couterproductive. – mevaqesh Aug 3 '16 at 3:41
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    This list could be more valuable if it were organized somehow in terms of which conceptual line each question comes close to and perhaps how far it is from that line, in which direction – Isaac Moses Aug 3 '16 at 4:23
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    I don't know why anyone is downvoting this. It's not a proposal. It's a resource. – Double AA Aug 4 '16 at 1:05
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    @MonicaCellio The place to discuss mevaqesh's personal opinion is on his answers. This post is just a resource for people developing guidelines. Consider moving the discussion above to chat, but certainly delete it from here. – Double AA Aug 4 '16 at 4:53
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    @DoubleAA I'm discussing them on the only post that has brought them up. That he (a) chose them and (b) wants to change site policy suggests a presumption that he thinks these should be closed. He should really elaborate on these examples (or some of them) in an answer, or sort this list into categories (on/off/unknown, in his opinion), or something. I appreciate the work in compiling it, but as an answer it's half-complete work, neither answering the question nor providing a way for people to react to it. Except comments. So, here we are. – Monica Cellio Aug 4 '16 at 12:50
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    @moni Meta is different. It's not an answer in the strictest sense and that's OK. The only implication here is that these are cases relevant to the ops question which can be considered as test cases when composing formal guidelines – Double AA Aug 4 '16 at 14:32
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    @doub I didn't say it should be removed. I'm just pointing out why in its current form I don't find it useful, since both you and mevaqesh complained about downvotes. I wish that one of you would take this material and analyze it in some way that aids the scope discussion. – Monica Cellio Aug 4 '16 at 14:49
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    mevaqesh, I find your characterization of interaction from others (presumably including me) on this topic as "visceral attack" and not "meaningful dialogue" to be unjustified and counterproductive. I see no evidence that any question, answer, or comment in this post is intended other than leshem shamayim and for the good of the community. Each time you complain, IMO needlessly, about how people are behaving, it distracts from the topic at hand. – Isaac Moses Aug 5 '16 at 15:53
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    Regarding this answer post in particular, as it stands, it is very difficult to use it to advance discussion here, since it contains a very large pile of links whose type of relevance to this discussion varies. It's a step toward becoming a useful resource, and Meta is, as @DoubleAA indicated, different, so I haven't downvoted, but I wouldn't blame those who have. – Isaac Moses Aug 5 '16 at 15:55
-5

Edit: This answer is distinctive from my other answer because this answer allows for questions in the second category if they specify up front why Jewish expertise will be necessary. The other answer does not allow for questions in the second category.

Edit: I edited categories somewhat.


The help center states that questions about "general knowledge (science, etc.) as it relates directly to Judaism" are acceptable.

I see four categories of questions that one might think are directly related to Judaism.

  1. Those about Judaism itself; liberally defined as Scripture, the Oral law, along with associated literature and practice. Random example: Halacha of Shechita That is to say, questions for which these topics form the material of the question itself, rather than a mere backdrop for a question about something else (e.g. cooking, medical research, electronics, construction, etc.) in which no doubts are expressed about the aforementioned categories themselves, but rather their status is taken for granted and provides the impetus to then ask a question about something else.
  2. Those which are not about Judaism itself, but about other disciplines that provide information that one might want in order to facilitate his study or practice of Judaism, but whose answers are dependent on Judaism itself. It is claimed that there are questions of this category. One question which pretty much does satisfy these requirements, is: Why aren't any of the main American brands of chewing gum kosher?. (Except that it does not even facilitate his study or practice of Judaism, in the strict sense).
  3. Those which are not about Judaism itself, but about other disciplines that provide information that one might want in order to facilitate his study or practice of Judaism, whose answers are not dependent on expertise in Judaism. Many of these could affect anybody, but happen to have some application to Jews. e.g.: Carnation Instant Breakfast substitute. E.g. What's the best way to make ashes (for weddings and/or pre-Tisha B'Av)?. The question of how to produce and transport ashes is not a question about Judaism. Nor is there reason to assume that the specified examples would have some halakhic characteristic rendering them distinct from general ash production. (We will see below that most questions supposedly in category two are actually in category three).

  4. Questions which are not about Judaism itself, or require expertise in Judaism itself to answer, or have some application to Jews. E.g. What was the dietary source of calcium in Talmudic times?.

I would recommend limiting questions to those in the first category. However, questions of the second category would be acceptable in some cases, see below.

My problem with questions in the second category (those not about Judaism but which are predicated on Judaism) is that they are based (to a degree) on their answers, only once answered will we find out if they were somehow answerable based on Judaism. This lets in a lot of questions that ultimately are not answered based on Judaism.

For example this question whose top three answers are not related to Judaism itself, this question whose four answers make only passing reference to Judaism itself. This question whose four answers also do not any Judaism related considerations. This one which has no answers that make Judaism considerations. And lastly this one whose four answer make no use of distinct knowledge of Judaism!

Significantly, these are all the questions which have been claimed to belong to this category.

If, however, users want to ask questions in this category, that is acceptable If and only if they specify up front which sort of halakhic issues or other element of Judaism will influence the answer.

My problem with the third category (questions particularly related to Jews) is that it is quite removed from Judaism itself, and while related perhaps to Jews, remains about Jews not Judaism. The reduction ad absurdum of the category would be questions about Tay-Sachs medical research. Even though this is 100 times likelier to affect a Jew than a non-Jew, it nevertheless has 0 to do with Judaism. Indeed, any Jew could ask pretty much any question (s)he encounters while traveling through his/her religious life here. Since pretty much every element of Jewish life is religious in some sense, everything becomes on topic! To give some examples that demonstrate why this category ought not be here, consider the following example: "I want to fulfill the mitzva of saving Jews' lives. I found a person with this type of cancer. Which chemo course is better to use based on current research?" (courtesy of @doubleAA). Or similarly, I want to fulfill the mitsvah of loving my fellow as myself. My friend has an exam on pseudo-polynomial time. Can anyone direct me to resources on pseudo-polynomial time, so that I can perform the mitsvah?

The fourth category has the same shortcomings as the previous two, but it also includes random musings that a Jewish person would be more likely to have. One example of a question that would fit this is, "I was reading Harry Potter over Shabbat, and I wondered: Why didn't Voldemort begin searching for the Elder Wand much earlier on?" Another example of a question in this category is "Which regions in the world grow the most citrus fruits, such as etrogim?"

  • 1
    "this question whose four answers do not mention Judaism, or anything Jewish." except for 1) pics of use in-situ in a Sukka, 2) "l'havdil" from Christmas lights, 3) prohibition of turning lights on and off on Yom Tov, 4) sechach and rain coming through it. Not that answers determine whether a question is on-topic, but your suggestion that these considerations are not "anything Jewish" suggest that perhaps this answer ought to include a definition of what it considers the practice of Judaism, as mentioned in Category 1. – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 1:57
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    @IsaacMoses I am consistent with my definitions throughout my answer. Throughout, Judaism refers to "Scripture, the Oral law, along with associated literature and practice". The question was not about Judaism itself; it did not ask about the scriptural source for Succah, related rabbinic literature, rulings of poskim, or sources for prevalent Jewish practices. Rather it asked about illuminating a room. This is none of those things. The relevance of the answers is discussed in the paragraph beginning "My problem with questions in the second category". – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 2:17
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    @IsaacMoses [cont.] None of the answer were centered around Judaism. 1) The answers do indeed include pictures of Succot. This does not make them anymore on topic than any picture which includes a Jew mowing his lawn. 2) Yes the answer uses the term “l’havdil” to denigrate Christmas lights. The fact that the answer to a question denigrates Christians does not reveal the question to be on topic. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 2:18
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    @IsaacMoses Doing my best to ignore your ironic first sentence, I am suggesting no such thing. For example, "what is the significance of the mitzvah of shatnez? Why did God give us this mitzvah? is perfectly within the definition of Judaism I gave, but does not by definition require sources (although they would enrich an answer). Am I "really saying that a Sukkah, constructed for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzva, is no more a part of Judaism than a lawnmower pushed by a Jew" Not really. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 2:35
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    @IsaacMoses However, I am saying that neither a picture of a Jewish object, nor a picture of a Jew in an answer, are evidence that a question addresses Judaism itself. Rather, than, for example, other disciplines that provide information that one might want in order to facilitate his study or practice of Judaism. – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 2:36
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    @mevaqesh by the criteria you describe here, almost all of our how-to questions would be inappropriate. Judaism isn't just about sources and halacha; it's about living as a Jew, which involves a lot of things you can't just look up in Shulchan Aruch. – Monica Cellio Jul 21 '16 at 2:38
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    @MonicaCellio I agree that not everything requires a source. I stated suchly explicitly in my previous comment. However, I think that the distinction between Judaism itself and other disciplines that provide information that one might want in order to facilitate his study or practice of Judaism is quite clear. Do you think I poorly illustrated the distinction between the two? – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 2:43
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    @MonicaCellio not at all. To repeat myself " I agree that not everything requires a source. I stated suchly explicitly in my previous comment" Note. That I listed those answerable based on Jewish texts, I noted this "Incidentally" (emphasis added). – mevaqesh Jul 21 '16 at 2:57
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    I think that as soon as "practice of Judaism" is part of Judaism (which I think we agree on), then you are always potentially talking about 'other disciplines," since said practice takes place in the physical world. Very frequently in Mishna, a tana states a rule for something, and commentaries explain the intuition, based on e.g. animal behavior norms, that the tana was expressing. Were such statements, based as they were on disciplines other than Jewish text study, not part of Judaism when they were stated? – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 2:59
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    @mevaqesh, Mi Yodeya norms, like those of Judaism, are transmitted partly via written legislation and partly via memetic practice. :) – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 3:01
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    @DoubleAA, the consequences of a proposed policy to the existing content and community ought to be relevant considerations. We're primarily maintaining a community and a repository here, not a concept. The latter exists only to help make the former viable. – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 3:19
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    @IsaacMoses If we have to go close 30 questions it's not a big deal. SO did it, and more. SE even has a historical lock system in place. Consequences to the maintenance of the community is of course relevant (will more or less people start coming?), but previous posts are basically not. – Double AA Jul 21 '16 at 3:20
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    @DoubleAA how big a deal it is is at least worthy of discussion. Also, in answering "should this be part of our scope?" object lessons from the effects on the site of having this as part of our scope until now ought to be relevant. – Isaac Moses Jul 21 '16 at 3:31
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    @IsaacMoses Fair enough. I have seen no such arguments brought till now. Only arguments of "but this is a change; how could you do that". – Double AA Jul 21 '16 at 3:31
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    Mi Yodeya has allowed the kinds of questions I linked in an earlier comment since its earliest days and they have been well-received. It is possible to overturn minhag hamakom, but we should not simply dismiss it out of hand. There will always be gaps in the formal rules, with individual questions being evaluated by thoughtful people using their best judgement. If we change nothing the site will continue on as it has, and that's not a bad thing. A systematic change requires substantial support. I suggest we continue to discuss individual questions as they arise and see what falls out. – Monica Cellio Jul 21 '16 at 12:58
-6

Why this answer is different

I describe 4 categories. this answer limits questions to the first category. To facilitate a broader range of opinions utilizing the categorization system I devised, I have posted a separate answer accommodating the second category as well; questions requiring expertise in Judaism, that are not themselves about Judaism.


The help center states that questions about "general knowledge (science, etc.) as it relates directly to Judaism" are acceptable.

I see four categories of questions that one might think are directly related to Judaism.

  1. Those about Judaism itself; liberally defined as Scripture, the Oral law, along with associated literature and practice. Random example: Halacha of Shechita
  2. Those which are not about Judaism itself, but about other disciplines that provide information that one might want in order to facilitate his study or practice of Judaism, but whose answers are dependent on Judaism itself. It is claimed that there are questions of this category. One question which pretty much does satisfy these requirements, is: Why aren't any of the main American brands of chewing gum kosher?. (Except that it does not even facilitate his study or practice of Judaism, in the strict sense).
  3. Those which are not about Judaism itself, but about other disciplines that provide information that one might want in order to facilitate his study or practice of Judaism, whose answers are not dependent on expertise in Judaism. Many of these could affect anybody, but happen to have some application to Jews. e.g.: Carnation Instant Breakfast substitute. E.g. What's the best way to make ashes (for weddings and/or pre-Tisha B'Av)?. The question of how to produce and transport ashes is not a question about Judaism. Nor is there reason to assume that the specified examples would have some halakhic characteristic rendering them distinct from general ash production. (We will see below that most questions supposedly in category two are actually in category three).

  4. Questions which are not about Judaism itself, or require expertise in Judaism itself to answer, or have some application to Jews. E.g. What was the dietary source of calcium in Talmudic times?.

I would recommend limiting questions to those in the first category.

My problem with questions in the second category (those not about Judaism but which are predicated on Judaism) is that they are based (to a degree) on their answers, only once answered will we find out if they were somehow answerable based on Judaism. This lets in a lot of questions that ultimately are not answered based on Judaism.

For example this question whose top three answers are not related to Judaism itself, this question whose four answers do not mention Judaism, or anything Jewish. This question whose four answers also do not any Judaism related considerations. This one which has no answers that make Judaism considerations. And lastly this one whose four answer make no use of distinct knowledge of Judaism!

Significantly, these are all the questions which have been claimed to belong to this category.

My problem with the third category (questions particularly related to Jews) is that it is quite removed from Judaism itself, and while related perhaps to Jews, remains about Jews not Judaism. The reduction ad absurdum of the category would be questions about Tay-Sachs medical research. Even though this is 100 times likelier to affect a Jew than a non-Jew, it nevertheless has 0 to do with Judaism. Indeed, any Jew could ask pretty much any question (s)he encounters while traveling through his/her religious life here. Since pretty much every element of Jewish life is religious in some sense, everything becomes on topic! To give some examples that demonstrate why this category ought not be here, consider the following example: "I want to fulfill the mitzva of saving Jews' lives. I found a person with this type of cancer. Which chemo course is better to use based on current research?" (courtesy of @doubleAA). Or similarly, I want to fulfill the mitsvah of loving my fellow as myself. My friend has an exam on pseudo-polynomial time. Can anyone direct me to resources on pseudo-polynomial time, so that I can perform the mitsvah?

The fourth category has the same shortcomings as the precious two, but it also includes random musings that a Jewish person would be more likely to have. One example of a question that would fit this is, "I was reading Harry Potter over Shabbat, and I wondered: Why didn't Voldemort begin searching for the Elder Wand much earlier on?" Another example of a question in this category is "Which regions in the world grow the most citrus fruits, such as etrogim?"

  • I'm confused about the difference between your answers. Both seem to advocate only allowing category 1 questions. – Double AA Jul 20 '16 at 14:46
  • @DoubleAA Simple in this post I do not allow for category two. In the other post I do allow for it if users clarify why expertise in Judaism will be necessary to solve it. – mevaqesh Jul 20 '16 at 15:20
  • Consider compiling a list of questions relavent to this one, namely, those that toe the border in whatever way regarding being about Judaism. Perhaps in chat, or in a community-wiki answer here. – Double AA Aug 2 '16 at 1:10
  • @DoubleAA Well it looks like my answers a pretty much in the grave, anyway. Do you mean questions that do not satisfy my second category? – mevaqesh Aug 2 '16 at 1:57
  • Any of the questions where you have posted comments recently questioning their on-topic-ness. Collecting them here could be useful for others refining the FAQ/criteria for on-topic-ness as it gives them lots of useful test cases to consider how their proposal would affect current questions. – Double AA Aug 2 '16 at 2:20
  • @DoubleAA OK maybe if I have time. Should it be asked as a separate question on meta? If on chat, where? – mevaqesh Aug 2 '16 at 2:23
  • IMHO a wiki-answer here is probably best, but a separate q on meta or an individual chat room are valid options. If you want others' opinions of the best place to put this consider asking in Bam. (I suspect you'll find that even those who disagree with your proposal will be helpful in directing you how and where to appropriately make your case.) – Double AA Aug 2 '16 at 2:33

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