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[Similar to, but not quite a duplicate of What are some mistakes non-Jewish people should avoid asking questions on this site?]

A non-Jew I know is working on a project for a company that sells a product targeted (solely) towards Jewish groups in the US.

While he's spent much of his life around Jews (and probably knows more Yiddish than I do), he's not a Jew, has had no education in Judaism, Jewish history or culture, and neither reads nor writes Hebrew.

As part of his project, though, there are cultural and religious terms that he needs to understand to do his job. He's looking for a resource where he can ask a quick question and get a quick answer. He's been asking me, but I'm far from an expert (and I have my own job!). He could use Google and Wikipedia, but those aren't always accurate, and there are all the transliteration issues.

An example to illustrate the problem…

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    Q: What does shalach manos mean?

    A: What did Wikipedia tell you?

    Q: It sent me to Mishloach manot, which sounds completely different, so I'm guessing it isn't the same thing, right?

    A: Actually, it is.

    Q: How am I supposed to know that?

    A: …

You get the idea, I'm sure.


So, my questions for the community:

  • Would these be acceptable/welcome questions here?
    The FAQ implies they are (they're real, honest "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems" that he has)—but that doesn't necessarily mean that people want to see or answer them.

  • Is there a way to, when asking, request that answers don't assume any prior knowledge?
    I showed him this site, and he got discouraged just looking at the front page. He said, "for a goy, I thought I knew a lot"—but he could only understand about 30% of the questions, much less the answers.

    Similarly, he'd be happy to get his answers by just searching here—but he doesn't have enough background to understand the results.

  • If not here, where?
    If there's somewhere else you think would be a better fit, let me know, and I'll point him thataway.

Thanks!

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    If he referred to himself as "a goy" rather than as "a goyim," that's one bit of Yiddish knowledge that he's got over most of the world. – Isaac Moses Jul 31 '11 at 6:13
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    Why you gotta go dissing Wikipedia? "... also spelled mishloach manos and sometimes shortened to shalach manos ..." They do a pretty good job of helping you make sure your on the right article. – Isaac Moses Jul 31 '11 at 6:18
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    @IsaacMoses. I'd know that, but that's because I'm interested in linguistics. (And, back when I was a JW, I had a Bible with footnotes.) – TRiG Jun 6 '12 at 19:28
  • Not sure how I stumbled on this question, and I know I'm a little late, but the MY glossary might help. – MTL Nov 11 '14 at 4:35
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I'd say that the first assumption should be yes, try it. The questions you're asking about sound in-scope, being about Jewish practice. We explicitly opened the door to people with little background by including "and anyone interested in learning more" in our official definition of our target audience because Jews have a mandate to teach, and we really want the expert community that gathers here to be a useful resource to people with any questions.

There are plenty of examples of very basic questions from novices or outsiders that got high-quality, accessible, serious answers, and I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be the case here. Usually, it's quite clear from the language of the question how much background the asker has, and answerers tend to respond accordingly. However, if your friend wants to make it explicit in the question that he has limited background to make sure, there's nothing wrong with that.

I would encourage him to continue trying Google and Wikipedia as a first resort, since he'll probably find good, accessible resources for at least some of his questions, but if he has any doubt, including, say, whether "shalach manos" and "mishloach manot" are the same thing, let him come here and ask!

Also, as with any asker, I'd encourage him to include in his question some information about what motivated it. Instead of just "What's a shalach manos?," something like "I run a candy store, and someone came in and wanted to order a shalach manos. What's that?" is much more valuable, since there could be aspects of the context that would help answerers make their answers optimally relevant.

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