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I am curious and have a lot of questions about Jewish people and history, but as a non-Jewish person I want to avoid treading on toes.

Are there any things I should avoid when asking questions here?

I noticed some people typing G-d, is this something I should follow?

It's hard to pick up subtleties as an outsider and as the site is already quite well established.

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We welcome questions about Judaism. You will probably get many answers. They will probably conflict. Welcome to Judaism. :-)

A couple things you might want to watch out for:

Try not to call our bible the "old testament"; that's a Christian term. You can call it the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh.

We aren't unwilling to talk about Jesus the historical man (if it's a Jewish question, e.g. what practices might have been common in his time/place), but "Christ" means "messiah" and you probably want to avoid calling him that.

We don't actually care all that much about Jesus or what he believed/practiced; he's not part of our religion or tradition despite the trouble some of his followers have caused for our people. If you want to ask questions about the time in which he lived, you might also consider using the Temple for your timing benchmarks -- maybe you're asking about the "late Second Temple period", or if a little later, "around the destruction of the Second Temple". Or approximate years works too; "BCE" (Before Common Era) and "CE" (Common Era) are how we write those here.

Some people write "G-d", some "God", some "Hashem" (literally "the name"). Feel free to use any of these; you don't need to hyphenate. The people who write "G-d" do it because that's what they do, not because that's what they expect you to do. There isn't clear consensus on this for electronic media, either.

There is also a "mindset" thing, provided as background or a window into how we think: We don't tend to think of ourselves as being deprived because of halachic restrictions. For example, it's not that we "can't" eat bacon; it's that we "don't", because God said so. (We do not mind in the least if you eat it.) Ditto all the other laws that may seem restrictive from the outside (not working on Shabbat etc); we accept, and ideally even take joy in, the laws that God gave us. So questions of the form "why can't you do X" are likely to be met with "because God said so"; to dig into how the laws about X came about or how we apply them, you might want to try asking in those terms (e.g. "how is 'work' that you can't do on Shabbat defined and where does it come from?").

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    Nice list. Where'd that last one come from? – Isaac Moses Sep 1 '11 at 19:26
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    I've had several non-Jews take pity for my "food allergies" (that's how they talk abouot them) who don't seem to grok that I choose to follow these laws. I assumed that if it happens to me it must happen to lots of other people, but maybe not. Anyway, I figured I'd mention it because the mindset seems different; from the outside people think Judaism is all about the "thou shalt not"s, and it's much richer than that (as you know :-) ). – Monica Cellio Sep 1 '11 at 21:47
  • Well, for one, I can't eat bacon - but that's pretty much the only thing... ;-) – AviD Sep 3 '11 at 22:50
  • @MonicaCellio - Sorry, I'm not sure what the word grok means... – Adam Mosheh Jun 14 '12 at 15:26
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    @AdamMosheh, it means to understand and is a Heinlein reference. Programmers use it a lot, and Monica is a programmer. – Ze'ev Felsen Oct 28 '12 at 4:57
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    On the last point, I was discussing just this with a Reform friend over the summer. She thought her Orthodox friends said that they can't when she would say she chooses not to. After thought, I related this to the generally poor understanding of 'can' and 'may'. – Ze'ev Felsen Oct 28 '12 at 5:00
  • @Ze'evFelsen, I agree with your diagnosis. (Adam, sorry about the unintentional jargon. Ze'ev is correct about what it means.) – Monica Cellio Oct 28 '12 at 15:01
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    I agree with you on almost everything, but the student in me can't resist the urge to say that the Jesus that Christians believe in is not part of your religion or tradition, but the actual man named Jesus absolutely was part of the Jewish religion and tradition. He didn't want to start a new religion or inspire the slaughter of millions of Jews. However, it is a moot point, and the overall gist of what you're saying is obviously correct. And in any case, it doesn't make sense to talk about Jesus on a site devoted to Judaism, since we know almost nothing about his life and beliefs. – Wad Cheber Aug 19 '15 at 18:55
  • @MonicaCellio - Obviously, you know that I have no intention of asking the ridiculous "Why don't Jews worship the Christian guy?" stuff. My only interest here as far as Jesus is concerned is the context in which he lived. I can learn about him elsewhere. He is an interesting historical figure, and he was Jewish, but he is irrelevant to the purposes of this site. Well said, and +1. – Wad Cheber Aug 19 '15 at 18:58
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    @WadCheber yeah, while I was editing anyway I started to go down that path, but since questions about specific individuals that aren't also about Judaism are off-topic anyway, I decided not to bog down in that. Arguably I've already bogged down too much in that... – Monica Cellio Aug 19 '15 at 19:01
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    @MonicaCellio - Sorry I'm such a pest. :) I just can't resist reminding people that not everyone who is interested in Jesus believes that he was something special. There are a few jerks like me who are interested in him while also knowing that he was basically just a random guy who may or may not have been a heretic. I'll stop now, I don't want to bother you after you've been so kind to me. – Wad Cheber Aug 19 '15 at 19:08
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As long as your question is about Jewish stuff, you're unlikely to offend anyone. On the old site, some people stirred up disfavor by asking questions about other religions. That would be off-topic here, too.

Using "G-d" instead of "God" is not universally considered to be obligatory or even necessarily a good idea, especially on electronic media. You can use either convention here without offending.

In general, don't be shy! The worst that can happen is that your content will be edited, and you'll get some feedback. That's what SE is designed for!

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Yes, there are a few things that are outlined in the faq; the bottom line is that questions should be practical and answerable (as with other SE sites), nothing too open-ended. Outside of those guidelines, I think that as long as your question relates to Jewish life and learning, you have as much of a right to ask questions as any other member of the community (whether they be Jewish or not).

The '-' is just a way people cope with writing G-d's name in a medium that will be erased (in some abstract sense it is cleared from the screen). I don't think it is your responsibility to pick up on these obscure nuanced practices in order to ask questions on this site. I hope that as this site continues through beta it becomes a welcoming environment to people (Jews and non-Jews alike) to ask questions about Judaism.

I am interested in hearing what other members of the community answer; great question!

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Another thing (besides the other answers here, I mean):

If you are asking a question about a Bible (Tanach) text, and it's not necessary (for your question) that you use a particular translation, then use a Jewish one.

Some good Jewish translations are available online: the Jewish Publication Society translation, the Judaica Press translation, and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation. (The OJB is, despite its name, not a Jewish translation.) The JPS is essentially the ERV/ASV with emendations to reflect Jewish tradition. The Judaica Press version uses a more modern, readable English; its online version includes the notes of Rashi in the original Hebrew (partial) and in English translation (complete). Rabbi Kaplan's uses a modern, very idiomatic English, and the online version includes his footnotes.

A Christian translation is a poor choice for two reasons. First and foremost, there's a reason the JPS made emendations: there are errors in the ERV/ASV. Second, it can seem like a bit of an insult (even though doubtless you don't intend it that way) to use Christian scholarship when quoting the Bible, as if to say that Jewish scholarship is insufficient or that Christianity is an authority on the Bible.

  • I agree with the problem of translations, it is important to synchronize the data. The English translations are important. – kouty Apr 10 '16 at 0:20
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Anything that smacks of challenging and looking for debate rather than honest intellectual inquisitiveness. More often than not you can tell by the tone and approach of the question, so i would suggest trying to make sure the tone of the question is respectful. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the answers you will receive.

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I would suggest you read a few questions to try to get a feel for the tone and content expected here.

In general, any question that is asked respectfully is welcome. Questions should focus on facts and ideas, not value judgements.

You do not need any background on Judaism to ask questions, and questions are never closed for being too basic. (In fact, some of the highest rated questions are the most basic ones.)

Mi Yodeya policy states that questions about comparative religions are off-topic. This means you shouldn't ask questions that require knowledge of any religion other than Judaism nor should you ask questions that compare Judaism or Jewish practices to other religions.

Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and looking forward to hearing from you.

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