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I have occasionally run into an issue where I am writing either a question or (more rarely) an answer and I haven't had any decent sources on hand, because I had viewed the elements of the question as being reliant on common knowledge or tacit culture within the Jewish community.*

Should such concepts necessitate sourcing in general? I think not, based on the academic doctrine of common knowledge, which is to say that if you know something without needing to look it up, it is considered unnecessary to use a citation in most formats.


*"Tacit culture" is an anthropological term for cultural knowledge which is understood to be true without any deeper investigation. An example might be something like "How do we recognise faces?"

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    Completely agree that the academic standard (of "common knowledge") needs to be in force here. A major reason that is in place in academia is that we want to spend our time advancing scholarship rather than sourcing claims with which everyone agrees. It's not "perfect" practice, formally speaking--but the academic community (unlike ours) acknowledges that other concerns must sometimes take precedence over structural ideals. – SAH Aug 10 '15 at 11:06
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    Exactly! @SAH, you hit the nail on the head – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 10 '15 at 11:49
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    @SAH, please see my answer, in which I describe three important motivations that drive many or most requests for sources, which have nothing to do with structural ideals. In Judaism, there are a lot of things that people "know" and assume everyone agrees to which turn out, upon inspection, to be less universally known or agreed to than they think, or to have nuances of which they weren't aware. Our peer-review process is, in a way, stronger than that of academic publishing, in that it uncovers such mistakes relatively rapidly. – Isaac Moses Aug 10 '15 at 14:12
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Any source is always better than no source, and no source is ever required.

For instance, in increasing order of preference:

  1. We wash our hands in the morning.

  2. My parents taught me to wash my hands in the morning.

  3. I learned in 2nd grade to wash my hands in the morning.

  4. I learned in 2nd grade from Rabbi X in ABC Torah Academy to wash my hands in the morning.

  5. Shulchan Arukh (OC ###) rules to wash hands in the morning.

  6. The Talmud (XYZ 4b) teaches us to wash our hands in them morning, and this is codified in works A, B and C.

  7. The Talmud (XYZ 4b) teaches us to wash our hands in them morning, and this is codified in works A, B and C who further note that no one argues on this.

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    1½. I have heard, though I {don't recall | am not at liberty to say} where, that we wash our hands in the morning. – msh210 Jul 30 '15 at 18:16
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    Φ. Everywhere I've gone, I've seen that the practice among observant Jews is to wash hands in the morning. π. In communities F, G, and H, I've seen that the practice among observant Jews is to wash hands in the morning. – Isaac Moses Jul 30 '15 at 18:20
  • @IsaacMoses Is that the Φ that's about 1.6? (IIRC there are a few constants called Φ.) – msh210 Jul 30 '15 at 18:21
  • @msh210 That's the one I meant. Although maybe that statement deserves to be elevated to either Φ^2 or Φ+1, since whole unspecified communities are of greater stature than unspecified parents. – Isaac Moses Jul 30 '15 at 18:22
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    What do you mean "no source is ever required"? That hasn't been my experience of this site... – SAH Aug 10 '15 at 11:00
  • Agreed, @SAH, I've often been chastised for use of common knowledge here. – Noach MiFrankfurt Aug 10 '15 at 11:51
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    @NoachmiFrankfurt and SAH, There's an important difference between what is required, such that moderators or community members feel empowered to take administrative action (e.g. putting questions on hold or deleting answers) and what is desired, such that community members choose to ask for it, sometimes in ways that are or are taken to be "chastising." As described in my answer, various worthy motivations having nothing to do with rules underlie many or maybe most requests for sources. – Isaac Moses Aug 10 '15 at 14:07
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    @SAH Can you please cite an instance from your experience where a source was required in order to post? – Double AA Aug 10 '15 at 15:45
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Tack-on point to DoubleAA's answer:

A decent rule of thumb is that if someone feels moved to challenge you for a source, then your assertion is probably one of the following:

  • Unknown to at least one reader in the target audience

  • Incorrect, at least according to some

  • Insufficiently precise

In any of these cases, looking up the best source you can and stating the assertion in its terms would be helpful.

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    - Presenting a source can help give others a place to start doing research. – Double AA Aug 6 '15 at 20:58

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