I occasionally search for "Judaism" across all SE chat sites, and I just discovered this comment from Jin Yang, SE's resident designer:

yeah i'm designing the music and judaism sites now

i know 0 about either one..

This is a bit of a surprise to me. I didn't realize that we were anywhere close enough to launch to justify starting on the design work, but I guess that Jin's getting the work into the pipeline early.

Jin / SE Staff: Could you please explain how this design process works, and what part the community will have in it?

Judaism.SE Community: Let's help Jin out! Please post ideas for concepts that could be included in the design: concepts, images, phrases, etc. Feel free to include anti-ideas like "Please don't make this look like the logo for the local Jewish retirement home!" Take a look at some of Jin's excellent designs on already-launched SE sites for some ideas about what differs between one site and another.

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    @Dori, good find. That was really intended to be an interim measure reflecting the current sketchy site design until we can get a real design. – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 20:13
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    Hi Isaac. I'm in a super early brainstorming phase for the Judaism.se site design. I've just started my own research (from a pure visual POV). Your post is perfectly timed since I was just about to post on this Meta to gather people's design ideas. Normally, if a site's topic is something I'm somewhat familiar with, then I'd do my own research and present the community with the design. But in the case of Judaism, as I said, I'm not knowledgeable at all. My goal is to have a design that reflects the long and rich history of Judaism. I'll base my design on your input. – Jin Sep 16 '11 at 20:14
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    some initial design ideas for the OVER ALL look and feel: when I google for Torah, I see a lot of vintage paper/scroll photos. I like the warmness it gives, it also provides a timeless feel. I'm thinking about for the site color palette it'd a warm tone, with some vintage effects. I'm open for suggestions for typography, symbols, logo etc. – Jin Sep 16 '11 at 20:17
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    @Jin, Yes, the color of parchment or old paper sounds very appropriate. One idea I'd like to keep in mind is that we don't just do scholarship ("Jewish Learning") here. This site is also about Jewish Life, the ongoing practice of what's written in all those books and scrolls. So, it would be great if there's something a little more dynamic-looking than library images. – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 20:25
  • @Jin, what does this mean regarding SE's plans to launch J.SE? Were you told to expect it in about N months, or something? – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 20:38
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    @Isaac Moses: Try no to extrapolate too wildly from the earliest rumors of thinking about a design. Judaism SE is doing well, so it's a safe bet to get a head start future plans. There's not much to read into it beyond that. Please read blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/10/when-will-my-site-graduate, particularly the part titled "Can you tell us when we’ll graduate?" Deciding to launch is a pretty quick and agile process, so as soon as we know, you'll know. It's as straight forward as that. – Robert Cartaino Sep 17 '11 at 2:08
  • @IsaacMoses Why's "search" linked to something random from chacha? – yydl Sep 18 '11 at 23:30
  • @yydl, If you say "Judaism" in chat even once, I might show up. – Isaac Moses Sep 18 '11 at 23:37
  • @IsaacMoses Nice one. – yydl Sep 18 '11 at 23:38
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    @Jin - I suggest you take a look at a book on Hebrew calligraphy for inspiration. While plastering hebrew all over the site isn't the point here, some graphic reference to hebrew would be worth checking out. (If you contact me offline, I can mail you the instructional calligraphy book I used when writing my wife's Ketubah.) – Goodbye Stack Exchange Oct 4 '11 at 15:57
  • Followup question: meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1018/… – msh210 Feb 14 '14 at 16:41

11 Answers 11


Designing a site is first about and keeping on the lookout for some inspiration and ideas. That's about where Judaism is in the design process. Jin asked us what sites have pretty much passed that event horizon where there there was little worry it would fail. Judaism came up in the conversation as "doing quite well."

Jin's really early, first-draft, preliminary design ideas aren't really appropriate for soliciting direct feedback and review. The site is not quite slated for graduation, yet, so we're not ready to start that process. As graduation approaches, Jin will post a few of his better design ideas here to get some first impressions and to solicit your input. The final designed will be based on your feedback.

There's no harm in talking about design ideas here. It's one of the 7 Essential Quesitions of Every Meta. But until the actual graduation criteria are met and tentative dates can be scheduled, we don't really start that design process in earnest. We want to give time for the community to provide input that drives these decisions.

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    Thanks for the status explanation. Even though it was one of the Seven Essentials, I was waiting to start asking about design until we were getting close to launch. I see that we're close enough now, at least, to start brainstorming. I understand that we shouldn't hold our breath for drafts from Jin, but I'm happy that we can start providing some ideas for him to think about. – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:31

Just my two cents...

Perhaps for the 404 page we can have some sort of reference to searching for chametz before passover, and the idea of 10 missing pieces of bread.

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    Arba V'Arba Me'os - mi yodeya? – Dave Sep 19 '11 at 4:09
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    :-) Or the afikoman. – msh210 Sep 19 '11 at 4:18
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    404 = Number of Simanim in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah – Double AA Apr 22 '12 at 15:56

I (and, I believe, others) would very much like for this design to adopt the brand name that this community used in its SE 1.0 days and currently maintains as an unofficial alternative name/URL: mi.yodeya.

This phrase means "Who knows?" in Hebrew and is in the title of an extremely well-know Passover song. It fits the mission of this site very well, in my opinion. My other reasons for favoring this name are here.

The chief objection I've heard to this name is that it's Hebrew, which not everyone knows. Besides the fact that this particular phrase is more recognizable than most, I'd point out that many, many Jewish institutions that cater to a wide clientele have Hebrew names, including Hillel and most congregations in any denomination. In addition, names with no meaning at all are used on all kinds of successful products, including Joel Spolsky's company's latest offering and pretty much every search engine. There is no need for a product or service to have a name that everyone will understand; the main thing to avoid is people misunderstanding it and thinking that the product offers something that it doesn't. I think that there's little danger of this with "mi.yodeya."

Implementation notes:

  • I own the domains yodeya.com and miyodeya.com and would gladly transfer them to SE for this purpose.
  • The Hebrew of this phrase is "מי יודע". Note that Hebrew is right-to-left, so "מי" corresponds with "mi". (This two-letter Hebrew word could also feature in a site logo. We used it as our favicon on the SE 1.0 site.)
  • The song that this phrase is in the title of is included in the Passover Hagada. This volume has been published in thousands of different editions throughout the ages, including many with beautiful illuminations and illustrations, so one of those could be a useful inspiration for design. Here's the first example I could google up. "מי יודע" is in the first line of regular text.
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    I think it might make the site a little bit less welcoming to people who are unfamiliar with Hebrew and/or the Seder song if the name were in Hebrew, no? – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 16 '11 at 21:09
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    @HodofHod, Oh, I'd certainly want the transliteration to be there. It's the URL, after all. It just might be possible and desirable for the design to incorporate the Hebrew characters as well. – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:12
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    I meant that even a transliterated "Mi Yodeya" would be confusing to a newcomer. – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 16 '11 at 21:14
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    @HodofHod, Oh, I see. I suspect that a similar percentage of Jews are familiar with "mi yodeya" as programmers are familiar with "stack overflow," and a much greater percentage of Jews are familiar with "mi yodeya" than are familiar with "StackExchange," whatever that is. I really see no problem with giving even a general-interest Jewish institution a Hebrew name. See, e.g., Hillel, any synagogue of any denomination, or, for a non-Hebrew gibberish example, the name of almost any search engine you can think of. – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:16
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    I cannot think of a context in which it would be easier to introduce someone to the site by referring to "Judaism.StackExchange.com" than by referring to "mi.yodeya.com." (Not that the former would ever go away.) – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:19
  • as far as context goes: spelling. ;-). Are you saying tha both judaism.se and mi.yodeya.com would function? mi.yodeya would redirect to judaism.se? – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 16 '11 at 21:23
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    @HodofHod, If you want someone to remember "StackExchange," you probably have to give them a link anyway. mi.yodeya.com currently redirects to J.SE. The only things that would change would be that the top graphic would feature "mi.yodeya," and that we could then really start referring to the site by that name. See what happens when you go to seasonedadvice.com . – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:27
  • moved this discussion to chat – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 16 '11 at 21:39
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    I say keep text out of logos and images, as per Apple development guidelines. Apple makes such a recommendation specifically because of multilingualism and localization. – Moshe Jan 9 '12 at 4:58

I'd love to see a yad used as a design element:

A yad (Hebrew: יד‎), literally, "hand," is a Jewish ritual pointer, used to point to the text during the Torah reading from the parchment Torah scrolls. It is intended to prevent anyone from touching the parchment, which is considered sacred. The Vellum Parchment does not absorb ink so touching the scroll with fingers will damage the lettering. While not required when chanting from the Torah, it is used frequently.

A yad can be made of any number of materials, though silver is most common. The yad is often shaped like a long rod, with a small hand and an index finger pointing from it.

This is the most common style for a yad Parashat Noah

They can also be very ornate Kalakaua's silver pointer

And while many/most are, they don't have to be silver. Jad 01

They can be stylized (as seen here and here), and can range from beautiful works of art to the completely tacky (you decide which is which).

Edited to add…

In response to the comments: I wasn't so thinking so much about text elements, but rather, design elements. Given that, though, there are a number of unicode symbols for pointing hands:

  • ☚ or Alt +261A
  • ☛ or Alt +261B
  • ☜ or Alt +261C
  • ☝ or Alt +261D
  • ☞ or Alt +261E
  • ☟ or Alt +261F

Also possibly useful:

  • ✍ or Alt +270D
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    As I mentioned elsewhere, they also have a convenient iconic representation that has been used in Hebrew printing for hundreds of years and has its own unicode. – WAF Sep 18 '11 at 14:10
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    @WAF also this unicode, as pointed out (no pun intended) by tom_smith. – Isaac Moses Sep 18 '11 at 16:12
  • Not that it matters much, but FYI one of your pics is dead. – Double AA May 14 '13 at 2:48

When people think of Jewish learning, many of them think of the Talmud. There is a widely-accepted canonical format for its printing that has some distinct and recognizable design elements. You can see pages in this format by going here and paging through using the arrows. ("Amud" means page.) Note the nested commentaries in different typefaces, the propeller-like dividers on the sides, the spacing, etc. Also note the iconic standard cover page.

Example Talmud Page

Example Talmud Cover Page

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    Thank you for these links. Please do keep in mind for the actual content part(Questions, answers, comments etc) I won't be doing much layout change. All of our sites use the same HTML output, so I'm merely putting a skin over them. Most of the graphical elements will be in the site's background, header and footer. The icons inside of the content areas (voting arrows, tabs, badges, etc) can be styled. You can take a look at the other graduated SE2.0 sites to see what the limitations are. – Jin Sep 16 '11 at 20:47
  • @Jin, I'm glad to hear that you won't be doing much with the content part. I would hate for our site to become less visually accessible in pursuit of a nifty layout like a talmud page (which is cool, but might break down when people have to make fonts larger or try to view the page on a smaller display). – Monica Cellio Sep 16 '11 at 21:39
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    Some of the design elements could be useful. The propellers may be a replacement for horizontal rules, for example. – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:43
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    I am all for adoption of the propellers. However, I think too much incorporation of design elements to imitate any real world object could look weird and gimmick-like. I'm a big fan of some of the more subtle designs. – WAF Sep 18 '11 at 14:19
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    Propellers as dividers where full-width rules are now might be confusing. Perhaps centered propellers with rules occupying the rest of the width. – msh210 Sep 18 '11 at 16:21
  • @IsaacMoses can you link any propellers samples? – Jin Sep 18 '11 at 19:24
  • @Jin, they're on the sides of the Talmud pages, which you can see in the second link in this answer. – Isaac Moses Sep 18 '11 at 23:32

As has been mentioned by @Tal Fishman in chat, perhaps we can get the favorite icon switched to a six-pointed star (magen david - star of david) in the final design.

Edit: As pointed out by @Isaac Moses, this has also been suggested by @AviD

I would love to see the logo being the hebrew letter "aleph". Perhaps on a scroll... with atzei chaim (wooden handles)....

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    Personally, I feel that the magen david has an air of banality to it... sort of like the word "oy" that every non-Jewish journalist feels compelled to insert into judaism-related headlines. It's true that the symbol has wide recognition, but that doesn't make it less of a cliche. – Dave Sep 18 '11 at 22:22
  • @Dave agreed, but nevertheless it would give the site a more jewish feel, which is what I presume we're aiming for – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 18 '11 at 22:25
  • Also, the magen david has an alternate reference (perhaps a primary reference for some people) to the State of Israel, which is not really within the scope of this site, except insofar as it relates to the practice of Judaism. – Dave Sep 18 '11 at 22:28
  • @HodofHod - it's like bagels and lox. Sure to give you nice warm Jewish feelings, but conveys no intrinsic meaning. – Dave Sep 18 '11 at 22:30
  • @Dave I disagree about it necessarily being connected to the State of Israel. That said, I wouldn't mind if it did. The Land of Israel is an integral part of Judaism, at least as much as a yad is. – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 18 '11 at 22:32
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    I didn't say it was necessarily connected to the State of Israel, just that some people would get that impression. Then we'd start getting questions about the peace process, Israeli elections, Israeli game shows... you get the idea. And I'm in full agreement that the Land of Israel is an integral part of Judaism, my quibble is regarding the connotations to the State of Israel. (No anti-Zionost agenda here, just a distinction of fact.) – Dave Sep 18 '11 at 23:46
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    @Dave - Almost any star other than a plain, filled-in one in blue would probably escape having too strong a Zionist connotation. I agree with you on its similarity to "oy," though. – Isaac Moses Sep 19 '11 at 0:47
  • @Dave I suppose you're right that some people would get the wrong idea. I doubt we'd end up with too many off-topic questions, though. – Hod - Monica's Army Sep 19 '11 at 1:21

An idea for badges: stylized crowns.

In Avot 4:13, the image of a crown is used in a generalized sense to indicate status (priesthood, sovereignty) and achievement (Torah, good name):

Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns--the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty--but the crown of good name surmounts them all.

"Good name" reminds me of "reputation," and the crown idea fits the metallic color heirarchy.

I'm not sure if it's related to this or not, but many publishers of Jewish books (e.g. Artscroll) use a stylized crown on their book covers.

Many people's tallit bags are embroidered with a stylized crown.

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    "Our goal with the badges is to encourage people to a) have fun and b) use the Stack Overflow website in ways that make sense." (cite) "As with all bronze badges, the intent here is to encourage people to explore the features and see how they work." (cite) Crowns seem too... statusy for that. – msh210 Sep 19 '11 at 20:06
  • @msh210 - Good point. I was also thinking about pennies, quarters, and dollars, but nah. – Isaac Moses Sep 19 '11 at 20:11

Here's an idea that combines "parchment/books", "living (not just study)", and "mi yodea": something that evokes the feel of a Pesach haggadah, complete with the occasional food/wine splotches.

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    e.g.: elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2011/04/… A hagada without wine stains on it is like a keyboard without cookie crumbs in it! – Isaac Moses Sep 16 '11 at 21:40
  • Sorry Monica I missed this answer you posted from way back. I really like the idea. Do you think most users will "get" this reference? I'd be happy to include it in the design. – Jin Apr 16 '12 at 5:18
  • @Jin, I think most users would get it, particularly if you choose a recognizable part of the haggadah (assuming text is involved). But we should probably ask more people and I don't know if anyone else will see this discussion. Does it make sense to post this as a new meta question? – Monica Cellio Apr 16 '12 at 14:27
  • @MonicaCellio We'll be posting another official design related question soon. We'll bring this up in that post. Thanks! – Jin Apr 16 '12 at 14:38
  • @Jin, cool! Looking forward to seeing what you're thinking about for our design. – Monica Cellio Apr 16 '12 at 16:00

I've already suggested a design idea, which I'll repeat here now that this discussion has begun:

A sefer Tora, open with lines displayed representing lines of text, would fit in nicely with the SO-SF-SE horizontal-lines theme.

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    could you please provide some visual links, or embed pictures? – Jin Sep 18 '11 at 19:23
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    @Jin Here are a couple: biblefreeorg.qondio.com/img/images/files-4/19899.jpg, cantorgottesman.com/images/sifre-torah/sefer_torah.jpg. But as you can see, these have numerous lines of text per column of text, whereas I was thinking of, perhaps, a design with just several thicker lines in each column, like in the SO/SF/SE horizontal-lines theme. – msh210 Sep 18 '11 at 19:36
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    @Jin The top and bottom handles of the sefer Torah could also make good up- and down-vote arrows. The fact that it's only one set of handles is not so bad, since it could recall a megilla. In fact, the number of votes could then be printed on the outside of the rolled-up scroll. – Isaac Moses Sep 18 '11 at 23:30
  • One of the most representative features of Jewish learning in my opinion is the off-white tint of the pages of most books, which I have been told was intentionally employed to fend off strain on the eyes from heightened color contrast of black-and-white. Regardless of the veracity of this claim, its only competitor for mental imprints related to Jewish learning is

  • Columns of text. I know the little Hebrew words motif has been done on many sites and publications (although I'm having a hard time finding some to link at the moment), but it makes a page of texts instantly recognizable as Torah-related book. (Scientific journals and magazines also often use columns, but there are some distinctive features that set Torah-related books apart.)

  • If you could clarify what those "distinctive features that set Torah-related book apart" are, it could help. I'm not sure, but perhaps you mean the wider-column-in-the-middle-with-a-narrower-column-on-each-side feature, or perhaps the wider-column-in-the-middle-with-a-narrower-column-on-each-side-with-those-side-columns-wrapping-around-the-center-column-above-and-below feature? – msh210 Sep 18 '11 at 14:49
  • Actually, I was thinking more of full justification, exactly two columns, no separators, headings in the middle and page numbers on the outer top corners. – WAF Sep 18 '11 at 15:04
  • Not sure what you mean by "separators", but exactly two columns is not the norm for Bavli, Y'rushalmi, Mishne Tora, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, etc. Or are you thinking of books in the style of Mosad Harav Kuk? – msh210 Sep 18 '11 at 15:08
  • "Separators" like one sees in journals which also often come in columns. And yes, I am thinking of the format used by MHK, as well as many smaller publications, older printings of chumashim, Zohar, etc. – WAF Sep 18 '11 at 15:11
  • I don't know about browser support, but columns are possible through CSS alone, without changing the HTML. So it should be possible (modulo browser support) to make questions and answers display in two columns each.... – msh210 Sep 18 '11 at 15:14
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    Technically, multi-column is doable vis CSS3's column-count. Most modern browsers support this feature. However it will most definitely introduce readability and layout issues. Our content is dynamic, unlike print work. If a question/answer is long and includes blockquotes, images it will not look good. – Jin Sep 18 '11 at 17:13
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    The "columns of text" idea would be quite beautiful - Hebrew is a beautiful language - but it puts across the idea that the site is a Talmud study site. That's a big part of what it does, but it's not all of it. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Oct 5 '11 at 5:56
  • FYI, many web sites that do multi-column layout do not work well when people need to increase font sizes. cnn.com, for example, truncates lines on me, and other sites instead zoom the whole page so you need horizontal scrolling to read the page. Please keep accessibility in mind in any design; we don't all have good vision and if a site is too hard to use we'll lose people. – Monica Cellio Oct 5 '11 at 14:14
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    Now that I've used SE more I'm going to amplify my previous comment: I would object strongly to a two-column layout for reasons of visual accessibility. It's beautiful in print, but not in a browser. – Monica Cellio Mar 30 '12 at 22:26

Above all, I suggest the artwork for the site avoid images of human beings, faces in particular. This is somewhat traditional in non-secular Jewish art, as a way of avoiding graven images. (Or so we were taught in Hebrew School.)

For inspiration, you might look to the work of Mark Chagall, but keep in mind that his stained glass windows are a little bit "churchy", or at least might be considered as such in the US.

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