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Suppose a question is off-topic because it is not about Judaism; can it simply be made on topic by adding in a Jewish motivation, or by adding the words "according to Judaism"?

Consider this recent example:

In Judaism, if I can't prove that God exists, can I still *know* He exists?

The question originally asked:

If I can't prove that God exists, does that mean I don't know He exists?

I absolutely believe/know that God exists, but can't prove it(except through logic; which, for some reason, isn't good enough for too many people). If I can't prove it, does that mean I can't know He exists?

This was put on hold as off-topic because the question of whether you can know something without proving it is not a question about Judaism.

The title was then edited to:

In Judaism, if I can't prove that God exists, does that mean I don't know He exists?

Then the question itself was edited to explain the Judaism motivation:

The answer is necessary in order to fulfill the mitzvah of knowing God(Anochi HaShem). If we can't prove that God exists, how can we claim to know Him? Unless the Torah considers believing to be knowing(which is a separate question in and of itself).

And then it was reopened.

So is a motivation within Judaism enough to make a question on topic? Consider the following question:

Did the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 2018?

At first glance I think everyone would agree that it's off-topic. But what if I made the following edit:

The answer is necessary because if someone effected a marriage with this as a condition, the answer would affect whether the marriage was effective according to Jewish Law.

Is the question now on topic because the answer has potential relevance to Judaism?

If not, where do we draw the line?

What about adding the words "according to Judaism"?

In the knowledge question above, is it on-topic if it asks:

According to Judaism, can you know something without being able to prove it?

This is explicitly about Judaism, but the underlying question is still not a Judaism question. But perhaps Judaism has a unique view even on a basic factual question? For example, the question of how old the world is, or whether evolution occurred, seems to be a basic factual question, but I think the following question might be considered on-topic:

According to Judaism, how old is the world?


Is there reincarnation according to Judaism?

Whether souls get reincarnated is a purely factual question. Yet we apparently assume that Judaism would have a unique opinion on that. So where do we draw the line? If I would ask:

According to Judaism, did the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 2018?

Is it on-topic because Judaism might have a unique opinion on this factual question? How do we know which questions Judaism has the right to an opinion on and which questions it doesn't?

Note that the examples here are just to frame the issue. This post is about the general issue, not about any specific question.

Somewhat related: The Parameters of "Jewish Life" Scope

marked as duplicate by Isaac Moses discussion Oct 10 at 16:01

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • @DoubleAA The difference that I see between the two questions is that that question seems to be focused on the parameters of Jewish life, while this question is about how Judaism relates to facts. – Alex Oct 10 at 14:59
  • If anything that then is subsumed under this. "Jewish life" around here means something like facts as used by Jews in Judaism. What else does Jewish life mean? Questions about glasses, and construction, and diet, etc. – Double AA Oct 10 at 15:01
  • @DoubleAA But it would be a different reason for being on topic. That post is asking how relevant to practitioners of Judaism does a question need to be to be considered about Jewish life even though the question itself is really abut general life. It's not about Judaism's perspectives. This post is about the extent to which a question can be about Judaism because Judaism might have opinion about it. In short, I think the other post discusses non-Jewish answers to Jewish questions, while this post discusses Jewish answers to non-Jewish questions. – Alex Oct 10 at 15:10
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    In my opinion, every single question title on Mi Yodeya should be read as if it starts with "In Judaism." If that doesn't make sense, the question's probably off-topic. Adding the phrase literally shouldn't have any effect on whether a post is on-topic. – Isaac Moses Oct 10 at 15:29
  • @IsaacMoses I thought I remembered a similar question, but I didn't find it. – Alex Oct 10 at 15:31
  • @IsaacMoses But that invites the question of how to determine whether it makes sense. – Alex Oct 10 at 15:35
  • @Alex I'm not trying to solve the whole problem with that comment. There's plenty of existing Meta literature on that. I'm just reacting to the editing-in of the phrase "In Judaism," which I think is noise in this context. – Isaac Moses Oct 10 at 15:36

I agree with Isaac's answer on the related question, in which he gives two points on which to evaluate questions like these:

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

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 earlier versions of the "knowing" question sounded more like a philosophy question; we would need to know what "know" means and the question didn't say. Adding "according to Judaism" doesn't fix that, in my opinion -- we still don't know how the question applies to Judaism. (I would have closed it as unclear because of this.)

Adding the mitzvah motivation places it within our scope. Answers can work from the mitzvah obligation "up" to the philosophy question. "Knowing" is vague and unclear, but many mitzvot have measures -- how much do you have to give to the poor, how far do you have to go in honoring your parents, and so on. It's reasonable to believe that if there is a mitzvah to know God, then there is some rabbinic understanding of what constitutes sufficient knowing.

This doesn't extend to the question about a transaction being based on the outcome of a football game, because the game is another step removed (or more). One could ask about transactions based on events, or on transactions based on events that have happened but the parties don't know the outcome yet, or about what counts as testimony or witnesses that the event happened... but the specific event is tangential and, from a Judaism perspective, irrelevant. Going back to Isaac's points, the outcome of a football game fails the second criterion.

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    But isn't "what's the extent of the obligation to know God?" a different question than "according to Judaism can you know something without proving it?"? I.e. it's not that the question is on topic because the motivation is more directly related to Judaism; it's on topic because it's a new question that's directly about Judaism. If I would change the football question to ask "what is the halachic status of one who made a marriage conditional on the cowboys winning the Super Bowl", wouldn't that also be on topic? But not because the motivation is better, but because the question has changed. – Alex Oct 10 at 15:18
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    "What's the extent..." is a better way to ask the question. Sometimes people ask questions based on faulty assumptions, and answers then correct the misunderstanding. A question asking about knowing and proving is based on an assumption that the level of knowing required by the mitzvah is being able to prove. Structurally, it's similar to asking something like "since we can't use electricity on Shabbat, how do I get home to my 20th-floor apartment?". – Monica Cellio Oct 10 at 16:19

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