The One Jewish Practice post is the subject of significant controversy regarding its fitness for Mi Yodeya. It's been around for 18 hours, and in that period, it has received:

  • 11 upvotes and 1 downvote

  • 6 answers, each of which has received between 5 and 12 upvotes and few to no downvotes

  • 5 closure votes, resulting in its being put on hold as "primarily opinion-based"

  • 4 re-open votes

  • Comments advocating for its closure and re-opening

  • An appeal by the author, added to the question post

The voting indicates that there is content here that the community sees as valuable, and the close/re-open activity indicates that there's significant controversy regarding whether the post fits within our scope and Q&A model.

If possible, it would be good to edit the post in a way that makes it a more clear fit for Mi Yodeya, so that it can serve as a repository of valuable content and not of ongoing controversy. How can we edit this post to achieve this aim? If the edit requires invalidating some of the answers, so be it, but the less such invalidation, the better.

Answers that simply articulate clearly what's unfit about the post in its current incarnation are welcome, even if they don't propose a solution themselves.

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    Dear Isaac - Of course I appreciate the effort you must have and do put in to have created and maintain this valuable site. Regardless of how you (pl.) determine to resolve this, not knowing what "invalidate" means, I would ask you to please leave access to all the posts as they are extremely valuable to me. With kind regards, – user18223 Nov 7 at 16:58
  • @user18223 Thank you very much for bringing your question here and for your understanding regarding this controversy. If you haven't yet, I encourage you to take this short tour and look at this beginner's guide, which explain how Mi Yodeya differs from other online fora. Rest assured that no matter what happens, your post will not be deleted. At worst, it will be kept "closed," which prevents more answers. – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 17:02
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    @user18223, could you please edit your post to include some more criteria that indicate what an ideal response would look like, and that could then be used to objectively determine which answers are closest to that ideal. (e.g. "The less/more Hebrew, the better." "Preferably once/day." "Preferably taking between one and thirty minutes." "Nothing that has to do with food.") In addition, would you be comfortable with restricting answers to those that can be backed up with either personal experience or an authoritative source? – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 17:32
  • @user18223 responded via an edit: "For the sake of shalom ha'bais, I would like to edit my original post to comply with the guidelines. But I have to be honest and say whatever I do would, in fact, be an artificial contrivance. My only regret is that I have caused anyone consternation. Especially any of the participants who so kindly and generously and warmly extended themselves to hold open the door for me to go to something from nothing. If I haven't already expressed it, please know that I will do my best to implement your suggestions." – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 20:34
  • Continued: "That said, I take full responsibility for my post and also for leaving it intact. And I will therefore accept any consequences if I am in violation of any guidelines of conduct and/or decorum at Mi Yodea." – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 20:35
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    Maybe this post doesn't really fit into the site guidelines, but I will say I loved the post and the discussion it brought out. While there's nothing wrong with focusing the site for a certain set of users, not being a member of that set, I feel not particularly welcome much of the time (which is not the same as feeling less experienced or knowledgable about a subject). And that's okay to a degree, I'm not complaining. This post though really helped make me feel more welcome and included and I hope you can leave it open, even if it's not quite like most other posts. – Cyn Nov 12 at 17:38

I did not vote either way, but it seems to me that the question was asked in a somewhat subjective manner. As it currently stands, it simply asks for suggestions for one thing the person can do. There's not really an objective way to answer that. There can be as many answers as there are things to do in Judaism. Any answerer can just suggest his/her own favorite practice, or something he/she feels will be beneficial to an irreligious Jew.

Basically, there are no criteria by which to construct an answer. And there are no criteria by which to judge whether an answer is good/bad, useful/not useful, helpful/not helpful. To quote from the text of the close reason:

answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise

As it stands now, that's what the answers look like. With the exception of perhaps one of them, they all seem to just be the opinions of those who posted them. While opinionated suggestions might still be helpful to the person asking the question in this particular case, it still doesn't fit Stack Exchange guidelines. A question that has no way to determine a right answer (or right answers) is essentially a discussion, something that this platform is not designed for.

I think the question could easily be salvaged if more information is added that would make it possible to give objective evaluations. For instance, more information about a specific type of practice that the person is looking for can make it possible for people to give answers that fulfill specific criteria, and provide support for how the answers fulfill the criteria, and allow others to be able to judge whether and to what extent the answers have fulfilled the criteria.

Alternatively, the question can be rephrased to ask if there are existing sources within Judaism that address what a person in such a situation should do. So, for instance, something like:

Does Judaism prescribe a hierarchy of practices for someone who will only be minimally involved?

This can be answered objectively (either "yes" or "no") and the relevant sources can be cited.

Note that there is nothing wrong with the topic per se. Indeed, if someone is simply seeking suggestions and opinions they will be welcomed with open arms in the Mi Yodeya chatroom, which is more suitable for a discussion of this sort.

In any case, it should be made clear to the questioner that whether the question remains open or closed, it is not anything personal. It's certainly not because we don't like him/her, or we're not welcoming to new users, or we're not tolerant of questions from irreligious Jews. We are only trying to determine whether this particular question, as currently phrased, fits the guidelines for this site. This of course can, and will, be debated by the community until we reach a conclusion, but it is not really something that we can simply ignore.

  • The chat isn't accessible for new users, which was the case with this post. Whatever this site's policy is would unfortunately have to be limited by the Stack Exchange platform, which treats communication as a privilege – b a Nov 8 at 13:34
  • @ba True. But as privileges go it's just about the easiest to earn. – Alex Nov 8 at 16:46

I do feel bad that this is the response that a new user got - that his first post was closed so quickly - and I hope that at least the positive feedback to his question helps to offset any ill feelings he may have against the site. Based on the OP’s edit to his question, I imagine that this was indeed his response.

That said, not wanting to mistreat a new user is no excuse for leaving poor-fitting questions open. Nevertheless, I see that a comment on the question argues that

by voting to close on this new contributor, you are shutting off the possibility for anyone to offer a better response

and another that argues that

if this site is not for this stuff, then what site is for this stuff[...]?

I don’t think this is the appropriate approach to these situations. We need to evaluate each question on its own merits, not asking where else on the Internet it fits, or by taking it easier just because it’s a new user.


As the question stands, I think it is indeed opinion-based, and if I were early enough to the discussion, I probably would have voted to close myself (while gently explaining why to the OP in the comments - just because I’m not taking his status as new to the site into account when evaluating the question doesn’t mean that I’m going to be mean to him when voting).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Evaluating questions on the merits of their answers (or potential ones) is a terrible practice. Nevertheless, I’d like to look at them to see how the community perceives the question to see if and how it can be improved.

I see six answers as of posting, containing these suggestions:

  1. Put on tefillin daily
  2. Say Shema daily
  3. Learn something Judaism-related daily, preferably at the same time each day
  4. Being careful with saying Shehakol (starting with drinks, to start small)
  5. Being careful with other Berachos Rishonos
  6. Making Friday night meals enjoyable
  7. Giving Tzedakah
  8. Lighting candles on Friday night
  9. Turning off electronics on Friday night

Of these, only SAH’s answer (suggestion #3) and LN’s answer (suggestion #4) give support for their suggestions - not just saying “this is a good idea” but actually explaining, based on the halachic and hashkafic sources behind these concepts, why the OP should take it on. If we expand “authoritative sources” to “...and personal experiences,” then we can add Josh K’s answer (suggestion #6) as well.

If it were clear from the OP that these are the kinds of things he’s looking for - say, tacking on “based on sources and experience” or some equivalent to the end of his second paragraph - I think we wouldn’t be in this situation. But as it’s written, it’s asking for an opinion, rather than a more objective answer.

TLDR: I think as it stands, the question was appropriately put on hold, but I think it’s very easy to fix it up, maintaining the author’s intent while keeping it up to the standards we ask for.

But, to play devil’s advocate...

Here are the ways in which this post's fitness for Mi Yodeya is questionable, to my mind:

  • The post clearly asks for personal recommendations, which sounds a lot like asking for a personal ruling, which Mi Yodeya can't provide. The optimal next action for this individual would be best advised by a rabbi who knows (or comes to know) the individual and his/her communal context and who is qualified to offer Halachic advice.
  • The post is asking for recommendations that fit a fairly broad brief: Jewish practices that can be done regularly but that are "doable" as in short of "shmiras shabbos". That looseness makes it difficult to objectively evaluate the value of answers. It needs to be possible to evaluate answers to a great degree based on criteria described in the question rather than based on the subjective opinion of the author or of the voter.
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    Truthfully, I asked here (was happy to stumble on this site) expressly for the diversity of participants rather than be constrained exclusively to one particular rabbi. Granted I am delighted for the multiplicity of answers which I am certain come from the deepest convictions of the kind responders. Obviously this is a one-off type of question on my part as I take all the answers most seriously and they are all separately doable without being, for me, overwhelming. And conceivably cumulatively as well over time. So maybe I'm a bit of a goniff with this question, but I hit the jackpot. – user18223 Nov 7 at 17:59
  • @IsaacMoses Your 1st bullet point is arguable, but the OP is not asking for a halachic ruling. He or she is asking for a suggestion. And considering the guidelines for a new contributor, this critique is too much. Regarding your second bullet point, please see my comment above to Daniel. Your observation is legitimate and on-target. But as I point out, there is very definitely one or two possible classic responses to this type of question. The other possibility would probably be that given to us by Habbakuk the prophet of Emunah. Habbakuk explains that it is the root of all other commandments. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 18:05
  • @YaacovDeane The other answers here indicate that people aren't generally too concerned about the pesak issue here. However, many community members are concerned about the question being too broad/subjective. I believe that attempting to improve the post along that axis will result in more valuable content while reducing the likelihood of ongoing controversy, while arguing that those concerns are invalid will only prolong the controversy. – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 18:31
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    @YaacovDeane The other answers are correct that the author's status as a "new contributor" is immaterial to the fitness of the post. We need to make an extra effort to be polite and welcoming to new users, not to loosen our scope or standards. I believe that in this case, we have generally performed quite well to that standard. – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 18:44
  • @IsaacMoses And that is 'an Army of one' (Da'at Yachid) ;-) If the 'New Contributor' status wasn't material, then it wouldn't be flagged with all the extra verbiage, and special instructions in the guidelines. The post, meaning the question, was, even in original form not in violation of anything and was understood by many and acceptable. It also reflects positively on the community, that so many people wanted to try to help by offering answers. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 19:22
  • Stopping additional answers by placing it on hold without clear suggestions about how the OP should improve their question, was IMHO contrary to the guidelines and Code of Conduct. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 19:22
  • Just to finish the thought, your suggestion trying to get the OP to limit the scope of their question was more a reflection on your not seeing how to answer the question effectively. But as I have already pointed out, there are several extremely valid responses within the parameters of the OPs questions without forcing artificial limits. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 19:27

My true feeling on the matter I’ve written up in my other answer here. However, I feel it’s worthwhile to play devil’s advocate and let the community decide.

This isn’t a halachic question, nor is it a question on a classical source. It’s not a question of “what does Judaism think of X,” nor is it a question of important Jewish figures or texts. It seems to be a question of “As Jews, you all would be knowledgeable about X, so can you help me?” - the type of question we refer to as Jewish Life.

As the top-voted answer there explains, not all Jewish Life questions are on topic. But some are. This is essentially an adapted version of the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective policy which states that constructive subjective questions (loosely defining constructive) are still on-topic.

I believe that the guiding principles (though not a bright-line rules) for on-topicness should be:

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

and

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?

As Isaac explains there, these (loose) principles ensure that the question is A) a good fit for the site, and B) answerable by the community.

So, does our question pass the white-glove test?

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

I’ll let the question speak for itself:

I am Jewish and an atheist, yet I have a pintele yid and I mean this request sincerely.

What about criterion 2?

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?

Also check. He’s asking a group of Jews what they think is the best, easy thing for a Ba’al Teshuvah to take on. That seems like something we’d be capable of answering.

These are loose criteria, but if we take them as general guidelines, then this question should be reopened.

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    Those guidelines are meant to help determine whether a question is within our scope - Judaism, not whether it's sufficiently objective or narrow, and not whether it's sufficiently distinguished from a pesak-request for us to address it. I agree with you that this question is very clearly about Judaism. – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 17:19
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    @DonielF You are forgetting that this is the same type of question posed in Talmud with contrasting answers from both Hillel and Shammai. The OP stated clearly he was not asking about massive mitzvot, like Shabbat. He is also only looking for 'one' mitzvah to do. That strongly suggests one of the comprehensive commandments. Hillel responded to this need explicitly saying that the commandment of 'Loving your neighbor like yourself' encompasses the entire Torah and the rest is commentary (including Shabbat, Tefillin, Torah study, etc.). And we follow Beit Hillel currently with a few exceptions. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 17:30
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    @YaacovDeane I did not follow that whatsoever. I assume you’re referring to Shabbos 31, but that seems like an awfully large leap from “tell me the Torah on one foot” to “I want to take on one easy mitzvah.” Second of all...so what? What’s your point? – DonielF Nov 7 at 22:34
  • @DonielF See chapter 32 from Likkutei Amarim in the Tanya. The OP has made several telling comments about their experience and current frame of mind. The Hillel HaZaken reference is appropriate. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 22:41
  • @YaacovDeane Care to elaborate? I don’t have a copy of the Tanya, nor do I see these comments by the OP. – DonielF Nov 7 at 22:45
  • If & when this question is ever taken off hold, I will, bli neder, explain fully in the answer. As I’m sure you are aware, comments aren’t for extended discussion. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 22:48
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    @YaacovDeane We’re here to discuss whether the question is on-topic or off-topic, correct? If you have something to say in its defense, then please do so. I don’t understand what you’re saying here, but if it’s meant to be a defense of the question, then by all means, add an answer to this thread explaining in further detail what it is you’re trying to say. If you’re trying to respond to my answer, I can’t address your concerns if I don’t know what those concerns are. – DonielF Nov 7 at 22:51
  • @DonielF I made quite a few comments explaining that the question is definitely acceptable and that it is answerable (even indicating how). Someone has deleted most of them both here on Meta and in the original question. – Yaacov Deane Nov 7 at 23:19
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    @YaacovDeane So, would you mind starting again, since I missed all of that? – DonielF Nov 8 at 15:01
  • No need. I see that the question is now taken off hold. So I will try to get an answer posted. My guess is that like my answer here, it will be downvoted promptly to remove it from view. There is a frightening level of censorship and suppression of Torah on this site. It's an indication of the level of baseless hatred and intolerance that truly exists. – Yaacov Deane Nov 8 at 15:51
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    There are three deleted comments on this meta page, all obsolete and none by Yaacov. Comments on the main-site question were cleaned up because comments there are not the right venue for an extended discussion/argument about topicality. – Monica Cellio Nov 8 at 18:48

The OP did not request "the best" Jewish practice to adopt, which would be seeking out opinion-based answers, but, rather, simply asked for one Jewish practice he could adopt. As such, any Jewish practice one suggests is a fact-based answer. On another Judaism discussion site, someone posted a question a few days ago asking how Sarah Imeinu died. Well, we have 5 different midrashim about that. Any one of those would have made for a valid answer. This is an open-ended question, rather than an opinion-based one. As such, answers to this question, though they likely reflect the posters' opinions, are factual as long as they do not conflict with Jewish practice ("Sacrifice your children to Ba'al Peor" would be rejected on these grounds)

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    If any Jewish practice is an equally-valid response, then the question is too broad to be a good fit for our Q&A model, as there are hundreds of distinct Jewish practices. Voters and peer reviewers need to have a clear basis for evaluating the degree to which answers are helpful responses to the question. More open-format discussion fora are better-suited for open-ended brainstorming. – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 19:39
  • @Isaac Moses, much of your comment here makes sense. Would we then reject a question on how Sarah Imeinu died, though? – Josh K Nov 7 at 19:49
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    We wouldn't on that basis, because the universe of facially valid possible answers is much smaller, and there are some implicit common-sense criteria for evaluating parshanut questions like that, such as how convincingly the answer fits the text and/or sources it cites. – Isaac Moses Nov 7 at 19:52
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    Note the explanation of the "too broad" close reason given in the Help Center (my emphasis): if your question could be answered by an entire book, or has many valid answers (but no way to determine which - if any - are correct), then it is probably too broad for our format – Alex Nov 7 at 22:44

This particular question is fine as presented by this 'New Contributor'.

The objections which precipitated the HOLD are about the responses made so far. The original 5 should direct their action to the individuals that offered answers, not the individual posing this question.

As has been observed by the response of this new contributor in their comments and question edit, they are confused by this shut-down of their simple, appropriate and innocent question.

In addition, by placing the question on hold, it prevents anyone else from offering a better response.

There is, in fact, a textually based, non-opiniated answer to this question. But hasty and inappropriate action has closed off the possibility of presenting it.

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