Am I required to cite my sources?
Sources are extremely important in Judaism, as (almost) every Halacha or Minhag (custom) has a clear source. Judaism places sources and tradition in very high regard; our Sages teach (Avos 6:6), "One who says something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world."
When are sources absolutely required in answers on this site, when are they highly recommended, and when are they completely unnecessary? When referencing material, how should it be done?
When should I use sources?
As a general rule of thumb, answerers should strive to include sources in their answers, whether it's a link with quotation to a primary source, a rough indication that the answer comes from somewhere in a particular corpus of literature, an identification of the person the answerer heard it from, or a vague statement about the answerer's experience in the field in question.
Even if the best you've got is "This is how my grandmother (who grew up in a Moroccan family in Brooklyn) always did it," or "I think I heard this from my third grade Rebbe in a Chabad-run school," it should be included and are valid statements of sourcing. Even though it's anecdotal and difficult to verify, such an answer indicates something about the state of tradition and practice with respect to the question at hand, somewhere. The more detail you can provide, the better.
Doing so provides data for readers to evaluate the veracity of the answer and helps an answer ensure that the statements are, indeed, consistent with the sources. Furthermore, adding a source often provides an entry point toward other sources; linking to a page of Talmud, for example, links a reader to all the commentaries on that line of Gemara, and, through Mesoras HaShas and Ein Mishpat on the side of the page, to other places in the Talmud where the teaching appears and where in certain Poskim the Halacha is quoted.1
Even if a question is so general that "everyone knows" the answer, the answer is still news to every reader who isn't part of this "everyone," and they deserve as much data as possible to evaluate the veracity of what they're reading. Even if the source is "I've spent my whole life in a community that practices thus," that gives readers a sense of the status of the information in the community and an expectation about how it might be verified that would be absent without this sourcing.
In other words: sources are, in general, highly recommended but not absolutely required.
If you still can't provide any sources whatsoever for your answer, you should still post so long as you can provide some substance (not just a one-liner). You should acknowledge the lack of sources, and if you intend to add them within a reasonable amount of time (say a day), you should say that, but if you're planning to add them "when you get around to it," it's probably better not to make the offer. If all you can post is a terse pointer ("see Eruvin 13" or "Rambam Hilchos Teshuva covers this" or "(link)" etc.), it's better to post that as a comment. That way you provide what information you have while acknowledging that the question is awaiting a real answer. Someone else can then develop that information into an answer.
Sourcing should not be at the expense of accessibility, however, especially if the source is also introduced accessibly (e.g. with a link to the Wikipedia page about the source). It should ideally contain an explanation that would be understandable to any English speaker who would be interested in the question.
If the asker specifically asks for a source, however, answers that do not provide a source are explicitly not addressing the question. Depending on the circumstances, these answers are likely "invalid" and therefore subject to deletion, conversion to comments, or salvation through the addition of a source. That said, if the asker requests a Jewish source, they shouldn't complain when getting an answer from some random Jew. When asking for sources, be specific as to what kind of sources you're looking for. If someone asks for a question of the form "Do any Poskim say XYZ" without specifying what kind of Posek, don't be surprised if an answerer quotes a Conservative Posek when the asker meant an Orthodox one.
Sourcing is not limited to answers!
Questions can also be greatly improved by sourcing. Often the question is extremely unclear to one not familiar with the background material, and adding references greatly improves the question and makes it more likely that one would get an answer.
Consider the question
If witchcraft has no power when the practitioner is not connected to the ground, how could Bilaam fly?
This question has several problems:
- Classic "begging the question":
- How do you know that "witchcraft has no power when the practitioner is not connected to the ground"?
- Bilaam flew? When? Where? Why?
- Unless someone already knows what you're talking about, they have no way of understanding your question.
Both these points can be addressed by adding sources to your question. This further improves your chances of getting an answer because:
- It shows you've put some time and effort into the question.
- Many times, people won't know the answer to your question. However, the question intrigued them, and they'd like to know the answer themselves, or maybe they weren't even aware of something you brought up. They can look up the sources you used, and maybe find an answer for you.
In the above example, here's an example of how the question might be improved:
There is a story about how Shimon ben Shetach killed the 80 witches of Ashkelon. (The story is brought in Rashi to Sanhedrin 44b as well as a couple of places in Talmud Yerushalmi, including Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 6:6). From that story, it is clear that witches have no power when they are not connected to the ground.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 20:20) tells us that Bilaam used sorcery to make himself and five kings fly. How were they able to fly using sorcery if the spell caster must be on the ground?
How does one go about answering such a question, where the asker brings a source and has a question about the meaning of it, or a possible contradiction with something else they know?
These kinds of questions often elicit answers that contain original or very case-specific reasoning on the answerer's part, which may not have a direct source other than the reasoning in front of us. However, generally speaking, these expositions of reasoning depend on knowledge of or assumptions about the material in question that should ideally be sourced as best as possible.
How should I reference?
The short answer is that it's best to include a direct link and a short summary of the relevant pieces. For the long answer, see here.
In a world where you can't really trust anyone based on personal knowledge, sourced answers are the key to maintaining intellectual rigor and productive discussion. We should be more interested in quality than efficiency, as in the long run it makes for a more useful site archive and thereby a more useful site. A well written answer encourages new users to return, and a deeper database of information is what can make J.SE such a valuable resource to veterans and random Googlers alike.
1If other Yodeyans see an answer that's otherwise valuable but is missing a citation that they believe they can provide, consistent with the original thrust of the answer, they should consider editing it in.
This was based on and partially copy-pasted from
Answers - When is a source required?, How should I cite an answer elsewhere?, https://judaism.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer, Better to post an answer with no source, or not to post at all?, I don't think we're explaining sourcing properly to new users, Answers that say "I asked my Rabbi and he said...", Are links strictly necessary when citing a source?, What is considered a Jewish source?, "Do any poskim say" questions. See there for contributors.
Pretty much everything above is either a direct quote or a paraphrase of content in the links cited. I did not use all of the links in the OP, as I felt the content in those links was repeating the content in links already cited; I also used other links not cited in the OP that I felt added more to the post. The phrasing I used for the links section is based on the similar wording used in other FAQ posts.
Obviously, this is just a first draft. I welcome feedback in the comments. Scratch that - this is a community-run site, and I shouldn't be taking control of this post. If someone thinks that this should be changed, just go ahead and edit it, but I highly recommend leaving a comment to explain your change, especially if it's a major one.
Certain questions in particular that I'd like to pose to the community:
- This is over 10,000 characters and 1,500 words (including the links at the bottom). Should this all be included here? Should this be split into several FAQ's (perhaps one for when to cite and one for how to cite, or perhaps even splitting "when to cite" into one for answers and one for questions)? Should this all be in the same FAQ, with each section in its own answer?
- I'm particularly curious about your thoughts on the "Final Notes" section. Is that a good place for it? It's not an essay, it doesn't really need a proper conclusion. Should it be left alone, or should it be reincorporated into some place else (say, the very first paragraph)? Maybe just taken out entirely?
- This would be true of any FAQ, but particularly of such a lengthy one as this: have I emphasized (bolded) points correctly? Are there things that should be emphasized that I haven't, or things that I emphasized that shouldn't be?
- Did I spend too much time on any one subject? Do the transitions make sense - will they throw off any readers? Is there stuff that I stuck in which doesn't really belong in this post?
- Usual grammar stuff. Don't bother with comments on this - just go ahead and edit please.