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Many questions are straightforward. There is a Talmudic statement on the matter, and the Talmudic statement is codified in the various codes of Jewish law. When posting an answer to such a question, one can technically just post the Talmudic source, or one can post any of the sources where the law is codified.

But what happens if someone posts an answer with just the Talmudic source, or with just one code source? Well it is possible, perhaps even likely, that someone else will post an answer with another one of the sources.

Now let's imagine an extreme example. Suppose someone asks a simple question, like "what is the blessing for an apple?" One user reads the question and recalls the source where Rambam mentions the blessing for fruits of a tree, and he posts that as an answer. Another user remembers where the Shulchan Aruch codifies this law, and he posts that as an answer. Another user remembers the Talmudic source and posts that as an answer. Other users remember the ruling from other codes (e.g. Tur, Levush, Aruch Hashulchan, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a contemporary berachot book, etc.).

By the time everyone has posted their answers we may end up with 5-10 answers for a simple question. And none of the answers are disagreeing; they are just each presenting a different source for the ruling. (Yes, this may be somewhat exaggerative.)

My contention is that one comprehensive answer would be better than a bunch of non-comprehensive answers. Thus, a situation where we have a bunch of answers of this sort to a question like this, is not ideal.

Theoretically, someone can just post an additional answer combining all the existing answers. However, that doesn't seem like the best solution. First, it might look like one is simply taking advantage of content posted by others. Second, it won't change the fact that there are still a whole bunch of answers listed, and if the comprehensive answer is posted sufficiently after the other answers it is possible it won't even make it to the top position. Deleting the other answers seems wrong because it is other people's work that technically addressed the question.

To my mind, the best solution would be that the first person to answer would post a comprehensive answer, so that no one else would feel the need to post an additional answer (unless they were disagreeing). However, people are obviously not necessarily going to want to spend extra time and effort making a comprehensive answer, when a simple answer suffices.

Can we, and should we, encourage people to make their answers more comprehensive so that we can avoid having multiple answers to a question when multiple answers should not be necessary?

I have posted my suggestion in an answer. Feel free to disagree and/or post your own suggestions. Or feel free to disagree with the entire premise of this question.

This is not a critique of any specific user. I'm just noting something I've seen from time to time, and I think it can be made better.

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    If I remember correctly, somewhere in the Stack Exchange guidelines it encourages, or at least does not discourage, making a meta answer that incorporates multiple answers. – Menachem Nov 30 '18 at 3:56
  • Are identical Talmud yerushalmi quotations included in this? – Dr. Shmuel Jan 7 at 14:13
  • @Dr.Shmuel Everything is theoretically included. However, we can't expect people to significantly lengthen their answers, especially when it would require additional research effort. My main point in my answer was that with very little additional research and just a couple of additional lines in the answer you can make the answer cover most of the most important sources. – Alex Jan 7 at 14:31
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I think that we should support and encourage various different styles of answers to Halacha questions (and all other types, too), chosen in each case by the answerer to best utilize the knowledge, skills, and energy of the answerer to satisfy the curiosity of the asker and all future readers who share that curiosity.

In some cases, a comprehensive tracing of the transmission of a point of Tradition from hints to it in Scripture through the Talmud and subsequent generations of codifying rabbis is exactly what one person is capable of writing (which this set of tips facilitates), and what another person will benefit most from reading. In other cases, a simple reference to the most authoritative available source that makes the point most clearly is closer to what's feasible and to what is useful, in context. In some cases, apologetic rhetoric that suggests rationale for the Halacha is helpful to include; in other cases, it is a needless distraction. Some points of Halacha are best delivered with a set of caveats covering possible variations in circumstances; others may have basically one real practical application that would get confused by the introduction of theoretical caveats.

In all cases, answerers and editors should strive to craft a response that represents their most helpful available response to anyone who might come up with the question at hand. And voters should evaluate answers based on how closely the answers approach this standard.

If you see an answer that you believe would be a better response to the brief with a more comprehensive reading of the sources, more delving into reasons, more caveats, or yet, less of any of the above, I agree that constructive criticism to this effect in a comment, including helpful implementation tips, can be worthwhile. So can just doing the edit yourself (where you can without breaking the author's intent or helpful style) or writing your own alternative answer, if you have time.

I don't think that we should, as a community, adopt a maximalist standard along any of these axes as a one-size-fits-all ideal.

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I don't expect someone to spend an hour learning a whole sugya just to post a comprehensive answer. However, it is actually pretty easy and not so time consuming to increase the comprehensiveness of your answer.

The question mentioned that one person might know the Talmudic source, one person might know the Shulchan Aruch source, etc. I would argue that even if you only know one source, as long as you know any of the following you essentially know all of them:

  • Talmud
  • Rambam
  • Tur
  • Shulchan Aruch
  • Levush

The reason why this is so is simple. The Talmudic page contains a section which notes the sources in the Rambam, Tur/Shulchan Aruch in which each Talmudic statement is codified. One quick look at the upper corner of your Talmudic page, and you now have three additional sources.

If you know the source in the Rambam, the commentaries on the page (e.g. Maggid Mishneh, Kessef Mishneh, etc.) will tell you where in the Talmud Rambam derived this law from. A quick look in the upper corner of the Talmudic page will then give you the source in the Tur and Shulchan Aruch as well.

If you know the source in the Tur, the commentaries on the page (e.g. Beis Yosef, Bach) will tell you how the law was derived from the Talmud, and once again you can use the Talmudic page to find the source in the Rambam. Since the Shulchan Aruch and the Tur follow the same organizational scheme, if you know the siman in the Tur you already know the siman in the Shulchan Aruch. Additionally, in the newer editions of the Tur they have added in notations corresponding to the seifim in the Shulchan Aruch, so you can easily find the exact seif in Shulchan Aruch once you have the source in the Tur.

If you know the source in the Shulchan Aruch, the commentaries on the page (e.g. Be'er Hagolah) will give you the Talmudic source. Once you get to the Talmudic page you will again have the Rambam source, and you already know the Tur source because it corresponds to the Shulchan Aruch.

If you know the source in the Levush, you basically know the source in the Shulchan Aruch and Tur as well. The Levush follows the same siman system as the other two, and usually even corresponds to the same seif number as the Shulchan Aruch. From there you can work back to the Talmud and to the Rambam.

For someone who is comfortable navigating the texts, going from knowing one source to knowing five sources can take just a couple of minutes. And you don't have to own any books to be able to do this. You can find a decent copy of the Talmud here where you can select the Tractate and exact folio you want from a dropdown field. You can find the entire Rambam with dropdown fields to get to the precise chapter and halacha you want here. This link also contains a host of commentaries on the side that can be added by simply clicking on them. You can find a nice new edition of the entire Tur and Shulchan Aruch here where you can select the volume and siman number you want from a dropdown menu.

Despite all this, perhaps one still might not be interested in going through all the sources. I would say, though, that if you at least cover the Talmud, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch that should be comprehensive enough that someone else will not feel the need to add an answer just to include the Tur or Levush or Kitzur Shulchsn Aruch, or contemporary English book.

As a bonus, the Talmud and Rambam links above contain copy/pastable text (in the Talmud link you have to click to switch from PDF to text) to make it easy if you want to include a quote in your answer.

Basically, the point of this answer is to show that you can pretty easily make your answer comprehensive enough with not much effort. And if you notice someone else posting an answer, and you feel comfortable doing so, you can easily link to this in a comment so that they too can see how easily they can make their answers more comprehensive.

Here are images showing how to use the above methods for finding the other sources:

Talmud

Page of Talmud

Rambam

Screenshot of Rambam

Tur

Page of Tur

Shulchan Aruch

Page of Shulchan Aruch

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    This does, however, depend on the answerer being fluent in Hebrew. Let's not do this in a way that makes people who aren't feel bad or discourages them from participating. – Monica Cellio Nov 30 '18 at 4:02
  • @MonicaCellio Sure. I have a line in there about “for someone who is comfortable navigating the texts.” – Alex Nov 30 '18 at 5:02
  • @DoubleAA I was kind of thinking of that post when I wrote this. Didn't bother to find it, though. – Alex Nov 30 '18 at 13:51
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I think you overlooked something in your question when you posted

Theoretically, someone can just post an additional answer combining all the existing answers. However, that doesn't seem like the best solution. First, it might look like one is simply taking advantage of content posted by others. Second, it won't change the fact that there are still a whole bunch of answers listed, and if the comprehensive answer is posted sufficiently after the other answers it is possible it won't even make it to the top position. Deleting the other answers seems wrong because it is other people's work that technically addressed the question.

Assuming that the thread is cluttered enough to warrant intervention, perhaps someone can post such an answer as a community wiki.

Take your example of a blessing on an apple, where there's an answer for each the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, Gemara, Tur, Levush, Aruch HaShulchan, Kitzur, and a contemporary berachos book.

I propose that, if a question makes it to this extreme stage, someone should post a community wiki of the form:

As quoted by UserA, the Gemara in Maseches Bava Ma'aseh 494c rules that the Berachah is Ha'eitz. This is paskened by Rambam in Hilchos Ploni 2:90 (h/t UserB), and UserC quotes Shulchan Aruch in Common Sense 22:7 similarly.

Etc. etc. You get the idea - use a community wiki so that you're not taking their reputation, and make sure to link to the other users' answers.

Are there other answers that will be posted above it? Yes, there are. To this I propose that a link to this community wiki is also linked at the bottom of the OP, with something like

For those who are interested in a summary of all of the answers posted, click here.

  • Btw, while I had fun with the ridiculous Sefer names, the numbers in the citations were entirely intentional. I leave it as an exercise to the reader what they actually mean. – DonielF Jan 4 at 19:01

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