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While previously we discussed downvoting in response to PTIJ, I see a new take on this this year: close voting as “not distinctly Purim.”

As a public service announcement: If a joke falls flat, it’s still PTIJ, just a bad one. If there’s no indication from the OP that it’s PTIJ besides the Purim Torah notice, that’s what the close vote is for. And maybe this as well.

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    Any examples of questions which were closed under this rubric where you disagree? – Joel K Mar 19 at 16:26
  • @JoelK I don’t know of any that were actually closed for this reason, but I’ve been seeing an awful lot like this in the review queue. – DonielF Mar 19 at 16:59
  • That's what the review queue is for: making sure one random close voter isn't effective. The system is fine. – Double AA Mar 19 at 17:47
  • @DoubleAA Which is why I phrased this as a PSA and not a “The system is broken”-type post – DonielF Mar 19 at 17:48
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I agree with you in theory that something can legitimately be Purim Torah yet the joke might fail. In cases where a joke is simply not funny, indeed the question should not be closed. Those who don't appreciate the joke can downvote if they so desire, and move on.

However, in practice, I think that many of the posts actually do fail the criteria for Purim Torah. The problem with them is not that they aren't funny but that they are either not "Purim" or not "Torah". Now it can sometimes be rather difficult to draw an objective line between Purim Torah and not Purim Torah. The guidance from the official policy lists three important characteristics:

It's gotta be distinctly "Purim" (not serious), distinctly Torah, and distinctly Q&A. Purim Torah questions that don't have all three of these qualities may be closed.

The third criterion does not seem to have been much of an issue, so we can safely ignore it for now. The two important facets on which we should be evaluating questions, then, are whether the question is distinctly not serious and whether it is distinctly Torah.

Since defining "distinctly Torah" may also be somewhat elusive, two paradigms are described there:

  • misinterpret a real Torah concept or Jewish text
  • apply a distinctly Torah style (e.g. Talmudic analysis) to an irrelevant topic

This tells us that if a question does not misinterpret a Torah concept or Jewish text, or does not apply a Torah style to a non-Torah topic, we can safely classify it as not being Purim Torah (even if the person posting it wanted it to be Purim Torah).

These are important details, because they lay down the principle that not every joke or non-serious question is Purim Torah. If you take any real question on this site, people would be able to come up with non-serious answers to them. The fact that a non-serious answer to a question can exist (and even if a specific answer does exist in the author's mind) doesn't make a question Purim Torah. If it did, every question could be Purim Torah.

In other words, the mere act of slapping on a and a disclaimer doesn't make a question Purim Torah. The tag and disclaimer are a siman, not a sibah. Therefore, a possible heuristic for determining whether something is Purim Torah or not would be to look at the question without the tag and disclaimer, and see if it would make sense as a real question. If it would make sense as a real question then it is probably not Purim Torah, even if it is funny and even if the author intended a non-serious answer.

In line with the above, I will go through each of the posts that I voted to close this year (apologies to all authors; this is for illustrative purposes and is not meant to put down anyone) and explain why I think they failed the Purim Torah criteria:

  • PTIJ: What is the proper attire for women in Scotland?

    Jewish law does not allow women to wear men's clothing.

    So, do Scottish Jewish women wear pants?

    This discusses a Torah concept (the prohibition on crossdressing) but nothing indicates that it's not a serious question. Sure, some people from other cultures might find it funny that in Scotland men wear skirts, but that doesn't make this not a serious question.

  • PTIJ: Is the Earth flat?

    We see the phrase "m'arba kanfot ha'aretz" show up a lot in Jewish writings, which means "from the four corners of the Earth". Does this mean that it is crucial in our belief to believe the Earth is actually flat? If so, then why aren't we all members of the Flat Earth Society?

    This question discusses Jewish texts, but again there is no reason why this couldn't be a serious question – how does Judaism reconcile the fact that it's texts speak of an Earth having corners with a non-flat Earth?

  • PTIJ: Can one say the "bris wish" at someone's wedding?

    Near the end of the brit (circumcision) there is a "wish" that the congregation says:

    כשם שנכנס לברית כן יכנס לתורה לחופה ולמעשים טובים

    (My rough translation:)

    In the manner that he entered the brit, so shall he enter Torah, Chuppah and good deeds

    I was at someone's wedding, last night. Just after the two mothers broke the plate after the tana'im, instead of shouting Mazal Tov, I shouted the above phrase. I figure - I wasn't at the groom's brit, so I didn't have a chance to say it then. And, the groom hadn't yet entered the chuppa. This took place in the *Chattan's tisch". So, why not fulfill both wishes at the same time, no???

    But, after the wedding, I thought about this and was wondering if my time expired. Is saying this limited to only at the time of the brit, or could someone say this anytime up to the point that the person enters the chuppah?

    This question discusses Jewish texts and Torah concepts, and it might be amusing to give traditional baby wishes to a groom, but at it's heart this is just asking about the parameters of when one can say the baby wish. That is a serious question.

  • PTIJ: Is "O'Fishel" an Irish restaurant / caterer?

    I was at a wedding, in the Baltimore area, yesterday. The food was delicious. I was curious who the caterer was. Then, I saw on my table placement card it said "Catered by O'Fishel".

    It was interesting that yesterday happened to be St. Patrick's day, so I wonder if the hosts specifically picked a kosher Irish restaurant. But, other than the grilled zucchini, there really wasn't anything green at the wedding nor was there anything specifically "Irish" being served. They didn't have any type of beer, let alone green beer.

    Is this place an Irish restaurant that happens to be kosher?

    This question discusses kashrut but again lacks any indication that it's not a serious question. It's simply asking whether a certain food establishment is kosher, against the backdrop of a perhaps amusing anecdote. Additionally, at the time of closure, the question body actually asked for a recommendation of which Irish dish to get, so I would have voted to close anyway as Unclear (title and body asked different questions), Primarily Opinion-Based (asking for personal opinions on food tastes), and Off-Topic (not about Judaism).

  • PTIJ: How much Woodford would a woodchuck chug if a woodchuck would chug Woodford?

    My boss is going to be coming to my Purim Seuda dressed as a woodchuck. I don't know what type of alcohol my boss likes to drink but I hope to be covered no matter what. I have plenty of alcohol at my party but I only have one bottle of Woodford Reserve and I'm not sure if that's enough or if I'm going to need to buy more.

    How much Woodford would a woodchuck chug if a woodchuck would chug Woodford?

    This question is clearly a joke, but there is nothing Torah or Judaism related about it other than the fact that the setting of the story is at a Purim meal (which has no bearing on the question itself). Unlike the other examples, this question passes the "Purim" criterion but fails the "Torah" criterion. Consider that this question could just as easily be asked on any other site that allowed non-serious questions; that indicates that it is not inherently a Mi Yodeya question.

There was one other question that I voted to close where it was more borderline:

  • PTIJ: Siyum during the nine days

    I have been studying about making a siyum during the nine days - this allows us to eat meat during those nine days starting from Rosh Chodesh Av.

    From what I can see, the nine days begin on the first of Av. This means that the 9 days goes through the ninth of Av. Are there any specific liturgical changes I would make when making a siyum on the 9th of Av?

    This question discusses Torah concepts (nine days, siyum, Tisha B'av) but it was not easy to see that it was not a serious question. After reviewing it a number of times I guess that it was trying to "misinterpret a Torah concept" by assuming that a siyum would work for Tisha B'av as well since it's part of the Nine Days, but even that is not so intuitive. Making a siyum on a fast day, and changing liturgy when eating on a fast day can both be serious discussions (and there are examples of both). I will grant though that this case is a close call, and I might not have voted to close if it would come up now.

As an aside, in most if not all of these cases minor edits could probably solve the problems. If edits were made that clearly showed how the question is not serious, or how it is Torah/Judaism related, I would probably vote to reopen.

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If a joke falls flat and meets the other requirements of PTIJ, then it is bad PTIJ (and should be downvoted!). But a question in which the punchline is a pun, which happens to mention Purim as an irrelevant detail to the pun, or a question which is just a random "curiousity" question that really has nothing to do with misinterpreting a Torah concept or a distinctly Torah-style analysis, is off-topic, even if it happens to be a joke. The closures I have seen this zman have fit under that rubric.

  • As I said, I didn’t see any that were actually closed for this reason, and for the most part, the ones that were closed I agreed with the closure. I’ve seen a lot of close votes, though, even if they didn’t have five such votes altogether on the same post. – DonielF Mar 19 at 17:01

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