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Following a discussion in chat, I want to propose that biographies of rabbis should be in scope for Mi Yodeya. This proposal is triggered by recent closures of questions asking for biographies of R Hirsch and Ibn Ezra/Rashbam.

Technically I see from the FAQ that

The history of individual Jews, Jewish populations, or the Jewish State, unless also about Judaism, is off-topic

I believe that biographies of rabbis are also relevant to Judaism. These books very often/nearly always (at least in the ca. 20 I have read) include significant portions describing the rabbis written works, positions on important Jewish issues, responsa, etc. Rabbis, certainly in the case of the Rishonim, have helped shape Judaism as it is practiced today, and understanding their lives and work in more detail certainly helps understand Judaism.

In addition, as @b a wrote "For better or for worse, the lives of famous Jews is part of the practice of Judaism for many people".

I welcome comments on this proposal.

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    I agree. Life of rabbis is a part of Judaism. Gemara says in succa ועליהו לתרופה verse teaches that sichat chulin of talmide chachamim needs to be studied. – kouty Aug 1 at 21:27
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    It's possible people aren't all using the term "biography" the same way. For lack of better terminology, we might distinguish between "hagiography" and "history". The former is what you may be thinking ought to be on topic, while the latter is what is off topic. – Double AA Aug 14 at 14:33
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If you want to ask for information about a rabbi's positions on important Jewish issues, responsa, details about their written works, etc. you already can.

If you want to ask about their favorite flavor of ice cream, you can't, and I see no reason to change that.

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    What if Rav Moshe Feinstein's position on cholov stam was predicated entirely on his love of Breyer's Pralines and Cream? Would it be on-topic then? – Josh K Aug 1 at 3:38
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    @JoshK then you would ask something like: "I'm trying to understand his position on cholov stam, which seems to have (problems). What is the basis for his position? I heard it has something to do with his own preferences in ice cream, but I don't know more about that rumor." In the end it has to be about the Jewish, not culinary, matter, but if they're intertwined, they're intertwined. – Monica Cellio Aug 18 at 20:18
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Judaism is as much concerned with how Rabbis lived their lives in accordance with Judaism as it is with their specific teachings and output. Things like מעשה רב and the famous story with Rabbi Akiva's student hiding under his teacher's bed, for example.

And there are already a wealth of questions that ask biographical details about Rabbis (e.g.), what is the motivation to change the de-facto standard?

Biographies of such Rabbis are part of the study of Judaism. Perhaps not the most important part, but it can be a source to gain insight into the context in which responsa are written and the general community standards they were coming from, among other things.

And especially since we allow purely academic questions that exclude religious Judaism as a source, well then in the academic study of Judaism the Rabbi's biography is often dispositive of the reason for their position, and therefore biographies should be on-topic.

This isn't the same as the biography of [insert non-practicing Jew here, e.g. the Christian raised Karl Marx] who's opinions or practice of Judaism have no bearing on or connection to Judaism.

Regarding the alleged Rabbi Jesus, this is the same issue that we have with allowing heterodox questions, especially about Karaites. You could always extend any on-topic discussion to just claim that Christianity is just another variant of Judaism. As far as this site is concerned, there is a different Stack Exchange site for that.

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    How is this different from my answer? Are you suggesting a change from the current FAQ? If so I'm not clear what it is. – Double AA Aug 14 at 13:20
  • I don't understand "in the academic study of Judaism the Rabbi's biography is often dispositive of the reason for their position, and therefore biographies should be on-topic". That doesn't follow. Just because something can be used in an answer doesn't mean you can ask about it. I can potentially write an answer using just math (imagine some question about Rosh Chodesh) perhaps but math can't be asked about. – Double AA Aug 14 at 13:26
  • If you're proposing a change in policy, how do you propose to define where the line is between in-scope biography and out-of-scope biography? Test cases: Would questions about the broadcasting career of Rabbi Yishai Fleisher be on-topic? Would questions asking for biographical data on Sir Moses Montefiore be on-topic? Would questions about the biography of the author of The Vanishing Jew: A Wake-Up Call From the Book of Esther be on-topic? – Isaac Moses Aug 14 at 13:32
  • @DoubleAA My answer would leave a question about biographies on the Ibn Ezra on topic, yours (apparently) would not. – Yishai Aug 15 at 20:37
  • @IsaacMoses, if the Rabbi in question is one about which the questioner would be saying is a concern about "how Rabbis lived their lives in accordance with Judaism" or " reason for their position" about something in Judaism, where "Biographies of such Rabbis are part of the study of Judaism" then yes, otherwise no. I'm sure you could come up with people who require justification. The Rashbam, for example, isn't one of them. It is kind of self evident. – Yishai Aug 15 at 20:47
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    @DoubleAA, regarding changing the FAQ, biographical questions were just on-topic (as the question about the Rambam I linked to demonstrates) until recently. "Jews not Judaism" has become the latest rule to become hyper-literalized and interpreted more and more narrowly in quite rediculous ways lately, this being another example of it. I thought it deserved some pushback, even though it is unlikely to change the trend, unfortunately. – Yishai Aug 15 at 20:50
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    @Yis No one guarantees the rules on this site will stay the same as the past (though I have yet to see much evidence indicating any shift, as your failed example shows), but the current rules are always the current FAQ. If you believe the current FAQ supports allowing asking if Ibn Ezra preferred ketchup or mustardthen you should clarify that in your answer. If you believe we should change the FAQ so it does then you should clarify to what in your answer. Right now no one knows for sure what you are even suggesting (largely because it's not always clear what anyone means really by "biography") – Double AA Aug 15 at 20:55
  • Yishai can you clarify how "Biographies of such Rabbis are part of the study of Judaism" ought to be defined? Just implicitly, based on close-voters' best judgement? Also, could you please respond regarding the test cases I proposed? – Isaac Moses Aug 15 at 20:56
  • @DoubleAA, no change the FAQ was made to change the rules now, so I don't see why I would need to propose language to change the FAQ now. If questions can become off-topic without changing the FAQ, just reinterpreting it, then it can just be interpreted differently. – Yishai Aug 15 at 21:13
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    @Yishai an ambiguous FAQ is not a good FAQ. If you feel the current interpretation/wording isn't a good one, propose edits that make it clearer and more precise to help everyone. That's what SE is all about. – Double AA Aug 15 at 21:15
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    (I don't concede any change to the rules was ever made without editing the FAQ, but this question of history is largely irrelevant, since the FAQ is designed to be able to change if people want it to. Don't focus on the past, and present what you want to see for the future clearly, precisely and constructively. I assure you all the mods will work to uphold any changes that garner conclusive community support, whether or not they personally supported them.) – Double AA Aug 15 at 21:17
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    @Yishai No imbalance exists AFAICT. More lenient interpretations, where ambiguity exists, can be introduced organically as well. You can surely try that here if you are trying to change a current practice, or you can just propose a clear rule. It's really up to you. (Though if you really believe you can't change things organically to be more lenient, then flaunting the legislative conventions just to make a point doesn't seem very constructive. Doing anything just to make a point is rarely constructive. Work within the system, or don't blame it.) – Double AA Aug 15 at 22:03
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    @DoubleAA, questions like this: judaism.stackexchange.com/review/reopen/38878 used to never get closed. Just one example that happens to be current about the ever-increasingly-strict standard on the "Jews not Judaism" rule. I'm saying they should on topic as they always were. – Yishai Aug 15 at 22:36
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    @Yishai maybe you're correct about the history and maybe not (I think not). But instead of debating that which doesn't matter at all, define (stipulatively, not ostensively) what the future standard should be. If you do this right, which I think you are sufficiently knowledgeable, thoughtful and eloquent to do if you put your mind to it, you may actually be successful. – Double AA Aug 15 at 22:40
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    And to be clear, and tell me if I'm wrong, we're talking about questions such as "Where was X born?" without any additional text like "I'm interested in how X's upbringing shaped his understanding of Sefer Y." In other words, the sole reason to understand that the question is about Judaism is because it's asking about the life of X, right? For anyone on the "biography is part of Judaism" list, such a question is self-evidently on-topic, right? – Isaac Moses Aug 16 at 14:08
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Which of the gospels most accurately depicts the life of Jesus?

I was reading the gospels recently, which depict the life of Rabbi[1] Jesus of Nazareth, and I noticed some inconsistencies:

  • [List goes here.]

Which of the gospels is most accurate? How do we know?


[1] Mark 9:5, John 20:16


… Okay, this is an extreme example. But (a) it (at least arguably) meets the criteria proposed above and (b), even if we tighten those criteria to exclude Jesus, they still let in other examples that have nothing to do with Judaism. That's the road to things like:

  • Why did the Nazis choose yellow as the star color?
  • When did Engels first meet Marx? [Marx was Jewish.]
  • When do you use sear versus s'aros for "hair" in modern Hebrew?
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    The first part is funny. But I don't understand how allowing questions on biographies of rabbis allows the three questions you give as examples – mbloch Jul 31 at 6:29
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    Very good point, @msh, but that particular mamzer was not a rabbi by our standards. Letting biographies in is indeed tricky, but I think there's quite a bit of daylight between "What did Rashi do for a living?" and "Did Leon Trotsky wear a tallit gadol and if so did he say the full 'ma yakar hasdecha' bracha every morning" as I once asked in a now-deleted parody post – Josh K Jul 31 at 6:30
  • @mbloch re your comment "I don't understand how allowing questions on biographies of rabbis allows the three questions you give as examples": I said it's the road to it. – msh210 Jul 31 at 7:48

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