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I have seen questions posed and the comments include "why do you want to know" which leads me to believe that asking simply because of curiosity, when there is no practical use or generalizably useful knowledge is discouraged.

I have a question which is simply to scratch a trivia-based itch. It isn't a riddle (as I understand riddles) but i can't imagine that anyone else would care about it, nor will it change anyone else's religious viewpoint or life.

Is it proper to pose questions that have no purpose other than to generate factoids that I find interesting?

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    Knowledge for knowledge's sake should be encouraged. Practical ramifications are not the justification for the thirst of knowledge. – chortkov2 Dec 29 '19 at 14:26
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    Hava Amina, tsdadim, condition the understanding of the question – kouty Dec 29 '19 at 20:09
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I don't think there is anything wrong with posing a question (that is otherwise on-topic, clear, not too broad, and not opinion-based) solely out of curiosity. The reason why people often ask "why do you want to know?" is, I think, because that information can often help make the question better, and lead to better answers.

For example, the reason why someone asks a question might be based on a particular assumption that person is making. Without knowing that assumption the question might seem silly; if the questioner includes the assumption then readers can more precisely figure out what the issue is and answer accordingly.

Take this question for instance:

Does Judaism consider women inferior?

Now imagine that the first two paragraphs were not included. It would be much harder to give a good answer to that question because we wouldn't know where the questioner is coming from. Since the questioner provided background to her question, we have a much better idea of what she is actually looking for, and we are thus in a better position to help her.

So in essence when people ask "why do you want to know?" it is not meant as a personal question about what your motivations are. We don't know you, and it doesn't matter what your motivations are. It's just a way of trying to help you make your question as focused and clear as possible, so that you can get the best possible answer.

  • Understood, but what if I know the answer is "no particular reason, I just want to know"? – rosends Dec 28 '19 at 23:16
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    @rosends That's fine. Just make sure to include any relevant information. – Alex Dec 28 '19 at 23:18
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    @rosends that's never the reason. That's something people say to not have to say the [rest of the] truth. It's like a child saying "because" to a question of "why". It's a contentless "response" which is more akin to dodging the question. – Double AA Dec 29 '19 at 0:04
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    (Frankly, it's pretty offensive when people assert "just curious' to us as if we are naive enough to not see through it. If a judge in a court asked you why you did something and you said "because" he'd hold you in contempt and throw you in jail. It's readily apparent when someone is dodging a question. Around here there is no contempt, so if you don't want to answer just say so or don't say anything.) – Double AA Jan 1 at 14:55
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    @DoubleAA by claiming that there is always some other reason (or that there is a "[rest of the] truth"), you are claiming to know how people are thinking instead of assuming that what they present is fully what they are thinking – rosends Jan 1 at 18:27
  • @rosends I don't claim to know how people are thinking. I just can identify when they haven't told me a motivation. It could be the person hasn't identified their own motivation or they are hiding it because it's embarrassing or something else. Don't know. Don't care. Doesn't matter why they haven't told me a motivation. I just can identify when they haven't told me a motivation. – Double AA Jan 1 at 18:30
  • @DoubleAA or they have and you can't accept it as valid or sufficient. – rosends Jan 1 at 18:31
  • @rosends they'd have to tell me a motivation for me to even begin evaluating it's validity or sufficiency by any standard – Double AA Jan 1 at 18:34
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To complement Alex's answer, I'd add:

One reason people (including me) sometimes ask for the addition of explicit motivation is that the question is that the question is of the apparently-arbitrary form "What does Judaism think of X?" where it's not inherently obvious that Judaism is likely to say anything about X. Adding motivation makes it clear that the question is not a throwaway question and is worth answering.

Another situation that can cause me to ask for such an edit is when it's not clear at first how the question is about Judaism. For example, a question about techniques to achieve some practical goal may not be obviously about Judaism, and may therefore be deemed off-topic, but may become clearly about Judaism with the addition of explicitly Judaism-borne motivation.

In the case posed here, assuming the curiosity-based question is clearly about Judaism, it seems unlikely that it would get closed, but if it really strikes people as having no clear value, it's possible people would choose to vote it down as "not useful." Of course, everyone's votes are their own to cast.

The bottom line is that, regardless of any rules articulated on Meta, if you want people to invest time in reading and trying to answer your question, to choose to vote favorably on it to give it more exposure, and to find it on Google, it's in your best interest to make it as compelling as you can to as broad a base as you can. Long-tail questions are fine, and we've got plenty of room for them, but we can't guarantee they'll get read or answered. If you get a comment asking "why do you want to know," I recommend that you take that as a helpful indication of one thing you can do to increase the question's chances of accruing favorable attention.

  • Thank you for the response -- my concern is split. It is reassuring to hear that such a question wouldn't be necessarily closed but even the idea that it would be downvoted because it has "no clear value" is troubling. What has value as trivia to me should not need to have value to any other. If it isn't worth answering then a no answer seems sufficient. Down voting seems uncalled for. There was a question that my great uncle put a family cash bounty on. He died, but I'm still curious, just because I'm curious. Should that merit a down vote because someone else isn't curious? – rosends Dec 31 '19 at 16:34
  • @rosends Like I said, that's really up to the individual voter. But anyway, votes are low in content and not what you asked about. If you get a comment asking "why do you want to know," I recommend that you take that as a helpful indication of what you can do to increase the question's chances of getting upvoted, read, and answered. (Added this thought to the answer.) – Isaac Moses Dec 31 '19 at 16:44
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    @rosends Sounds to me like you're asking that question to find closure on an issue related to your late great-uncle. It's not just curiosity. It's never just curiosity. If you can't find any way at all to motivate anyone else to be interested in the post, then indeed it's unlikely to get quality answers and it's of little use to the internet to host it. That's what downvotes are for. But that's a very low bar that nearly any reasonable question can beat if the asker takes the time to compose it well. – Double AA Dec 31 '19 at 21:12
  • @DoubleAA I don't know if it is closure as much as it is curiosity -- he never found an answer so I'm wondering if one exists. For other questions, they are matters of trivia and nothing more. Does it matter what the answer is? No. I just want to know because I found it interesting. – rosends Jan 1 at 1:48
  • @rosends ...and why did you find it interesting? It does not follow for all A and for all B and for all Q that because A couldn't find an answer to Q that B would be curious what the answer is. There's something about this A and this B and this Q that makes the question interesting to you. If you can figure that out for yourself you can explain to others. If you can't find any way at all to motivate anyone else to be interested in the post, then indeed it's unlikely to get quality answers and it's of little use to the internet to host it. That's what downvotes are for. – Double AA Jan 1 at 2:22
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Isaac Moses Jan 2 at 14:46
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Most of my questions (especially halacha ones, because this isn't an ask-the-rabbi service) are asked out of curiosity. I've found that if I explain why I'm asking, I get better responses.

For example, sometimes I'm studying some g'mara and wonder about the outcome of something related, and people point out a different place in talmud that I wouldn't have thought to look in or known was related. So not only do I get my specific answer, but I learn about some connections among sources.

For another (recent) example, when I asked Can one rotate the chanukiyah after lighting it? my explanation included an assumption I was making (that the lights should face the street) and an answer countered that assumption. If I'd just asked about rotating without saying why, I might never have learned that relevant information.

Some questions will never have a practical outcome for me (like How does the kohein gadol's substitute wife work?), but I see a statement and naturally fall into analyzing its consequences (hey, it's just part of who I am...), and I just want to know.

I think curiosity is natural when learning torah, and we should encourage it. But the more you can say about the nature of that curiosity, the better our community can do in providing information.

  • Often, though, the nature of the curiosity (at least for me) is just a love of trivia for trivia's sake and many find that to be worthless, or not a valid reason to investigate. Some think that it demeans aspects of Torah to turn them into scavenger hunt subjects. – rosends Dec 31 '19 at 17:52
  • @rosends I think we all have thresholds but they're in different places. I mean, if someone asks how many times the letter tzadi appears in the chumash, I'm probably going to say "meh, who cares?" and move on. But if the question gives an interesting reason I'll look more closely. And somebody else whose passion is letters won't need a reason. For that matter, reasons might not be compelling to everyone; maybe lots of people think the question of the substitute wife is trivial and skipped past it. It'll happen to everyone sometimes, I think, but that doesn't mean questions aren't useful. – Monica Cellio Dec 31 '19 at 18:10
  • I understand and I'm ok with that. By the way, 4,052. – rosends Dec 31 '19 at 19:56
  • @rosends I count 2927 regular and 1035 final = 3962 – Double AA Dec 31 '19 at 21:08
  • laugh I think the two of you have just undermined my example. Oh well. :-) – Monica Cellio Dec 31 '19 at 21:34
  • @DoubleAA I got my number from here aishdas.org/toratemet/en_pamphlet9.html so if the math is wrong, that's on them... – rosends Jan 1 at 1:45

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