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Forgive me if this was discussed before; I don't frequent meta.

I've been seeing a lot of questions of the form "how many X are in Y?". I personally find them to be pretty pointless questions that don't really add anything to anyone's knowledge of Judaism. For example: How many words are there in each daf? How many words are there in the Zohar? How many times is the Amidah said in a year?

Now, this might be a specific subset of this meta question about questions for curiosities sake. Hope that's okay.

Should such questions be considered off topic, unless there's some subjective explanation provided for why the information is pertinent?

  • I think that they are off topic. Nothing to do with Judaism. Answers as well. If I know the shortest daf in words, in lines, in letters, I know something about Judaism? If I don't know, I missed something? – kouty Jan 19 at 22:29
  • Welcome to MY Meta, robev-oh, who am I kidding, you've been around main MY long enough that there's no reason the new contributor flag should've been tripped for this being your first post on Meta. – DonielF Jan 21 at 23:42
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TLDR

If questions pass the test described here, namely that A) they're motivated by a desire to understand and/or practice Judaism, and B) it's reasonable to expect specifically those who base their lives on Judaism to be especially capable of answering them, they're on-topic. Otherwise, no. Some "How many X in Y" questions meet these criteria, but not all.


So, here's the thing. I have, in my nearly four years on the site, been assuming "questions about a Jewish text are on-topic" means to say that any questions about a Jewish text are on-topic. I have been voting to keep these questions open as not being off-topic (though in some cases I've voted to close for reasons irrelevant to this discussion). But in digging through the FAQs on the topic, that's not so clear-cut to me anymore.

On-topic Test

First and foremost, the main in-scope FAQ:

If you have a question about...

  • a Jewish text (explaining a passage)

...then you've come to the right place. Please, ask away!

The sample questions definitely take "explaining a passage" very literally, in that only questions asking to explain a Jewish text are listed as examples of on-topic questions under this clause.

Similarly, in regards to fact-checking Judaism:

The pursuit of information needed to understand a Gemara properly is certainly in that realm [of being on-topic]. [...] Knowing if the facts found in the simple reading of the text are accurate is essential to understanding what to take away from the text and how to interpret it.

Is it necessary to know how many words are on a page of Gemara to understand it? No, not at all.

Maybe we can defend it based on our criteria for Jewish life questions?

I believe that the guiding principles (though not bright-line rules) for on-topicness should be:

Is this question expressly or implicitly motivated by a desire to understand or practice Judaism?

and

Is it reasonable to expect that a group of people who base their lives on Judaism would be especially able to give informed answers, due to their basing their lives on Judaism?

Are such questions "motivated by a desire to understand...Judaism"? I don't think so. Would "a group of people who base their lives on Judaism be especially able to give informed answers due to their basing their lives on Judaism"? Definitely not. Anyone who knows how to write a script to automate the process can count the words easily enough. You don't need to base your life on Judaism to be especially able to give an informed answer to these types of questions.


Not all X in Y questions are created equally

Consider the following variations on your "How many X are in Y":

  • "I'm just wondering." As per the above line of thought, these should be considered off-topic, unless the OP edits them to match one of the on-topic examples below. (Some questions currently open which fit this rubric: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. These can almost all be easily edited to fit in with one of the on-topic categories below.)
  • "I'm trying to make a study schedule" or some variant thereof (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4). These types of questions aren't just asking for statistics of Jewish books because they're curious, not because it has anything to do with Judaism. They absolutely pass the "motivation to practice Judaism" test, since they're asking for these statistics within the framework of how to divide up their Limud Torah.
  • "I'm aware there are different minhagim" (examples: 1). These questions ask about X in Y statistics which might vary based on different minhagim, and are thus "motivated to understand Judaism."
  • "I want to get a sense of how big it is and to compare with other texts" (examples: 1). This fails all the tests above and therefore is IMO off-topic.
  • Calendrical questions (examples: 1). These ask about how our calendar are structured on a fundamental level, boiling down to the rules governing how days are distributed, and are therefore "motivated to understand Judaism."
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    +1 nice work. Maybe see if you can compose a tldr summary so that people who get linked here from a closed post can quickly see a summary of what test their question is expected to pass – Double AA Jan 22 at 14:28
  • I suppose it's a really good summary. Can we regard it as a policy? – Kazi bácsi Jan 22 at 15:33
  • @Kazi If this post maintains a significant vote lead over any others for a few days, then you can view it as policy – Double AA Jan 22 at 17:15
  • I vote against this proposal because it leads to an absurd situation. Following these guidelines, 13 questions should be candidates for closure; but if the words "I'm trying to make a study schedule" are edited in, they are suddenly on-topic, even though those words do nothing to improve the question. – b a Jan 22 at 21:29
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    @ba You're free to downvote such questions if you'd like; I certainly would. Adding that doesn't make it a better question; it simply makes its motivation in-scope. – DonielF Jan 22 at 23:25
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    @ba we already have such a situation for many other questions such as "how do you say "sun" in Hebrew [so I can compose my prayer for a sunny day tomorrow]" same with "how cold is it in September in crackow [so I can understand what was considering tzaar on Sukkot to the Rama]" same with "which father in law did r Yosef Karo have first [so I can understand which responsum he wrote last and may represent his final opinion]" – Double AA Jan 22 at 23:28
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While I personally don't think these types of questions are very compelling, I have answered some of them and have enjoyed the process of calculating these random facts, which often constitutes original research that has never been done before. Thus, regardless of whether such questions are on-topic or not, all users should feel free to upvote/dwnvote based on their own preferences (as they would for any other type of question).

As for the question of topicality itself, I don't have a strong preference either way. However, I would note that it seems that there may be some sort of value in Judaism in quantifying these types of things. For this I offer the following citation:

The early [scholars] were called soferim because they used to count all the letters of the Torah. Thus, they said, the waw in gahon marks half the letters of the Torah; darosh darash, half the words; we-hithggalah, half the verses. The boar out of the wood [mi-ya'ar] doth ravage it: the ‘ayin of ya'ar marks half of the Psalms. But he, being full of compassion, forgiveth their iniquity, half of the verses. R. Joseph propounded: Does the waw of gahon belong to the first half or the second? Said they [the scholars] to him, Let a Scroll of the Torah be brought and we will count them! Did not Rabbah b. Bar Hanah say, They did not stir from there until a Scroll of the Torah was brought and they counted them? — They were thoroughly versed in the defective and full readings, but we are not. R. Joseph propounded: Does wehithgalah belong to the first half or the second? Said Abaye to him, For the verses, at least, we can bring [a Scroll] and count them! — In the verses too we are not certain. For when R. Aha b. Adda came, he said: In the West [Palestine] the following verse is divided into three: And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud [etc.]. Our Rabbis taught: There are five thousand, eight hundred and eighty-eight verses in the Torah; the Psalms exceed this by eight; while Chronicles are less by eight.

(Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30a, Soncino translation)

Yet even if we grant that there is some value in certain quantifications, it is still possible that there is a line beyond which certain calculations do not provide enough value to be justified as on-topic. I will leave that to others to suggest if and where the lines should be.

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    Counting words in Tanakh is different from counting words on modern page breaks, let alone verses in Christian chapter breaks. – Double AA Jan 19 at 23:59
  • @DoubleAA I guess that's where my last paragraph comes in... – Alex Jan 20 at 0:02
  • When A chacham in Gemara makes counts there is a deep meaning, not simply how many X in Y. If you asks questions like this to your rav he will be surprised what happened you – kouty Jan 20 at 4:34
  • Counting the words in the Tanakh served to avoid scribal errors, and therefore they are highly relevant. But I don't see any added value in knowing the average number of ק letters by line on recto pages in the Vilna Shas (which is a modern layout as pointed out before). – Kazi bácsi Jan 20 at 10:14
  • I thought that gemara is describing how pointless counting is, because we know we don't have the original and that out count is necessarily wrong. So the conclusion is that a number is given, but trying to find a number yourself is pointless – SophArch Jan 20 at 15:38

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