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There is a user here who regularly makes comments that are similar to:

"This answer comes from a Polish Jew and it should be known that the Poles are actually a group who have produced an inauthentic approach to Torah due to their mistaken, and suspicious beliefs, and have used their large numbers and other nefarious means to grab the power in all institutions to promote their propaganda, which is the actual reason why this answer says this faulty and terrible thing - ignore it"

It's not actually about the Polish Jewry, I am just using them as an example. I don't want to actually draw attention to the comments or user themselves, so as not to draw any more attention to this person and their opinions. Obviously, people can try to guess or they can figure it out and name the person, I can't stop them, but I ask very kindly and sincerely that they refrain from doing so.

I should also note that the group in question is 100% accepted here, and adherents as well as quotes from the group's Torah is well respected, accepted and taken seriously by the general kehilla here, even the moderators. Just like every branch of Judaism, this group has controversies and certain other groups who question their approach, sometimes severely. This group is perhaps more "famously" controversial than other groups, perhaps actually even more controversial but that's no excuse, right? Once we decide they are accepted here, why would we allow sloppy slander and mistrust to remain in the comments everywhere?

I understand having a specific, politely phrased, genuinely inquisitive question about the controversies of a group. That's fair, productive, and if done sensitively, positive! But this is not what we are talking about. We are talking about punctuated comments dotted around the site simply declaring "this group is terrible and up to no good and you shouldn't believe them or listen to their point of view".

  • Should these comments be moderated strictly or is this fine?
  • If it's fine, is it fine for all groups, or just "famously controversial" ones?
  • Is it only fine if the comment is in some way substantiated? To what standard do we insist this substatiation be held to?
  • Do we not worry even in the case of a well substantiated comment that it's still not a good appropriate place for such comments, and is Lashon Hara?
  • Given that the group is accepted here, that point is fair.
  • If it's not fine, should people have action taken on their accounts for repeatedly doing this or should we just keep on flagging and moderating them but allow it to go on?
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I appreciate the degree to which you've tried to make the question specific about a type of comments without calling out examples. However, the question implicates multiple different qualities that could be featured in a comment, such as:

  • ad hominems
  • unsubstantiated attacks on a group
  • discounting content due to association with a group
  • strident criticism of a group's approach

I agree with DoubleAA's comments to the effect that if we're going to deal with this issue in generalities, we need to pull these issues apart and see what we can agree on as policy for each.

I'll start with this: Any comment of the specific form of the example in this question post, in particular advocating for discounting a post because of an aspect of the author's identity (i.e. ad hominem) as opposed to because of the content of the post should be flagged and deleted.

If there are outstanding comments that meet this description, please flag them [again] as "Bigotry" or "Unfriendly", and we will do our best to address them with due alacrity.

I understand that the purpose of this post is to hash out site policy in public, which I applaud. That said, if there's a body of commentary or user behavior you'd like the moderators to take a more careful look at, we could make a private chatroom, viewable only by you, our mods, and SE staff, where you can link to examples and explain your objection in more specific detail.

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  • I have remade the question, due to certain reasons, including the fact that I have made the question itself less negative. I would appreciate it if you could move this answer to the new question
    – Conscience
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 18:10
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    @Conscience to preserve the activity that has already occurred here, at least some of which is just as relevant to your new version, I imported your new version to here. Feel free to flag any "no longer needed" comments as such.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 20:01
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Comments that are negative and critical of groups as a whole should only be allowed if:

  1. They are held to a very high standard of relevance. It must be like any comment: actually genuinely clarifying for the topic at hand. Certainly if it's clear that the stated goal of making the comment is in order for an ideological viewpoint to be pushed, no way Jose. Comments, according to the code of conduct, have to be kind and friendly, and while it's ok to be a little bit lax with this in general, not in the case of these types of comments. If the comment is not kind or friendly, this should be a strong indicator that the comment is not relevant but is ideological in nature and it shouldn't take much more than this to decide to delete the comment.
  2. Kindness and friendliness are imperative as well in controversial issues so as to avoid inflaming the conversation.
  3. They are very well substantiated, which means that the claim is falsifiable, the substantiation has to come from a near universally acceptable authority or standard, such as the ruling of a Beis Din, or a publication of the group themselves, or a near-universally accepted researcher of the group. "One of their adherents told me" or "this gedol or that criticised them so therefore it's ok" or "everyone I know knows this" is 100% wrong. One exception to this would be if the controversy is indeed the subject or highly relevant to it, and therefore quoting notable opponents of the group, even if they are part of the controversy themselves. The only advice I'd add to the moderators on this point is that they should try to determine if this notable opponent is still relevant. E.g. If the opponent is claiming they are Sabbatean, but it's clear that that complaint is now 300 years out of date, then it should motivate the moderator to strongly consider deleting the comment. At the very least, the comment absolutely cannot be opinion based.
  4. It should pass clear tests to be not being lashon hara, rechilut or onaas devarim. I wouldn't deem it fair or appropriate for the moderator to have to decide that, so this rule is one of the more fuzzy ones. At the very least, comments like this should try to themselves explain why they think this negative comment is le'toeles, and the community will thus be able to flag the comment if they disagree.
  5. I've basically already said this, but for crystal clear emphasis, the criticism can't be a fallacy, such as being unfalsifiable, e.g. claiming to know the unstated motivations or secret practices of a group. All other fallacies such as straw manning, ad hominem and the like are of course included in this.
  6. Even if all of the above is adhered to, if the comment actually writes off the whole group completely and utterly; delegitimizes them as a whole, then what's the question? Why do we keep comments here like that about groups that are well accepted in general? Personally, I wouldn't do such a thing even to Jewish (and many non-Jewish) groups that are generally unaccepted here. As per the point of relevance, if the controversy is highly relevant to the discussion, then mentioning that certain people consider the group illegitimate can be allowed, but if there is even a hint that the comment itself is trying to delegitimize the group, this is a very low quality comment and should be deleted.
  7. I would also like to re-emphasis the words "suspicious" and "mistrust". If the comment unfairly raises these things about the group, then it is morally imperative to delete it and eventually ban the user who does this.
  8. Any comment that calls to invalidate the answer or question they are commenting on, e.g. "this answer is coming from bad group and therefore isn't authentic Torah and is incorrect" are also not acceptable.

Basically criticism about entire groups is a very elevated category of criticism in terms of the standards it should be held to. The comment must be considered important and necessary for the discussion at hand, and be completely fair, relevant, more highly substantiated than other claims, and should be unscrupulously well mannered and friendly.

Comments that breach this should be treated with zero tolerance. The moderator should always put themselves in the shoes of the group and say "if someone said this (or equivalent) about my group, or simply about all Jews, would I consider it ok?". They should be deleted, not shoved into a chat. The user should be warned and if they keep doing it, some action should be taken, with eventual banning if possible, or limiting to the greatest extent if not.

I would quote site policy, but it's a little too vague and I can interpret it to support me, I'm sure someone can interpret it to support inaction. The same would be true of trying to bring a halachic argument of onaas devarim or lashon hara, but an exhaustive discussion will of course ensue and the position of allowing the comments will likely be defended according to some argument.

There are two other options that would make logical sense, but wouldn't be ideal:

  1. Allow similar comments for all groups.
  2. Make it site policy that the group in question is not considered authentic Judaism and is therefore not on topic for the site.

This middle ground is causing harm to the conversation, to learning, and to real people who are psychologically damaged by the comments and the inaction of the moderators, and must be addressed one way or another.

As for chats, I do not expect the mods to be proactive but certainly if a comment is flagged, the above guidelines should be used.

Of course, this all applies to questions and answers, so long as they are not productive and relevant questions about the controversies themselves.

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    You asked this in very general terms, but the facts are it often gets very sticky what's fair/substantiated/productive/hedged and what's not. If you don't provide a comprehensive set of rules to evaluate these comments, it will be hard to implement anything.
    – Double AA Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 13:40
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    @DoubleAA I get that. I have added some rules, and I will update that over time as you said, it's fuzzy logic and will take time to iron out. Either way, the best litmus test is considering the example comment in the question. It contains all of the elements that I consider destructive in many ways. Whether you consider that comment as sometimes ok or not will help you understand whether you are on the same page as me or not, despite the issues of fuzzy logic and sticky reality.
    – Conscience
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:15
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    I agree with a great deal of the rules now in this answer. I disagree that the standard for substantiation should be citation of a universally-accepted authority. I think it could be fair to note that there is significant controversy regarding an approach, and to substantiate this by citing notable opponents of the approach, even if they are (by definition almost) parties to the controversy themselves, e.g. "This answer follows a ___ic approach to this issue. I'd note that there is significant disagreement with this approach, especially among ___ic sources, such as ___, e.g. in ____ #4:5."
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:31
  • I would recommend replacing #3 with specific rules inspired by the Halachot you refer to rather than having the requirement call out Halacha. As you note, moderators aren't Halachic authorities. In addition, the community can deliberate on and implement specific operational rules much more readily than an entire corpus of Halacha.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:35
  • "Kind, friendly," etc. should be broken out into a separate point from "Relevance." Comments about controversy, in particular, need extra care to ensure that they're not needlessly inflammatory, even when relevant, demonstrably true, etc.
    – Isaac Moses Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 14:41
  • "a fallacy, such as being unfalsifiable" Is something being unfalsifiable a fallacy? Which?
    – Double AA Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 15:46
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    "delegitimizes them as a whole" Like it or not Judaism has examples of groups thinking other groups are illegitimate. Can we not talk about them? If someone notes that the Gra put all chasidim in cherem and thought they were illegitimate, is that a problem?
    – Double AA Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 15:47
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    @IsaacMoses I think the issue of substantiation should be more about avoiding personal opinions. Even a Zionist ought admit honestly that significant rabbis have been antizionists (and vice versa), so if someone doesn't state their own opinion about Polish Jews but just states that significant rabbis oppose them, that's already a big step in the right direction. The discussion should be clinical/academic not personal.
    – Double AA Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 15:52

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