Sometimes I feel like certain questions may be unanswerable, such as:

Moshe's mask and Purim

Facing Yerushalaim during Kaddish (especially before I revised it)

They are asking for sources that possibly don't exist, but you generally can't prove that a source for something doesn't exist (unless you answer something along the lines of "I went through Kol HatTorah Kulah and never saw anything about this"). Should we have some sort of policy for this?

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    Or quote someone who does know Kol Hatorah Kula and says "This is wrong and there is no source for it". – Shmuel Mar 26 '12 at 23:30
  • See this answer and my discussion thereof. – Double AA Mar 27 '12 at 3:30

IMO they're fine. In fact I don't think the second one of the two you mention is unanaswerable; you may find a latter-day source that says "there's no source for such a practice". But even if such a question has no known answer, it's not unanswerable in the sense the Stack Exchange means when it says unanswerable questions aren't welcome: that's a question for which no answer can exist, or for which no definitive answer can exist maybe. These are questions for which an answer can certainly exist, even if no one has a source for one.

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I think that the questions are great as long as people are ok receiving answers which are incomplete unsatisfying or based on something other than a citable source. The answerers need to be responsible enough to acknowledge these things in their answers.

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    What if the answer is simply "no, there is no source for this blank"? Can anyone really ever say that without backing himself up with knowledge of Kol HatTorah Kulah? – Baal Shemot Tovot Mar 27 '12 at 1:37
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    no but a person could say that I have heard of others having this minhag but I am unaware of any source that describes or prescribes this practice. Or, I dont know if there are sources for this but it seams to me that...As long as a person is upfront that the answer is not based on a particular source or that they dont know that there is a source it makes sense to me – Eytan Yammer Mar 27 '12 at 13:51
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    @l a person could also say "I've reviewed the main canonical sources for this type of issue (<list of sources>) and can't find any reference to this minhag." That would certainly be useful data, and depending on the type of question and the state of the literature, possibly close enough to conclusive. – Isaac Moses Mar 27 '12 at 15:21
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    @IsaacMoses Sounds like an answer to the question... – Double AA Mar 27 '12 at 19:06

I think they are OK, but generally bad form; one should be careful in phrasing a question to ask the thing one wants to ask. I also think that when such a question exists, one should not fall into the trap of answering the impossible answer without a sourced authoritative claim for having checked everywhere (this is rare), and if someone does (which I have seen happen) then their answer should be downvoted and removed for not answering the question. In other words, the question is fine if you treat it as such and don't pretend it is something that it is not.

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  • So let's say that there's absolutely no source connecting Purim and Moshes mask, and that the OP was the first person to speculate such (which I feel is very likely): shall we just leave that question unanswered for ever and ever? – Baal Shemot Tovot Mar 27 '12 at 4:07
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    @l' Yep! Until someone finds a connection (very unlikely), makes one up (more likely) or adjusts the question (not so likely) it can just sit there; no big deal. – Double AA Mar 27 '12 at 4:13
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    @DoubleAA or someone can comment on the question sharing an opinion making it clear that it isnt a sourced based answer. – Eytan Yammer Mar 27 '12 at 13:53
  • @EytanYammer I think a comment on the question is always an excellent place for unsourced material. – Double AA Mar 27 '12 at 16:12
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    @DoubleAA interesting. So the idea would be to setup a protocol such that an "answer" would be sourced and put forward as such and an opinion would be in the question comments. I know that I am relatively new here so I dont want to make waves. My first inclination is to allow for a broader range of interaction however I would of course yield to those more experienced on this site who see a need for a more rigid structure. – Eytan Yammer Mar 27 '12 at 18:12
  • @EytanYammer First of all, I've only been around for about 4 months now. Second, not all questions require sourced answer, such as this one. The type being discussed in this thread IIUC is one where the OP asks for evidence of something, where it is possible that no such evidence exists. Answering "no it doesn't" is not an answer, unless you back yourself up with someone who said so. For instance, I wasn't such a fan of this answer. And of course there are many variations in between, and different kinds of sources too. – Double AA Mar 27 '12 at 18:42
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    @EytanYammer Also, don't be afraid to voice your opinion here; this community is dynamic and is always glad to hear new opinions. – Double AA Mar 27 '12 at 18:44
  • I misunderstood the original question. It makes sense to me to allow answers such as the one suggested above by @isaac moses – Eytan Yammer Mar 27 '12 at 18:57

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