(Inspired by this recent question and by past experience on mi.yodeya, such as under the tag.)

Do we need rules, explicit or otherwise, for what sort of adult-oriented content we'll allow here, taking into account the concept of tzniut and the fact that children can and do browse this site? On the other hand, any restriction we implement would result in certain topics of legitimate Jewish law and thought being off-limits.

For a possible precedent, take a look at this statement of policy on the Yoatzot website:

This section discusses marital intimacy. It includes an article explaining this topic from a Jewish perspective, as well as certain frequently asked questions.

Many questions received on the site are not posted publicly due to concerns of modesty. However, questions on this important topic are welcome and will be answered privately.

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FWIW, I think that Yaakov's answer to the present question does a great job of answering the question conceptually without getting too explicit. –  Isaac Moses May 18 '11 at 16:12
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Obviously, "will be answered privately" doesn't work here. –  msh210 May 18 '11 at 16:56
    
Isaac, do you mean judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7620? –  msh210 May 18 '11 at 17:19
    
@msh210 Yes, that one. –  Isaac Moses May 18 '11 at 17:48
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It would be ironic if this site was blocked by kosher internet filters. –  jake May 18 '11 at 19:59
    
@jake That's a very good point. I wonder how they decide what's okay or not. It might not be such a bad idea to mirror their policies (at least somewhat) –  yydl May 18 '11 at 20:31
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This question was asked a long time ago and I still do not see an official policy. I would like to request that this issue be formally decided upon and canonized as a policy so that those of us who are newer to the site can abide by proper etiquette –  user1552 Jun 15 '12 at 15:50
    
@bcholbeisineeman, Right now, the FAQ says "Please respect that in the Jewish tradition certain questions, especially certain questions relating to sexuality, are discussed only in private. Such questions will be closed or deleted at the discretion of the moderators or community." I agree that that's not really clear enough, and that yydl's answer here isn't either. I'm not sure what the best course of action is, though. Please feel free to propose a policy as an answer here. –  Isaac Moses Jun 15 '12 at 15:55
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Why is Mi-Yodeya lenient to permit the prohibition of discussing esoteric topics of Kabbalah, but stringent to avoid discussing actual topics of halacha (as in this case)? –  Adam Mosheh Jun 24 '12 at 18:44
    
@AdamMosheh, There has been a community discussion here, which you're welcome to contribute to, about the latter topic. I'm not sure whether the former has been discussed the same way, and I'm not sure how one would be related to the other. If you're concerned about the discussion of Kabbalah, you're certainly welcome to post a Meta question about it and see what the community thinks. –  Isaac Moses Jun 24 '12 at 22:48

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is absolutely no doubt that we need rules. It is quite obvious that questions can easily get out-of-hand and go way beyond what is even remotely okay by all standards [and yet still be defined as legitimate questions by the current rules]. There is a definite need to draw the line and say "this is something that should be left to private discussion with your Rabbi."

On the other hand, any restriction we implement would result in certain topics of legitimate Jewish law and thought being off-limits.

Judaism.SE is a place where Jews go to learn about Judaism. Part of Judaism consists of the rules of modesty: i.e. there are something's we discuss in private and don't announce to the world. If we have a solid rule system in place that sets clear limits, there is no need to worry about this.

So what we have to do is decide on a set of rules (which may simply be "it's up to the moderators at the time" or "use your own judgement") and place them in the FAQ. Questions which violate those rules should be closed and deleted as off topic (which states "Questions on Jewish Life and Learning - Stack Exchange are expected to generally relate to judaism, within the scope defined in the faq.").

As you pointed out in the comment a key factor is about being explicit. I don't think the current question that brought this up is particularly explicit, but I do think that some of the answers that can come up may approach that problem. Which of course is a separate issue, but one that also has to be taken into account. It might be a good idea to comment every borderline questions "please respect the laws of Tznius when answering this question."

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Sounds good. And, yes, the set of rules may simply be "Please respect that in the Jewish tradition certain questions, especially certain questions relating to sexuality, are discussed only in private. Such questions will be closed or deleted at the discretion of the moderators or community.". –  msh210 May 18 '11 at 20:01
    
@msh210 Well put! I added your rule verbatim to the FAQ. –  Isaac Moses May 31 '11 at 15:12
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@IsaacMoses: AFAICT, my comment was released only under an attribution-required license, which would require you to include it in the FAQ only with attribution. (I'm guessing that requires attribution that everyone reading the FAQ can see, not just attribution that moderators who can see the FAQ's edit history can see.) In this case, worry not: I release my text, above, for use anywhere on Judaism.SE without attribution. But I don't know this affects other proposed changes to the FAQ: can they be assumed to be made with the knowledge that they'll be used unattributedly? I doubt it. (IANAL.) –  msh210 May 31 '11 at 15:19
    
@msh210 Interesting point. Is your comment's copyright held by you or by SEI? –  Isaac Moses May 31 '11 at 15:22
    
@IsaacMoses: Possibly both?? See "Attribution Required" on the blog. –  msh210 May 31 '11 at 15:27
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@msh210 OK, well maybe we should bring this up as an independent meta-question and see what the SE people have to say about it. For now, while not completely compliant with the official attribution standard, I've added "(Source)" links to the FAQ, which I think is useful anyway for those who want to drill down from the FAQ points to the discussions they sprang from. –  Isaac Moses May 31 '11 at 15:30
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@msh210 According to Jeff Atwood, writing subsequently to the blog post you linked, it seems that the author owns the copyright and implicitly licenses it to SEI under cc-wiki. How that applies to re-use within an SE site's infrastructure, I'm not sure. cc-wiki requires attribution "in the manner specified by the author or licensor." That manner is specified in the blog post. So, perhaps the author's implicit license to SE requires that manner and therefore would require waiver from the author, as you ... –  Isaac Moses May 31 '11 at 16:42
    
... originally suggested, even if SE implicitly or explicitly waives the strict attribution requirements for use within this site. –  Isaac Moses May 31 '11 at 16:43
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@yydl "Judaism.SE is a place where Jews go to learn about Judaism. Part of Judaism consists of the rules of modesty: i.e. there are something's we discuss in private and don't announce to the world." Yes, but one can only learn as much about Judaism on Judaism.se as is answered on Judaism.se. Obviously, no one should transgress his own/his community's interpretation of Jewish standards through participation in Judaism.se, but that is the responsibility of the individual to ensure. –  SAH Feb 16 '12 at 2:24

Has anyone looked at the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch lately? It goes into great length on a lot of issues that might be considered "adult" or non-tzniusdik. If I remember correctly there is a rather surprisingly graphic discussion of whether or not one may recite the S'hma when naked in a pool of fetid water.

I don't think adult questions should be prohibited assuming that modest/clinical language is used. Someone should let me know if their rabbi would actually paskin that such a policy would prohibit their participation in this site, in which case, there is a case to be made to make all adult content off-topic, but my feeling is that disseminating torah is of rather high value and as long as things like adult relationships are discussed in a modest fashion it's just torah.

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+1 for "assuming that modest/clinical language is used" - It is high priority for outward and inward purposes to maintain lashon n'kiya at all times, especially in a public forum such as this. There are many topics that Chaza"l did not shy away from (no pun) but spoke about euphamistically or somewhat indirectly for this very reason. –  WAF Jun 24 '11 at 3:53
    
@Joel, I expect you'd take exception, then to the current text of the note we have in our FAQ: "Please respect that in the Jewish tradition certain questions, especially certain questions relating to sexuality, are discussed only in private. Such questions will be closed or deleted at the discretion of the moderators or community." Would you like to propose an alternative statement? –  Isaac Moses Jun 24 '11 at 6:10
    
@Joel, I think we can all agree that questions like this one and its answers to date are no problem. What do you think the moderatorial approach should be to questions like this one? Let it ride until someone uses graphic language, then edit it down to be modest/clinical? (This is not a rhetorical question.) –  Isaac Moses Jun 24 '11 at 6:14
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I think that it's likely that I could walk into any beit midrash and find a book that answers the question as to the halachic implications of oral sex, and nobody would dream of saying that book should be banned or hidden. @WAF's understanding definitely matches mine - Chaza"l did not shy away from anything but certainly used modest language and euphemisms. I've always assumed that pretty much any honest question is fair play. –  Joel Spolsky Jun 24 '11 at 12:32
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My feeling is that the policy should be that adult questions must be use either clinical or euphemistic language, and must be asked honestly, not in order to provoke. In other words someone, someday, is going to contrive a ridiculous situation that's kinda gross and ask what the halacha is using boldly clinical language solely for the purpose of provoking an argument about censorship, and that should be delightfully closed as "NOT A REAL QUESTION". –  Joel Spolsky Jun 24 '11 at 12:36
    
If we discover that people feel uncomfortable even with those questions, there are mechanisms to let those people opt out (e.g. tag them "adult-situations" and people could block based on tag). But I want to do that only if there is a genuine reason, not just on the hypothetical chance that someone somewhere might feel that the site is unacceptable for tznius reasons –  Joel Spolsky Jun 24 '11 at 12:38
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I'd be happy to ask Jeff to implement a feature where questions with a certain tag ("intimacy"?) are hidden with a warning that you have to click through. –  Joel Spolsky Jun 24 '11 at 12:40
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@Joel, Sure, there are books about the most private topics, and any competent general-purpose rabbi will answer sincere questions about them. However, you're much less likely to find an open-access shiur in the daytime about, say, the halachot of sex. An SE site is somewhere in between these in function, but it's pretty much as public as the latter (maybe more so). I think it's potentially reasonable to apply the concept of tzeniut even to topic selection here. I'm not sure how much an "are you sure?" gate would help; it may just attract attention, which is the opposite of tzeniut. –  Isaac Moses Jun 24 '11 at 14:05
    
@Joel Another two points: a) In most Jewish communities, while such matters are important, they are generally only taught (at least in full detail) before marriage (when such discussions are actually practically applicable). A unique "feature" of this site is that people go here to learn about new things. It's definitely not modest to "raise" such issues for random people who visit on a constant to expand their Jewish knowledge. (especially considering that teenagers will visit this site). –  yydl Jun 24 '11 at 20:25
    
@Joel b) You're idea for having a sort of disclaimer system sounds good at face-value, but it will still leave the titles intact [at least I assume so], which would not really accomplish anything. Also, the decision on acceptable questions is up to the community. It's hard to have a blanket rule. This is the sort of thing where each and every question needs to be evaluated. –  yydl Jun 24 '11 at 20:30
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I completely agree with Joel Spolsky's answer. I ask questions on this site as a secular Jew who is interested in learning more. I would not feel comfortable seeking out a rabbi to ask, nor would I find it as useful as hearing the opinions of many. If this site prohibits questions about sexuality I (and I imagine others) will simply not ask anyone and will thus know that much less about Torah. I believe that the anonymity of this site in itself constitutes a safeguard of modesty, at least to some extent. –  SAH Feb 16 '12 at 2:19
    
@yydl. Cf. policies on EL&U: Network-wide, titles have tighter restrictions than post content. Offensive slang is on-topic at EL&U, but titles show up in the StackExchange drop-down box on all sites, so we have to be careful about them. –  TRiG Jun 13 '12 at 17:39

I think that as long as the topics are of a halakhic nature, then they should be allowed. The gemara in M. Brachos (62a) states that Rav Kahana hid under his rabbi's bed when he and his wife were alone dealing with intimate matters. When he was interrogated about why he did such a thing, he replied that "Even this is Torah, and it I must learn as well."

In addition, there are simanim (chapters) in the Shulchan Arukh that deal straightforwardly with regards to halakhah and sexual relations. How is this not part of Jewish Life and Learning? How can someone live a Jewish life if they don't learn how to do so? Not everyone who is Orthodox attends "chosson and kallah classes," all the more so for Jews who want to observe halacha and their only connection to Judaism is the internet and sites like J.SE!

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Yet even an halachic question can be very graphic (and can even be very personal, mentioning someone's practices, and simultaneously very graphic, though such might be closed as "too localized"). Do you disagree with yydl's statement that "questions can easily get out-of-hand and go way beyond what is even remotely okay by all standards" for discussion here (where everything can be seen by everyone in the world with Internet access)? –  msh210 Feb 12 '12 at 17:52
    
@msh210 - again, "torah hee, v'lilmod ani tzarich" –  Adam Mosheh Feb 12 '12 at 17:55
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Why should there be standards? Torah is torah, and it is holy, because it is Ratzon Hashem. Hopefully there will not be leitzanus but that is a symptom and not a problem right now as we see it. –  Adam Mosheh Feb 12 '12 at 17:56
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+1, because this is arguably the right answer, not because it is. (I also upvoted yydl's answer, which is very different from this one, and would today.) –  msh210 Feb 12 '12 at 18:07
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Yes. But remember: We're a public forum. Different rules (may) apply. –  yydl Feb 13 '12 at 2:25

Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky when I asked him about this specifically, said that discussing matters of a sexual nature in a public forum is improper.

I proposed a source I had seen in the Talmud, and he dismissed it, telling me that if citing the Talmud, I should use Shabbos 33a. He never said that this was his definitive source:

Said R. Hanan b. Rabbah: All know for what purpose a bride enters the bridal canopy, yet against whomsoever who speaks obscenely, even if a sentence of seventy years' happiness had been sealed for him, it is reversed for evil.

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Isn't that Gemara talking about embarrassing the bride/groom? –  Double AA May 8 at 22:14
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Rabbi Lopiansky is a legitimate source, but I suspect that different poskim would have different opinions on the matter of whether public discussion automatically constitutes nivul peh (especially in a moderated forum like Mi Yodeya). IMHO, it is not at all obvious from the gemara or Rashi (or other sources that I've seen) that sincere, modestly-phrased questions/answers would be nivul peh if discussed publicly. –  Fred May 9 at 23:01
    
Is "obscene" defined somewhere? Obviously crude or even indelicate discussion is a problem here, but how do we get from that to any discussion when the quoted passage qualifies it this way? –  Monica Cellio May 11 at 14:51
    
@MonicaCellio my understanding is as follows: everyone knows what the bride is going to do once married. But one who dirties his mouth, (by talking about this at the chuppah, ie. Public format), etc... The translation is a bit off I think. Speaking obscenely is not a precise translation of 'hamenavel piv'. –  Baby Seal May 11 at 15:11
    
@Fred, DoubleAA: I have edited my answer to more accurately describe my exchange with Rabbi Lopiansky, and I have deleted my comments arguing with you about the specific source, because Rabbi Lopiansky really never said that that source was his source. HE just said that thi source is more pertinent to my question than the source I proposed initially, (which I can't remember). –  Baby Seal 2 days ago
    
@BabySeal, This pesak gives an indication that there's a line to that must be drawn but only gives a vague indication of where that line is. Could you get more some more precise guidance on this? Incidentally, I happen to now live in the same community as your source and would be interested in taking part in the conversation, if possible. If you're willing to contact me off-line, you may do so at the email address listed in my profile. –  Isaac Moses 2 hours ago
    
@IsaacMoses I usually call Rav Ahron, because I don't live in his community. I can seek further clarification. –  Baby Seal 1 hour ago

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